Anything for a Sale (part 2)

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In the last issue, I shared the story of a telephone salesman, Karl, who was seemingly willing to say anything – true or not – to make a sale. The ramifications of this unfortunate event spiraled out of control, with more and more people brought into the situation all because of his shortsighted fabrication and no one else’s ability to effectively deal with the fallout. In the end, the company looked inept and their new customers were mad.

At the time that I was chronicling those events, another similar scenario was unfolding. Although end result was indeterminate at the time, the outcome is happily different. Again, it involved a transaction made over the phone; again, there was an agent who was all too willing to say anything for a sale.

I have had a long and largely favorable history with this particular company, buying various Internet related services from them. Though much of my interaction is via a self-service website, there are both sales and technical support available by email and phone. I had been long contemplating a particular service for which, by design, only limited technical support is provided. In short, if I were to buy that product, it was expected that I would know how to properly use it.

Only twice in the past several years, did my account’s activity with this company warrant a proactive phone call, albeit a sales phone call. Fortunately, Alex was offering the very service I have been cautiously contemplating. I shared my concern over the limited support provision. He readily acknowledged that reality, but he just as quickly downplayed its significance. He told me it was easy to use and that after a short learning curve, I would be up-to-speed and proficient. He promised to walk me through the setup, pre-configure as much as feasible, provide instructions over the phone, and do whatever he could to make the migration to this service go quickly and smoothly.

Based on his representations and promises, I placed my order and confirmed my credit card number. We scheduled a time the next day for him to begin his tutelage of me. Within minutes, the paperwork for the credit card charges was emailed to me and I began preparations for his call the following day. Alex didn’t call. I assumed that something came up, so I was patient. The next day I called him and left a message; no response. This went on for several days, with each subsequent voicemail message that I left containing increasingly stronger language and pleas that were more urgent. Although I don’t recall the exact verbiage, my fifth message was quite terse and rightfully accusatory.

After being snubbed yet again, I placed a call to Alex’s number, but zeroed out. As calmly as I could, I insisted to the unsuspecting agent that I be immediately connected to a manager. A bit nonplused (since he didn’t know who Alex was), but nevertheless very willing to assist, he gathered the requisite background information and transferred me to his supervisor, Dennis.

Dennis, although responsible for a different department, immediately and sincerely apologized for Alex’s transgressions. Furthermore, Dennis promised to refund all my money if I wasn’t completely satisfied with the outcome. He was both assertive and definitive in his course of action: Dennis would be the point person in dealing with and resolving the problem; Alex’s supervisor would be having a “talk” with Alex about his failure to return calls; and I would be assigned a technical guru to help me with the product I ordered.

Like part one of this subject, the learning outcomes from this story are both helpful and illustrative:

  • Training and Call Monitoring: Just as with the prior example, better agent training and ongoing call monitoring are in order. Alex should have been trained to make only promise that he could – and would – keep. Call monitoring, including voicemail messages, would have uncovered a rouge agent who was focused only on himself and with total disregard for the customers he was hired to serve.
  • Incentives and Measurements: Alex most likely had sales goals and incentives that unintentionally encouraged him to cut corners and not follow through. It cannot be overstressed that agent measurements and compensation must to be aligned with the company’s overall best interest. Again, “What gets measured gets done and what gets paid for gets done more,” so be careful what you track and more careful in how you compensate for it.
  • Problem Resolution: It was obvious that Dennis had been trained in effective problem resolution. Plus, he was practiced and proficient at its implementation. He apologized, expressed empathy, took decisive action, and shouldered the responsibility for resolving the problem – even though it rightly belonged in a different department. The people he elicited for assistance were both supportive and efficient at effectively meeting the common goal of tuning a bad situation into a desirable conclusion. This is a prime example of customer service at its finest.

(Epilogue: Alex did call me later that day. He apologized for the “misunderstanding,” claiming to have only gotten one message from me. The reason that he hadn’t called back was that he believe it wasn’t necessary! It seemed he was doing some serious damage control, trying to recast reality into an story that better suited his agenda. I think his job – or at least his boss’s esteem – was on the line. He doesn’t deserve to keep his job, but I suspect he will, that he will say whatever is needed to remain employed.)