The Politics of Calling

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

With the fall elections in the United States now in our rear-view mirror, we can now take a calmer look at what happened. In the days preceding the election, more than one person shared with me their eagerness for the voting to come to a conclusion. Quite succinctly, their common refrain was, “I’m sick of all political commercials — and especially the phone calls.”

Here are some of my observations:

  • Unlike in the past, I did not receive one live call. Not even a “don’t forget to vote” reminder.
  • The number of recorded messages I received this year, far outpaced the total number of automated and live calls during past campaigns.
  • My mother, part of the senior citizen demographic, received about three times the number of automated political calls that I received.
  • People do not understand why they receive these calls when they are on the “Do Not Call” (DNC) list — and they are angry about it. (Our self-serving elected officials conveniently exempted themselves from the DNC legislation.)
  • My wife’s common response is to lay the receiver down (or put the call on hold) and walk away. It’s her small way of retaliation.
  • I never listened to more than a few seconds of a single robo call I received.

Therefore, our politicians calls should consider:

  • Just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right. Check numbers against the DNC list when making political calls. Those who signed up did so for a reason. Calling them will only make them mad, cause them to assume you or your client are breaking the law, or both.
  • Don’t overcall people. Even if you have them donations to call the same number multiple times, don’t do it — especially not on the same day!
  • Don’t mislead people and do provide responsible discloser. Email messages must contain legitimate subject lines; print and broadcast ads must state who paid for the ad; and mailed messages have their own content requirements. Apply these reasonable and accepted practices to recorded messages — people have grown to expect this from other channels, provide it on calls as well.

Given the electorate’s outcry over robo calls, specifically, and political calling, in general, we can expect the practice will come under greater scrutiny. To address this, our elected officials will adopt a more regulatory attitude towards telemarketing and robo calling, even though they, in part, contributed to the problem, causing some of the exact voter angst they are seeking to appease.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

A Lesson in Futility

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

The phone calls were not how I wanted to start my week. My company’s sales line was being slammed with phone calls — for another company. What unfolded was a look into what I assumed was a bygone era, revealing that the ugly side of the call center industry is yet to be eradicated.

The phone calls were from irate — and sometimes not too polite individuals — thinking they were calling a fax removal line. It seems that they had received an unwanted fax solicitation from a travel company offering 75% off on Florida and Bahamas cruise vacations. These callers were not impressed. They angrily called the fax removal line listed in the fine print at the bottom of the page to stop the unwelcome fax intrusions. The problem was that, between a too small font and the low reproduction quality of faxes, two 5s in the removal phone number looked like 6s, thereby corresponding to our sales line.

With voicemail now screening the calls to our sales line (even a recording stating that callers had not reached the fax removal line did not deter them from leaving their information — along with a piece of their understandable angst), I turned my attention towards averting a future reoccurrence of this fiasco. The solution seemed straightforward. Simply call the number in the ad, ask for a manager, explain the situation, and request that future faxes present the fax removal number in a larger point size. Boy was I naive.

Gamely, I dialed the number in the ad. The ringing call was abruptly answered by an agent who seemingly cared nothing about professionalism or customer service. There was a cacophony of sound in the background. Incredibly, I had reached a call center boiler room. Once the agent realized I was not interested in hearing her spiel about vacation cruises, she became even less interested in my call. I realized that my explanation was a futile effort, so I asked to speak to a supervisor. I was immediately disconnected.

Irritated, I called again, this time reaching a different agent. “Someone just hung up me,” I said and immediately launched into my story.

My tale was cut short. “I’ll have your fax number removed for our list,” she said with emphatic irritation. I tried anew to explain. She responded with the same words, only louder.

“No, you don’t understand,” I pleaded earnestly.

“Yes, I do understand,” she yelled back.

I must have responded in like manner, demanding to speak with a manager. I was placed on hold for several minutes — and eventually heard dialtone.

By now, I was furious. Thoughts of retaliation and revenge aggressively flashed through my mind. Fortunately, more sane ponderings eventually returned and I sought my friend Google for a different means of contact. A search of their company name revealed but three matches: a forum post complaining about the company, a listing that gave a street address, and a website about fraud and scams, with the contributor mentioning timeshares and “bait and switch.”

The street address gave me two matches in California. Switching to the satellite view showed them both to be residences. That was of little help.

Googling their phone number brought up the prior post and a phone number look-up service. Clearly, these people did not want to be found. Any ethical and honest business would have a website or at least a listed phone number, desiring to make it easy for people to contact them. Conversely, when a sales and marketing outfit operates in the covert darkness of anonymity, it is reasonable to assume that they have something to hide.

