Be Gentle on Your Customers

Many of you reading this will have heard of a German woman who was fined for blowing a whistle down the telephone at a call-centre worker. The woman, 61, was fed up with a constant stream of cold-calls to her house to sell her things she didn’t want. Sadly, she ended up in court and was fined the equivalent of about R8000 after she damaged the hearing of her victim.

The woman told the judge that she was so annoyed by the unending stream of marketing calls that she snapped, and blew a whistle into the receiver. She was hoping just to deter the company from calling her again, but ended up convicted of bodily harm after giving the female call-centre employee hearing problems and tinnitus. The woman initially challenged the fine but decided to pay it shortly before an appeal hearing was due to be heard.

Now I have to admit that I have been tempted to do something similar for companies that annoy me – fine or no fine. Being old-fashioned person, I feel uncomfortable being rude to others, (like slamming down the phone,) but equally so, I think it’s incredibly rude and downright unacceptable to interrupt me in my quiet time to sell me something I don’t want, to send me interminable emails even though I have unsubscribed, and to ask me to pay for an SMS to opt out.

Although telemarketing may have been a good way to attract sales in the past, I’m willing to bet that the “strike rate” has fallen dramatically. Sins include making the offer sound like I’m going to get something for nothing, calling repeatedly from the same company using different employees, not taking no as an answer, blocking or witholding the calling number, poor training and knowledge of the product they are trying to sell, and a complete lack of empathy and understanding of the customer.

Like the German lady, I do occasionally feel frustrated enough to be rude back to staff, to slam down the telephone, to tell them I’m calling my wife while I keep them hanging on listening to the television set until they realise that I’m not coming back, and even to ask them for their home telephone number so I can call them back at 11:00 pm. I heard of one customer in the UK who applied for one of those premium telephone numbers where the caller pays a big amount for every minute they talk to you. I could probably make quite a tidy sum each month from that.

Another terrible example of bad manners is the contempt and anger that most of us feel towards SANRAL and the tolling saga at the moment. By far the majority of people are happy with the new roads, and they have certainly saved us a lot of time and frustration in Gauteng. I am more than happy to pay for the new convenience, but not at all happy to pay extra for the expensive collection system where the profit leaves SA for an Austrian company, and where I strongly supect there has been more government corruption involved. But the stubbornness, stupidity and downright rudeness of the government, the SANRAL executives, and spokesman Vusi Mona in particular have led to huge resistance from customers.

Customers don’t like bad manners, and they don’t like being ignored in decisions that affect them. They will show their resistance in any way possible – in my case I have stuck the “No Toll GP” sticker on my car, and refuse to buy the electronic gizmo – even though I’m threatened with jail. I will fight SANRAL in order to make their administration system impossible to manage, and if I can afford it, I will take them to court. If necessary, I will cover my license plates and round sticker with masking tape. And I will tell everyone who listens about why I have done so.

This does not represent who I am as a human being, and goes contrary to all my deep-rooted values. But as Martin Luther King noted, “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

But if we go back one step, the question I always ask is, “Why do companies need to do this kind of thing in the first place?” I am constantly bombarded with marketing messages from my banks, for example, but this has not in any way affected my purchasing. In fact, I become even more determined to never buy anything else from them.

On the other hand, if my banks, cell phone provider, ISP, SAA and photocopier company spent exactly the same investment telephoning me to say “Hi. How are you doing? Anything I can help you with?” that could be the beginning of a wonderful relationship. The same is true for just about everywhere I spend my money.

Be kind to your customers. Treat them with respect, courtesy and good manners. I guarantee they will be back again and again and again, because the world of business is a cold desert of companies demanding loyalty when they just don’t deserve it.

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