Tag Archives: customer service

Channel Inconsistency

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle 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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

A Lesson in Futility

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

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 published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

They Just Don’t Get It

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

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 published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

Customer Since 1978

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It was an emotional moment for me. After proudly carrying and using a Shell gasoline credit card for more than 20 years, I had just canceled it and was in the process of cutting it up. Not that I was angry or upset with Shell, but it no longer made sense to carry their card. You see, Shell, in conjunction with Chase Manhattan, had launched the Shell Master Card. If I used it for my Shell gasoline purchases, I would receive five percent off my fuel expenditures on my next statement. For all non-gas purchases, I would earn a one percent rebate on future gasoline. Therefore, I could use the card for more than just gas and get discounts, too. In comparison, my old trusty Shell gas card was an absolute antique. The only practical thing to do was to cancel it.

How did this long-term relationship with Shell start? It was 1978. I was attending electronics school and found myself changing jobs often and moving just about as frequently. During one such transition of both employment and abode, I found myself on the other side of town, far away from the gas stations whose credit card I carried. However, there was a Shell station around the corner from my ramshackle apartment, one down the street from the TV station where I worked, and another next door to the school I was attending. Add to this a gas shortage, skyrocketing prices, and Shell’s tendency to not only have gas, but to be one of the less expensive options. This led to an easy decision to get a Shell credit card. It all began due to practicality, convenience, and frugality.

Of course, it wasn’t long before I finished school, got a “real” job, and moved again. To my delight, there were Shell gas stations both near the office and close to my new home. Soon thereafter, I married and it was a simple matter to order a second card for my wife. In the years that followed, through job changes and relocations, there always seemed to be a Shell gas station nearby. A habit was formed. By then, even at times when Shell didn’t have the lowest prices, little thought was given to going somewhere else. (This is a lesson for anyone selling a commodity product or service: availability, convenience, and consistency produce long-term customers.)

Fast-forward to a couple of years ago when the Shell Master Card was introduced. At first, I viewed their offer with skepticism, but there didn’t seem to be a downside. I could continue my Shell gasoline habit, reduce my overall gas costs, and have a more versatile card. We applied for the card and begin using it immediately. Even so, I anxiously awaited the first statement, worried about a hidden snag or unanticipated caveat. None appeared, just my rebate to be applied to next month’s gas charges. Still the cynic, I cautiously anticipated my second statement. Was there some fine print to let them wiggle away from the result I expected? No. The rebate occurred exactly as indicated and for the amount promised.

Even so, my old Shell card remained in my wallet – just in case. Finally, after a year of non-use, I realized the time had come to throw aside any emotional connection to my long-term companion. It was time to cancel the card. I glanced one last time at the words I had grown to delight in – “customer since 1978” – and cut the card into pieces.

Soon the Shell Master Card was used for all our household purchases and the ensuing rebates grew. Things went well for quite some time. Then a surprise came on our statement, a $29 late fee. My wife, Candy, called Chase Manhattan to inquire. Since our payment history was stellar and Candy can be most persuasive, it was a trivial matter to get the charge removed. We were admonished to mail the payment earlier in order to avoid future late fees.

The next month, Candy mailed our payment five days before the due date. Again, another $29 late fee appeared. This time she called to complain. “We don’t care when you mailed your payment nor do we consider the postmark,” came the arrogant reply. “We only look at the date we post your payment.” Apparently, this was a change in their policy. Plus it seemed a bit despotic, especially considering that our payment was applied eight days after it was mailed. “But we have no control over when you process our check,” Candy countered. The agent’s response was quick and terse, “We always post payments on the day they are received.” No amount of pleading or cajoling could get the late fee removed a second time. The complaint was escalated and soon the only remaining recourse was to submit our concern in writing.

Our letter of complaint was submitted as instructed and a series of automated written responses from Chase Manhattan followed. The last one promised the company would “notify (us) of our findings as soon as they become available.” That was nine months ago. There have been no further communications from them about this matter.

Since the late fees were exceeding our rebates, we stopped using the Shell Master Card and begin buying our gasoline using an existing Visa card. This afforded us a new level of flexibility since there was no longer any need to continue our routine of looking for a Shell sign. We could also shop for the lowest-priced gas. (When we used the Shell Master Card, the rebate would more than offset any higher price we paid for their gas.) It soon got to the point that we were seldom going to Shell.

Over the past 24 years, I estimate that we have spent about $20,000 on Shell gas. Assuming that our future gas consumption will remain constant and projecting that prices will increase, we could likely spend another $30,000 on gasoline in our lifetimes. In line with this projection, a $50,000 lifetime customer and $30,000 in future business was lost due to a $29 late fee and the policies supporting it.

What are the conclusions we can draw from this experience?

The first is to be careful in pursuing strategic alliances. Yes, this is a business trend and, when properly done, it is a great way to retain clients and obtain new ones. I am sure that Shell saw these benefits, which is why they formed a relationship with Chase. The failure in their strategy is that they relinquished interaction with their patrons to Chase. Chase did not view me as a $20,000 customer or foresee a $50,000 lifetime value; they likely saw me only as an unprofitable credit card holder (since we always pay the entire balance each month and, until the end of our relationship, continually paid on time). Hence, when forming any kind of marketing, cross-promotion, or reciprocal business relationship, make sure you retain control over your clients; don’t leave such a critical element to someone else.

The second lesson is about policies. Certainly Chase’s policy to track late fees and interest charges by the date posted is practical and easy to follow (as well as being self-serving), but is it fair? Care must always be given to ensure that policies and procedures balance the needs of the company with the best interests of the client.

Lastly, consider your staff. The agents Candy talked to did not have the latitude to credit a late fee more than one time. Apparently, their supervisors didn’t either, nor did the managers. Yes, there is a place for rules and policies, but to make them absolute and intractable, unfairly handicaps agents and can ruin client relationships. The last words that a frustrated client or caller wants to hear are, “It’s our policy,” or “I can’t do that.”

Because of these problems, caused by a partner company, Shell, through no direct fault of its own, has lost me as an exclusive customer and has encouraged me to spend money with its competitors.

[Postscript: We since received a notice from Chase stating in part, “Shell will no longer be participating with Chase in a credit card program.” Do you think that perhaps Shell has realized what I’ve just pointed out?]

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