I suspected that the fax was sent by a service bureau, because this same scenario had occurred before. However, then the ad was for a different company and they did not use a call center. So I gave up on the deadbeat call center, turning my attention to the fax service bureau that was complicit in the whole mess. I called the real fax removal line. It was fully automated and I found no way to talk to a person or leave a message. (Although hitting zero repeatedly did make it try to remove phone number 000-000-0000. Interestingly, it had already been “removed.”)

Finally, I Googled the fax removal number and got no matches. Apparently, the faxing service company didn’t want to be found either.

Even now, I shake my head with incredulity. These types of unrestrained activities and fly-by-night antics by an unscrupulous few have gotten the call center industry into trouble in the past. This madness must end. At the risk of stating the obvious, permit me to make some recommendations that apply to all businesses:

  • Train staff to be polite and professional. Retrain or terminate those who won’t capitulate.
  • Don’t hang up on callers.
  • Allow calls to be escalated to a supervisor or manager when requested.
  • Have a website and list your phone number; make it easy for people to contact you.
  • Don’t use “bait and switch” tactics.
  • If you don’t police your staff and you compensate them only for closed sales, expect nothing else from them.
  • Don’t force customers to use automated solutions.
  • Provide a way out (press 0 for operator or at least let them leave a message).
  • Offer an alternative means of contact, such as email or even snail mail.
  • Don’t illegally fax ads.
  • If you perform services for other companies, don’t work with unscrupulous clients.

Unfortunately, most people reading this are not the ones who need this advice. But maybe this article will somehow find itself in the hands of a manager or business owner who needs to reform their wayward practices and do right for their customers.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Technology In Business: Use It, Don’t Rely On It

Nathan Jamail-TECHNOLOGY IN BUSINESS

Grab your smartphone and check your appointments, while you’re at it, see if any of your clients have posted anything worthwhile on Facebook, tweet your new prospect, check your e-mail for any new appointment requests and then go grab lunch—what a day! More and more sales professionals are relying on technology to drive sales and increase market share; unfortunately that is the first step to staying mediocre.

More and more sales professionals are relying on technology to drive sales and increase market share. Click To Tweet

Getting sales professionals to find vertical markets and make outbound prospecting calls as well as setting sales appointments with prospective buyers (in person!) is still the best way to increase sales—period. All of the technology in the world cannot close more deals than getting in front of the decision maker, so put away those e-mail marketing techniques, fax-ready sales pitches and automatic voicemail calling systems. It is no more difficult today than it was twenty years ago; we just have new excuses.

The gatekeeper now is voicemail with a delete button versus a receptionist and a pink message pad. The great handwritten letter to the decision maker and the trashcan has been replaced with e-mail systems that have auto junk mail programs. The prospective customers have always been too busy or happy with their current product or service to meet. Principles and disciplines of getting new sales are the same today as twenty years ago; the tools and skills needed to get the appointment are new.

Make the Call

What do nice letters, great e-mails, logo gifts, catchy tag lines and marketing campaigns all have in common? Every sales person hopes that it will be the “new thing” that gets their phones to start ringing by prospective customers, but in short they are all just a “another reason for a sales person not to make a prospecting call.” No matter what marketing idea or event you use to attract prospective customers, the sales professionals still must make the follow-up call. If you are going to use a technology-based tool (e-mail campaigns, voicemail systems, etc.), use it only as a tool for you to follow up with the prospective customer, not as an excuse for you to wait for customers to call you.

Social Media is Just Another Tool; It Isn’t a Sales Plan

Social media is powerful and there are many experts that have shown and believe that social media can really help a company become better known, or take the “word-of-mouth” to another level. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are some of the great social media forums, but they alone will not increase a company’s sales. It is a nice added inexpensive media outlet (and highly encouraged!), but if social media is the primary source for a company to attract new customers or to sell their product and services then they are sure to fail.

Social Media should work in conjunction with a marketing and prospecting plan that is based on network marketing, cold calling, vertical marketing and other key prospecting activities. Prospecting is still the most difficult part of any company’s sales process, but it is not complicated. Prospecting is 90 percent discipline and 10 percent skill set. Sales professionals should take the time to learn how to maximize their social media, but they should not rely on it to make their sales. In the old day’s sales, professionals were taught to follow their dollar. This means where a sales professional spends money, they should look there for future prospects as well including friends and family; the “old” social network. Just like then, as it is now, social networking is not the only way to grow business and should not be relied upon exclusively.

