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Saturday, December 12, 2015

I Thought it Was About Customer Service - or "Clueless Marketers"

Face it.  We’re all salesmen and saleswomen.  Sometimes it’s selling yourself in a job interview – or selling the boss on a new idea…or the stockholders on opening a new buggy whip division.  Other times, it’s selling to a broad range of customers or clients.
A recent experience brought a new word into my sales vocabulary.  Flexibility.   Now, I’d like to think that I’m flexible in dealing with others.  Different clients have different needs.
Others, apparently are not as flexible.

Now, Mrs. Riley and only Mrs. Riley...
Courtesy, Palo Vista Productions

I was calling to arrange a visit regarding, of all things, pest control.  The station cat was not doing her job pursuing mice and, sure enough, one or more gnawed through some wiring, disabling 4 channels of a fine Wheatstone console. 
Well, an acquaintance recommended a particular company.  It was a national company, franchised, and he liked the local guy. 
I looked the company up.  Dialed the number.  The first thing I heard was the “recording” warning, “This call may be monitored or recorded.”  Well.  That’s a great thing to greet a prospect with.  Seriously.  Do you really want to put a prospective customer on the defensive by making him or her wonder why they need to be recorded?
The next words were, of course, the now obligatory English/Spanish choice, followed by trying to pin down the reason for my call.  Commercial?  Residential?  Bugs?  Termites?  Rodents?  Sheep?  (OK, not sheep)
I made my selection then had to tell them whether I was an existing or new customer.  I went ahead and did that, too.  As you can guess, by now, I’m wondering why I started with these guys.  Oh!  Right.  That acquaintance who told me about the local guy.
I finally got to a person but not before receiving another “recording” warning.  I identified myself and said that I’d like to arrange for the local person to come and talk about services and pricing.
Amazingly, the lady at the other end listened, paused, and responded, “Sir, that’s not how it works.”
I backed away from the phone for a second then heard her say, “This is the national office.  I can give you all the information you need.  Now, how big are your offices?”
“I’m sorry,” I replied, “but I really want to sit with someone and talk through what I need.”
“We don’t do that.”
I was a little perturbed.  “Well, I kinda do.  I really need to have someone see the facility and the problems.”
That was followed by, “Well, then, sir, you have a nice day.”  And that was followed by an abrupt click – not by me; by her.
Now, here where the inflexibility cost them the gig:  I get it.  She’s reading prompts on a screen.  Ahhhh.  I’ll call the local office.  I find it – a different number but still toll-free.  You already guessed, didn’t you.  It forwarded to the same number.  I know because I got the same “recording” warning followed by the same choices.  I hung up.
Checking the listings, I found one with my area code.  Local!  Perfect.  The touchtones® flew through the phone... only to get me exactly the same number one more time!  That was that.
A quick search and I found a really local company.  I called the number – yep, my area code and a nearby exchange.
I explained what I wanted.  Then hit her with the fact that I was flying out shortly and was there any chance we could get together before 11AM the next morning.
She asked if she could call me back within 10 minutes.  I agreed.  In less time than that she returned, asking if 4:30 the same day would be OK. 
I agreed.  The rep showed at 4:25, half hour inspection and review of terms, signed the deal.
Now, meanwhile back at the national company, picture a bunch of marketing folks sitting on their backsides, feet up, patting each other on the back about how great their automated system is working at generating customers.  If they only knew…well, if the CEO only knew.
I guess there are two lessons here.  The first is flexibility.  Remember that “customer is always right?”  Well, most of the time, the prospective customer is right, too.  At least if you want him/her to become an actual customer.  If you can't bend your M.O. to accommodate clients, you soon will have none. 
The second is that trusting the phone tree to be a lead generator is as foolish as flipping off a driver who cut you off on the 405.  The trifecta would be if that company had been more expensive than the local one I found. Well, would you believe, it was.  Sorry national company but, in the words of Joe Pesce as Vincent Gambini in My Cousin Vinny, “I’m done with this guy."