If there is one clue that business should take from blogosphere, it is that you need to change the way you connect with your customers if you want to sell them something…

Last Friday, I received a phone call from a BT sales person. I currently pay BT for 3 services: telephone line, ISP provider and dial-up Internet connection. The BT man kindly reminded me that I was a valued customer (I wonder how many unvalued customers they call?) and told me he wanted to help reduce my telephone bill. So far, so scripted. On to the killer question. “How are you finding your Internet service?” He asked. “Well, since you ask…” I replied, “bloody awful, I’ve been meaning to call BT to switch from Anytime to Pay-as-you-go ‘cos it’s a waste of money .” Hmmm, that wasn’t quite the response his script required to lead on to the next question.

Now I wasn’t expecting a sales guy to solve my Internet connection problems. But if he wanted to sell me something, he could have at least recommended that I call the support number, or even offered to get a support person to call me (that would have won some loyalty points). But nooooo, that’s not why he’s calling – he’s got a script and he’s going to stick to it…

“When do you make most of your phone calls at home?” (If you checked my account, you’d know the answer… ) “Daytime.” (Not entirely true.) “Ah, well, did you know that for the incredibly small amount of £24.99 per month you could have super fast broadband access to the Internet including free telephone calls during the day. What do you think about that?” (sigh, if he had bothered to ask instead of tell, he’d discover that I know all about BT’s broadband talk offer.) “Lovely. Send me an email with the details and I’ll think about it.”

What do I really think? That BT just spammed me – a mass-produced scripted sales call designed for ‘the customer’ and outsourced to a sales agency to save costs. What I’m thinking is they couldn’t be bothered to find out what I really need and sell me something I want. What I’m thinking is, if they don’t want to listen and help solve an issue with their service, why would I buy anything else from them?…

Did BT man ever send me that email with details of the offer? Did he hecks.

What did this whole experience remind me of? The Push model of doing business – treat your customers as an entity – the ‘customer’ – uninformed and waiting to be sold something. But in this emerging Pull era, customers often know more about the products than the people paid to sell them.

When off-shoring became fashionable, business jumped at the chance to lower the operating costs of running a call centre without first questioning the effect it may have on customer service. Given it costs a lot more to win a new customer than it does to retain an existing one, creating a system that frustrates your existing customers and reduces the quality of service is perhaps not the wisest strategy. Lower operating costs are of little use if the cost of sales has to rise to compensate for the customers you lose.

The same is becoming true for selling. It may be cheaper to use untrained contractors, armed with a script and a list of telephone numbers, to mass sell a new service. But lowering the cost of selling is of little use if it annoys your customers so much they cancel what they already pay for and go somewhere else.

How should the call have gone?

  • For starters, don’t tell me I’m a valued customer, find out if you are a valued supplier – thank me for purchasing your services
  • If you are going to ask what I think about your services, be prepared to deal with the response – if I tell you there is a problem, try and fix it before you try and sell me something else
  • Be honest – don’t tell me you want to help reduce my telephone bill when you don’t (switching from Anytime to Pay-as-you-go would reduce my telephone bill, subscribing to broadband would not)
  • Do your homework – BT itemises my telephone bill and would know that I barely make any telephone calls during the day from home so why ask the question?
  • Don’t assume that I haven’t already done my homework – if BT man had asked, he would have found out that I had spent the best part of last month studying BT’s various services and knew all about the broadband talk offer
  • Instead of trying to sell me the product you decide I should be using, match the right products to my needs – if BT man had tried, he would have found out that I use wireless a lot in coffee shops and have been considering buying a BT OpenZone account

If BT had invested in proper sales tactics instead of using canned scripts, they would probably have:

  1. Sold a broadband package in half the time it took to waffle through the script
  2. Also sold a BT OpenZone account

That would have increased revenue on my account by £35 per month. Instead they got less than nothing – I will switch my Internet account to Pay-as-you-go (it should save £10 per month). Prior to the call, I had no intention of buying broadband from anyone else, now I’m not so sure BT are worth the extra cost… Oh, and opinion of BT before the call: 7/10. Opinion after the call: 5/10.

Now that’s a lesson in how not to sell to your existing customers…

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