Posted by: johnocunningham | August 15, 2014

Three Tips on How NOT to Sell a Service

Sometimes, the best lessons on how to do something are illustrated most poignantly by examples of how NOT to do it.

Remember the cable customer who simply wanted to terminate his service, and could not get it done? The service rep kept trying to “sell” the customer on renewal when the customer was clearly disinterested. If you have not heard the conversation, you can sample the 8-minute fiasco by clicking on this link.

To be fair, there are many cable/telecom companies other than the one mentioned in the video link that employ people who use overaggressive, obnoxious sales tactics and pay little attention to customers’ expressed desires.

That is one reason why people are racing to “unplug” from overpriced, bundled cable services by converting to free digital TV, cell phones vs. land lines, and mobile broadband for Internet, such as that provided by NetZero.

My own experiences with the sales team for my Internet/phone provider (not the provider mentioned in the link) have inspired me to start looking for these options as well. I already have free TV, and I purchase only the “double-play” service of Internet and phone from my carrier. But I had to purchase a two-year contract to get these services renewed at a reasonable price, and the hoops I jumped through to do it are ridiculous.

A few weeks ago, a sales rep called me, ostensibly to help me find the best opportunity to save money on the services I want. She then relentlessly hammered me on the idea of converting my old double play package to a new triple play package at a higher rate. I had to repeatedly disclaim my interest, and threaten to terminate my service before I could get her to understand that all I wanted was to renew my old double play package at a decent rate. She finally relented, acknowledging that she had no ability to help me renew, but could arrange for me to speak with someone who could do that for me.

Once I got to speak with someone who could actually help me accomplish my goal, I had a fun time trying to pin them down on the actual costs, including taxes and other fees, for my renewal. They agreed to send to me a summary in writing of my renewal costs, and so it came in my email inbox a few days later, showing that I would pay $91.16 per month starting with my “next” bill. That is what I agreed to pay.

But when my next bill arrived, it showed a charge of $106.80. This necessitated another unpleasant experience with yet another service rep, who had a convoluted way of explaining to me that my renewal was not “in time” to get the double play rate, so I would not see that rate until the following monthly bill. When I asked her to tell me what that bill would be, she totaled it up and informed me it would be $96.80, which is more than $60 a year over the written, quoted renewal price.

Since my time is worth more than $60 an hour, I decided not to spend one more hour arguing about this, or trying to locate a service-minded person at a multi-billion dollar corporate entity to resolve the issue.

Nonetheless, within two days they contacted me again. I thought perhaps to apologize for the confusion, but no, they wanted to SELL me a triple-play package once again. I informed the sales rep that I already renewed my double-play, and that I have NO interest in cable TV, and told her that I have asked company reps before to take me off of the triple-play calling list (which never happens).

So, here are my practical tips on how NOT to sell a service:

1. Do NOT hire sales reps to annoy people on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. Most of us don’t mind an occasional sales pitch. NOBODY I know wants to hear one dozens of times a year, especially from a provider that never asks how they can improve on the service or sales they provide already.

2. Do NOT train sales reps to be relentless in their conversational approach. In sales and in dating, “No means no.” At some point, I truly expect cable customers to seek out restraining orders to stop the sales stalkers from calling, mailing, e-mailing and even arriving at the front door to pitch more sales.

3. Do NOT set up billing cycles that don’t match for all of your services. If the customer pays one monthly fee for all services, but the service dates run from different monthly dates for each bundled service, the ultimate renewal and/or termination process is a nightmare to track (of course, that is not a problem if you want it that way so that people get frustrated, give up, and pay whatever you want to charge them).

And here is one free “DO” tip: Do train people to actually listen to the customer, find out what they want, and then just deliver it to them in the simplest, most transparent way possible. If you do that, customers will be eager to renew, instead of looking for every possible alternative to your services. The cable companies have had very little competition for a long time, and they have acted like it. Now, customers are looking for the shovels needed to bury them, once and for all.



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