If increasing sales was only about coming up with some creative way for prospects to call then companies would not need professional sales people and especially the added expense of their high salaries. If you want to increase sales in today’s economy, then use the technology of today with the disciplines and principles of yesterday. It has been said a million times and it is still true; increasing sales is simple, but not easy. People are still buying; the question is whom are they going to buy from? Make the call!

Nathan Jamail, president of the Jamail Development Group, and author of the best-selling Playbook Series, is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and corporate coach. As a former Executive Director, life insurance sales professional and business owner of several small businesses, Nathan travels the country helping individuals and organizations achieve maximum success. Nathan has worked with thousands of leaders in creating a coaching culture. Get your copy of Nathan Jamail’s most recent book released by Penguin Publishers, “The Leadership Playbook” at www.NathanJamail.com.

They Just Don’t Get It

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I wonder if my local phone company is clueless; it seems that they just don’t get it. By “it,” I mean everything: marketing, pricing, customer retention, technical support, and customer service. Although they are surely aware that they no longer function in a monopoly environment, their actions belie that reality. Of course, within their extreme missteps are imbedded opportunities for introspection and relevant truth for all businesses, especially those who field phone calls for a living. To wit:

Marketing: My phone company sends me direct mail and uses bill stuffers. Since I have been their customer for twenty-two years, they should know me by now, making offers applicable to my service. Alas, they do not. I was recently delighted when a bill stuffer offered DSL service for only $17 a month, guaranteed to never go up.

That is half what I currently pay, so I immediately called. The rep was engaging and helpful – until she learned I already had DSL service. She explained that this offer was for new customers only.

Pricing: I understand the propensity to offer promotional rates to snag new business, but doing so is a slam on loyal and longstanding customers. It is even worse to flaunt it, by sending that special offer to someone who is already paying twice as much – and then refusing to lower their rate. She apologized for the error.

Nevertheless, I expressed my desire to lower my bill. She offered me several packages: DSL and long distance, DSL and local calling, DSL and satellite TV, and the triple play: DSL, cell phone, and satellite TV. In each instance, I would need to make a long-term commitment – and my bill would actually increase.

Even so, none of the packages made sense. Long ago, my phone company had inadvertently trained me to not make long distance calls on my landline, opting to use my cell phone instead with its free long distance. My satellite service and cell phone are with competing companies; she tried to get me to switch.

Customer Retention: Just the month before, I had slashed the cost of my business service 40 percent just by asking them to lower my bill. I’m not sure what the rep did, but she made it happen. Now my business line is a fraction of the cost of my residential service! Surely, my residential service could be likewise lower.

I pleaded with her for a way to reduce my rate. Not making any progress, I asked if I could cancel my local number and retain my DSL. Yes, that was possible, but the cost of the DSL would increase by 50 percent (and be almost three times their promotional offer). Sensing that my entire account might be in jeopardy, she offered to change my “unlimited” local dialing plan to “economy.” Now I will be charged four cents for each local call, but at my limited usage, this will still save several dollars a month.

In reality, however, we will merely make those local calls from our cell phones as well, saving even more. Once again, they have provided motivation to bypass their network.

Technical Support: When we first had DSL service, I would report problems as soon as I was aware of them. The response of the technical staff was shocking: they would assume it was my problem and that their equipment was without fault. They would have me changing the configuration on my computers and network, moving cables, and effectively migrating to an unworkable situation. Then they would reluctantly admit that the problem was not on my end, but theirs. They would promise a twenty-four-hour response time and hang up, leaving me to put things back to normal.

I eventually learned to not call to report outages but to take a break instead, as the issues tended to be resolved within an hour without me doing anything. Recently, however, there was an exception to this otherwise reliable pattern.

Customer Service: We lost our DSL service one Saturday evening. It was late anyway, so we stopped working for the day. On Sunday morning it was still down, and it was the same in the afternoon. By evening, I acquiesced to report it, with the expectation that it would be working by Monday morning.

Reporting phone trouble is an arduous task, with multiple levels of menus to navigate, dealing with speech recognition software, and entering and verifying my phone number. Of course, once I finally reached a person, the first thing they did was ask for my phone number. What was most exacerbating, however, is that after I pressed the option indicating I couldn’t connect to the Internet, they kept referring me to tech support online for faster service.

