The Big Hang-Up!

My first job out of university was taking complaints for Telstra. I joined the company about a month before Optus joined the market and within 6 months of joining I had been made supervisor - such was the rate of attrition under a barrage from customers who had an alternative for the first time in Australian history.

What is most interesting about this time, apart from the development of my evidently thick skin, was that the customers who did complain almost never mentioned price in their comparison with this new carrier or with the others who followed (I have since worked with many of them in a variety of capacities including Optus and Vodafone). In fact, the complaints rarely had anything to do with the telephony market at all (OK, I’m showing my age a bit here but this predates the data market).

The nature of people’s complaints had very little to do with the product, its effectiveness, price or even its availability. It was almost exclusively the human component of the transaction and a lot of this had more to do with reputation than actual experience. For example, people had heard it took a long time to get someone to answer their enquiry when they called, so they were often angry before they’d even picked up the phone. When they were in fact answered on the third ring, their anger bizarrely seemed to increase (I suspect this was because I had robbed them of what they were hoping to yell and scream about).

So what does this all mean to today’s communications market?

Interestingly, the work I’ve done with Telcos over the years since has convinced me that while the market has changed, the product range is richer, the service better and the variety of options available to customers is infinitely more enticing, people have assiduously kept the perceptions in the late 1980s.

What this indicates is that the focus of many providers on the nuts and bolt of their services, the devices, plans and technology is not only failing to arrest customer promiscuity, its probably encouraging it.

So how can we arrest this behaviour in customers such that they are able to commit for more than the length of a contract? Firstly, I’d like to suggest that we sell something other than the nuts and bolts.

Now, it’s very easy to turn around and say, “But Dan, my customers only care about price”. My advice in this case is that it sound like the problem might be you. If all they’re going on is price, you’re not really adding much to the relationship now are you? This is often an observation that the B2B market makes. That people in procurement make rational decisions based on numbers not the skills of sales people.

Of course this is rubbish. A wholly rational human being is yet to walk the planet. Procurement people are just as motivated by human factors such as how much time they have available, what their boss thinks, whether or not someone has complained about the existing provider or whether they have a good relationship with their supplier.

But does this mean that the sales, and ultimately the retention strategy, should be emotionally based. Well, yes and no.

What it does mean, is that the sale is not as much in the product or service as you may believe, and is in fact in the prospect. The more you know about your customers, the more effectively you can sell to them and hold them (and by hold them, I don’t mean while they wait to speak to you).

Human beings tend to associate themselves with those we believe “understand us”. This is as true in business as it is in personal relationships. None of us has the time or money to find the “perfect” person for the job, so we tend to go with the person who “gets us”, or at least seems to.

If the telecommunications industry, and any industry for that matter, is going to retain customers and reduce churn, then it is critical that they develop their understanding of their customers, what drives their behaviour, how they see themselves and how your organisation and service fits with their view of the world.


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The Big Hang-Up!

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