Channel Inconsistency

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

When there is inconsistency between different channel promotions — Website, call center, and physical store — everyone suffers: staff, prospects, and customers. The result is prospects and customers venting to staff, with front line employees — as as store clerks and call center agents –getting the brunt of this understandable, but avoidable, customer angst.

This point was underscored to me during recent efforts to upgrade my family’s cell phones. My daughter served as the guinea pig, replacing her phone first. As is increasingly common, she did her research online and then went to their store to complete the purchase. The $139.99 phone she selected had an instant $99.99 rebate and a $40 mail-in rebate; her net cost was zero. Everything proceeded as expected and the phone was procured. We thought nothing of the fact that the Website promotion matched the in-store price.

Giving her stamp of approval for the phone, a few weeks later we moved forward to replace three more. Confidently we returned to the store, but to our dismay the price for that phone had changed. There was no longer a mail-in rebate and the net cost would be $29.99 per phone.

Discouraged, we retreated home and returned to their Website. Online pricing had changed, too, but differently. The cyberspace deal offered a $139 instant rebate, resulting in a net cost of 99¢. That was acceptable, so I proceed to place the order, but was stymied by a popup that told me I couldn’t upgrade online; it referred me to a toll free number. I called. Incredibly, their price was $50. When I mentioned the online offer, the agent quickly matched it.

A few days later, I called to order the fifth and final phone. Foolishly, I had not noted the 800 number given in the popup window online. Instead of repeating a futile pretense of ordering online just to obtain it, I called the number listed on my bill.

This time I was provided with still another pricing situation. My net cost would be $40 to obtain the same phone. I enlightened the agent on the deal offered two days prior. She was confused, musing about the different options at her disposal to provide a more attractive price. She knew she could reduce my cost to $29.95, perhaps even $20 — with manager approval — but not 99¢.

I mentioned the Website deal and asked her to match it. She told me she wasn’t allowed to do that. “But the person I talked to on Monday matched it,” I implored. Again she was confused. After additional queries, she was able to clarify the situation. She was in customer service while the prior person I talked to was in sales. Sales could match Website offers; customer service could not. Unbelievably she had a sales quota of two phones per day. Although she remained professional, I could sense frustration in her voice and words. Giving me the number for sales, she was diminishing her chances to meet her quota. I called sales and bought the phone for 99¢.

Incredibly, the store had one price, the website another, customer service had a third, and sales quoted a fourth. Customer service had pricing latitude, but sales had more. Is that anyway to run a business? Is subjecting front line staff to nonsensical pricing and frustrating policies any way to treat employees? Is it any way to treat customers?

What is desperately needed is channel consistency.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.