Initially, the tech said the problem was on my end but later changed his mind, claiming that a repairperson would need to be sent on-site. Someone would call me on Monday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. To my shock, he warned that if I didn’t answer when they called, the trouble ticket would be cancelled.

I never left the phone on Monday, and they never called. On my second attempt that day to reach them, I got through, asking what happened to their promise to fix it by 5:00 p.m. The agent apologized, testing the line again. This time she wondered if it could be fixed remotely, as the test results were different. She told me that I would receive an automated call once the problem was resolved; this would be on Tuesday.

However, knowing better than to believe anything they told me, I tested the Internet later that evening, and it worked. The automated call, however, didn’t come until the next day.

My local phone company just doesn’t get it – but I’m sure you do!

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Your Book as Your Business Card

Indie Book Publishing Provides Professionals the Edge

By Keith Ogorek

Keith Ogorek-Book as Your Business Card

What is 6” by 9,” usually weighs roughly one pound, and is giving an increasing number of business leaders an advantage over the competition? A book.

Thanks in large part to the explosion of Indie book publishing, the use of ‘the book as a business card’ has added a new and powerful tool to the marketing arsenal of many successful business people. For a few hundred dollars, seasoned experts and professionals are putting their knowledge into professionally-published books—a calling card sure to make a much bigger impression than the traditional business card.

A prospective customer isn’t going to necessarily care who published the book—they’re going to read it and discover that you really do know what you’re talking about Click To Tweet

Marketing—especially for businesspeople in consulting and service industries—is about credibility, and a book establishes a person as someone who has reached a level of expertise. It allows readers (potential clients) to learn more about their philosophies, thought process and successful case studies, much more so than a simple brochure. And, you don’t have to be published by a major house to achieve and utilize this credibility. Authors are proving that it doesn’t matter if a book is self-published—the end result in terms of marketing benefits is the same.

Imagine one business consultant calling on prospective customers with traditional marketing materials, and another calling on the same customers and supplementing materials with a book written about the field of expertise. Who do you think has the better chance of landing that sale?

Securing extra income from book sales typically isn’t paramount for business authors. Media coverage in the form of book reviews, interviews and feature stories not only spreads the word about the author to their target business groups, but also provides excellent fodder for meetings with prospects, and priceless material for other marketing collateral.

The marketing power of TV and radio shows appearances or an expert’s book featured in various public and trade publications is undeniable. Once again, it is the book that makes the media interested in the author; another benefit of publishing.

One case in point is AuthorHouse author Stacey Hanke, whose book Everything You Need From A to A To Z To Influence Others to Take Action, has received interest from over 120 media outlets.

“My book has given me the opportunity to promote my business in ways I could not have done before,” says Hanke.

Randy Petrick, a writer, speaker, and money coach with more than thirty years of experience teaching financial concepts, has received nationwide media attention for his book Money Games: 85 Ways to Save Money and Attract Abundance. Petrick’s book and expertise has made him a particularly attractive source for the media in light of the recent economic difficulties and many Americans’ increased focus on stretching their dollars.

“Writing and publishing Money Games has been a wonderful opportunity to enhance my business as a financial consultant,” says Petrick. “I can’t imagine a better ‘business card’ in these financial times than my book.”

The expansion in the popularity of Indie book publishing, more commonly referred to as self-publishing, is drawing attention from prominent media in a time when publishing as a whole is experiencing contraction. Recent features in the Time Magazine and The New York Times draw a distinct contrast in ‘old publishing’—which was often fraught with obstacles and disappointment for prospective authors—and indie book publishing which is opening up the goal of publishing a book to everyone, including business professionals.

If you’re a business person selling your services, a prospective customer isn’t going to necessarily care who published the book—that’s not their mindset—they’re going to read it and discover that you really do know what you’re talking about, and you’ve proven it in the book.

Keith Ogorek is Vice President of Marketing for Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI) ASI, owned by Bertram Capital Management LLC, is the world leader in indie book publishing—the fastest-growing segment of publishing. ASI’s self-publishing brands: AuthorHouse, AuthorHouse UK, iUniverse, Xlibris, Wordclay and Inkubook; have helped more than 70,000 authors self-publish, promote, and bring to market more than 100,000 new titles. In 2008, one out of every 20 new U.S. titles was published by an ASI brand—more than any publisher in the world. Headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana; ASI also operates offices in New York City; Indianapolis; Milton Keynes, England; and Cebu, Philippines. Visit www.authorsolutions.com or call 877-655-1722 for more information.

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