Don’t Chase Away Shoppers: Turning Prospects into Customers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI often share customer service stories in this column. While I prefer to pass on examples of excellence, they are harder to spot than service gone awry. Even so, I try not to let these tales become a rant but instead offer helpful information in an interesting way.

As my history teacher said, “If we can learn from history, we will avoid repeating its mistakes.” Contact center managers, then, will benefit by considering my accounts of less-than-ideal customer service. Here are two more that occurred while researching Internet access for a friend.

I entered his address into the website of the most likely provider. Four options came up. I clicked the first, and it said, “Service not available.” I clicked the second, and it said, “Service available.” What perplexed me is that they appeared to be the same basic service, but one had more features. The third was likewise not available, while the fourth one was.

I called the support number, and the rep said, “I’m sorry, but we do not serve your area.” I explained what I found online. He checked again and then a third time, verifying the address with each attempt and muttering as he did. Finally, he said, “I guess my system’s not up-to-date. Let me transfer you to customer service. Even though you’re not a customer, they can help.”

The person in customer service didn’t appreciate me being transferred to her, acted snarky, and assured me that all four options were available. She needed to transfer me to another department, but I never heard what they had to say; I was disconnected during the transfer.

I intended to start all over, but then I considered the company I called. I had a bad encounter with them, a relative had a string of bad experiences, and several friends also complained. I couldn’t recall anyone ever sharing a positive experience about this outfit.

I went on to the second company. Again, four options came up, but there was no indication whether or not they were available in the area. I called the number listed. The closest prompt on the IVR was “To order service, press 1.”

The rep wasn’t pleased that I only wanted information. In less time than it would take to check, she snapped, “Of course it’s available.” Then she tried to sign me up. Despite me saying I didn’t want to order service, she made three attempts, with the last one being for a delayed installation. At each try, she grew more irritated over me wasting her time. When I said no the third time, she hung up.

I’d heard negative things about this company, too, but also some positive things. As the least undesirable option, I’ll recommend this one to my friend. I hope they really do service his area and won’t subject him to frustration by later telling him, “Oops, service isn’t available in your area after all.” I’ve heard stories of that happening.

No self-respecting call center manager wants to hear these types of complaints, yet how can you know for sure? Here’s an idea. Ask some friends to place an order – friends you trust to give you honest feedback. But don’t give them any background about your company or call center; don’t even tell them what number to dial. Just share your company name, and then make them work to find the number, just as a real prospect would. Also, if it’s legal in their area, have them record the call. But don’t merely rely on the recording; ask them to share what happened and their reaction to the experience.

If the report and recording are perfect, you can celebrate your success – but also take steps to make sure every call produces the same level of excellence. However, if your friends uncover glitches or shortfalls, address each problem, starting with the most critical one. If your friends have issues placing orders, prospects are likely suffering the same fate, resulting in lost business.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of  Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection Magazine May/Jun 2014]

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