Anything for a Sale
By Peter L DeHaan
Last year, my family’s two favorite TV shows were on the WB and UPN
television networks. These two networks merged this fall to become
the CW Television Network. Since our provider offered both
networks, I was confident that would be no problem receiving the new
network. I was wrong.
Repeated contacts to our provider via email resulted in no response
whatsoever. My wife was aghast; I was not. My expectations were
nil and they were squarely met, but that is a different story for a
different time. Subsequent calls to our provider resulted in no
satisfying results or tangible communication.
In the midst of this, a direct mail piece arrived from a competing
provider. It offered a seemingly attractive price, free
installation, and new equipment, including a DVR (Digital Video
Recorder). This was an attractive enticement since our receiver and
remote (free promotional incentives from our existing provider) were
wearing out; the DVR would be a great bonus.
Upon calling the prospective provider, I talked to a helpful and
confident agent, Karl. My first query was if they carried the CW
network. Karl knew all about the merger (whereas most prior
contacts did not) and assured us that they did in fact carry the new
network. Additional probing revealed that my hope of slashing our
bill was not to be realized, but still it was a worthy change as we
would get the new network and new equipment, including a DVR.
My first clue that Karl’s veracity was questionable should have
occurred when he insisted that no additional wiring would be needed
to connect the second TV to the single receiver. I knew that this
was technologically feasible via an RF signal as Karl explained, but
I was dubious that such technology would be included in our free
equipment. At this point, however, we had established a rapport and
I trusted him to be both honest and ethical.
I confirmed my understanding of what Karl said and placed my order.
A few days, the installer arrived and set up the system. He quickly
gave an overview of its operation while the programming was
downloading. I asked what number the CW network was. “That’s the
new one, right?” he said. “I don’t know offhand, but it’s there
someplace. If you can’t find, it call this number” and he handed me
an information sheet.
Thirty minutes later and frustrated, I dialed that number. “I’m
sorry,” the agent said. “I can only help you with installation
issues and this isn’t an installation question. You’ll need to call
the provider.” (We had apparently bought from an authorized
agent.) The provider’s call center told me it would be an extra $5
a month to get the CW network. Mad at this unexpected news, I
called my buddy Karl. Unfortunately, he was no longer my buddy. “I
only deal with sales questions,” he stated curtly. “I can’t help
you,” and he hung up.
My wife, who is tenacious in righting wrongs and fixing the
unresolvable, took over our quest for the CW network. Over the next
few days she called Karl, the service department, the installation
line, and the billing department, as well as all the other numbers
she was given. Several days and countless hours later, she resigned
herself to accept that we had been had. During the course of our
dealings, we have been told:
The CW Network is included in your service package.
The CW Network is available for only a dollar more a month.
The CW Network is available for five dollars a month.
The CW Network is not part of your local channels (even though
it is a local channel, albeit an HDTV subcarrier).
The CW Network is available everywhere, but in your area.
There is much to be learned from this saga. One seemingly small
miscommunication had widespread and far-reaching ramifications. One
person’s words, either out of intentionality or ignorance, resulted
in more that a dozen follow-up phone calls and a new customer who is
angry and feels maligned. It will take great effort to overcome
such a bad start. As such, several recommendations are in order:
If the miscommunication was out of ignorance, then better
training could have averted the whole ordeal. Unfortunately,
the payback from training is not directly quantifiable, whereas
sales numbers are. This is a dichotomous situation that
managers must acknowledge and grapple with.
If the miscommunication was intentional, then some policing is
in order. Active monitoring might have caught the error, could
have eliminated the rouge employee, and certainly would have
minimized all employees’ propensity towards untrue statements.
Incentives and Measurements:
What gets measured gets done and what gets paid for gets done
better. Again, if the miscommunication was intentional, then it
was likely a calculated lie aimed at making a sale.
Unfortunately, sales deaprtments measurement and reward systems
often unwittingly serve for promote and foster activity and
performance that is detrimental to an organization’s overall
best interests. The big picture must be continually considered.
Whenever customer contact is relegated to a third party, control
over transactions need to be retained and carefully tracked by
the issuing party. Their organization is at risk and they need
to be able to verify that they are being properly and ideally
represented at all times. This involves more that just tracking
monthly sales totals or costs per call.
All staff need to have the same information, supported by the
same technology, and reinforced by the same training so that
they will tell customers the same thing. Furthermore, this
needs to be synchronized with their websites and coordinated
with marketing pieces: one message, many employees, multiple
Quickly Salvage Mistakes:
There is a ripple effect when a mistake is made. This occurs
both within the organization has more and more people are pulled
into the problem, as well as outside the organization as more
and more people are told about the problem. Both take their
toll. Front-line employees need to be empowered to act and to
solve pressing issues, not encouraged to end the call just so
they can take the next one.
After many calls, finally an agent apologized. But no one ever
said, “What would you like done to resolve this?” No one ever
suggested a course of action and recommended a solution.
At this time, we still do not have the CW Network, but Karl, who
apparently will say anything to close the deal, did chalk up a sale.
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