When I opened the envelope, a crisp $10 floated out. Yup, it was real and completely spendable. The letter from one of those survey companies wanted a few minutes of my time and was willing to pay in advance for it.
Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing and Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing are different realms. But both are slaves to customer expectations. To be successful, they need to adapt their customer overtures to what customers expect and will tolerate. Of course, giving money away is a great way to initiate prospect relationships!
Consequently, I was predisposed to be patient when a few days later the survey company phoned me. When I look back on it, my surprise was how quickly I lost confidence, interest, and patience with this firm and metamorphosed from being a “booster” to being “completely dissatisfied and disinterested in further contact.”
So what happened? I think that the mistakes this firm made in managing our relationship are all too frequent and bear examination. Company X--I won’t embarrass the firm—is a leader in compiling usage data on American consumption patterns of mass media. Owners of radio, TV, and cable channels depend on accurate data about their audiences in order to set ad rates, confirm programming decisions and directions, and acquire other information to guide their business. This data is provided through a process of statistical sampling, a specialized function provided by a few companies that constantly revise their collection methods.
When Company X called, I was ready and willing to talk with them. Asked if I would be willing to join their panel, I said, “Sure.” “Not so fast,” they said. “First, we have to qualify you to confirm we are talking to who we THINK we’re talking to.” (Ok, they paid me $10 for some time. I will give them the benefit of the doubt). We then launched into a fifteen minute question-and-answer session with increasingly probing questions. When it developed that my wife would also need to participate and that she would need to give her approval in person, a follow-up call was requested. When the agreed-upon time came and went, I was unable to successfully call them to finalize things. When they finally called back and attempted to “requalify” me, I lost patience and called a halt to everything.
I’ve thought about this episode and believe it offers important learning for marketers in B2B and B2C roles.
1. Customers expect consistency in their communications. Paying someone in advance for their time sets an expectation that you have their interests in mind and that you have a keen awareness of the value of their time. Once you position yourself or your company as having a specific belief or attitude, consistency assumes an even greater importance
2. Companies often confuse processes designed for their convenience with customer-friendly processes.
3. Proper segmentation is important to marketers. But needlessly enlarging your prospect pool to make up for prospects who become disaffected before they can become enrolled is also expensive – and can have indirect brand-impairment consequences.
Companies like Company X have outsourced the prospect segmentation process to low-cost call center personnel whose freedom of action is tightly controlled by a script and process designed to minimize errors. “In an effort to screen large numbers of prospects in a cost-effective manner, many call centers utilize low-wage team members with minimal discretionary authority and tight performance metrics, “ says Kerry Elkind, call center trainer and change management expert. While this might help the bottom line and make the “segmentation process” more predictable and cost-effective, prospects who feel steamrollered by these processes may well opt out before the enrollment or sale can be concluded.
The direct effect of unfriendly processes is a needless enlargement of the prospect pool. That means more people in the initial mailing, more expensive enclosures, and more prospects to process. But the indirect cost can be significant, too. I have told many people about my negative experience. Multiplied by many times, that is a lot of negative reputation impact.
According to Elkind,“Call centers are powerful vehicles for transforming prospects into customers and repeat customers. To achieve this goal, though, call centers must meet (and exceed) customers’ increasing expectations and demands for a level of professionalism that can be implemented only through training and a careful analysis of contact procedures. This can only be obtained through implementing and maintaining a double-feedback loop which listens carefully to the voice of the customer.”
The moral? If you are going to use powerful marketing techniques to get attention and introduce prospects to your company, service, or offering, be careful. Consistency, customer orientation, and professionalism will pay off and in the long run, it will also be less expensive.