Unethical Business Practices Hurt Everyone
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
The deluge of phone calls was not how I wanted to start my week. These calls slammed my company’s sales line—with complaints against another company. What unfolded was a revealing look at the ugliness of unethical marketing tactics.
Though I haven’t had a fax machine in years, there was a time when most businesses did. This story harkens from that era, yet its lessons remain relevant today and apply to the present use of email, phone calls, and social media.
Be sure not to repeat this mistake of yesterday in how you use technology today.
The calls came from irate—and often not-too-polite individuals—thinking they were calling a fax removal line. They had received an unwanted fax solicitation from a travel company offering 75 percent off Florida and Bahamas cruise vacations.
Not impressed, these angry people called the fax removal line listed in the fine print at the bottom of the fax to stop the unwelcome intrusions.
The problem was that, between a too-small font and the low reproduction quality of faxes, two fives in the removal phone number looked like two sixes, matching our sales phone number.
With voicemail now screening the calls to our sales line (even a recording saying that callers had not reached the fax removal line did not stop them from leaving their information—along with a piece of their angst), I turned my attention toward averting a reoccurrence of this fiasco.
The solution seemed straightforward. Call the number in the ad, ask for a manager, explain the situation, and request that future faxes use a larger point size to display the fax removal number. Boy was I naive.
I called the phone number in their ad. An agent who cared nothing for professionalism or customer service answered. The cacophony in the background confirmed I’d reached a call center boiler room.
Once the agent realized I didn’t want to hear her spiel for vacation cruises, she became even less interested in my call. I realized my explanation was futile, so I asked to speak to a supervisor. She hung up on me.
Fuming, I called again, this time reaching a different agent. “Someone just hung up on me,” I said and launched into my story.
This rep cut me off. “I’ll have your fax number removed from our list,” she said with irritation. I tried anew to explain. She responded with the same words, only louder.
“No, you don’t understand,” I pleaded.
“Yes, I do understand,” she yelled back.
I demanded to speak with a manager. I waited on hold for several minutes. After a long delay, a dial tone greeted me.
By now, I was furious. I searched online for a different means of contact. Their company name revealed three matches: a forum post complaining about the company, a listing that gave a street address, and a website covering fraud and scams, with the contributor mentioning timeshares and “bait and switch.”
The street address gave me two matches in California. I switched to the satellite view, which showed both addresses in residential areas. That didn’t help.
I searched online for their phone number. This brought up the prior post about fraud and a number look-up service. These people did not want me to find them.
Any ethical business would have a website and list contact options. But when a sales and marketing outfit works under the covert darkness of anonymity, it’s reasonable to assume they have something to hide.
I suspected a service bureau had sent the fax. This same scenario had occurred before. That ad was for a different company, and they did not use a call center.
This time I gave up on the deadbeat marketing company, turning my attention to the fax service bureau that was complicit in the mess.
I called the real fax-removal number. I reached a recording, with no way to talk to a person or leave a message. I pressed zero—many times. It tried to remove phone number 000-000-0000. It was already “removed.”
Next, I searched online using the fax removal number and got no matches. The faxing service company, it seems, didn’t want me to call them either.
Even now, I shake my head with disbelief. These types of unrestrained activities and fly-by-night antics by an unscrupulous few have caused problems in the past—and they continue to do so now. This madness must end.
At the risk of stating the obvious, here are some recommendations that apply to all businesses:
- Train staff to be polite and professional. Retrain or terminate those who won’t conform.
- Don’t hang up on callers.
- Transfer calls to a supervisor or manager whenever asked.
- Make it easy for people to find and contact you. This means having a website and listing your phone number, along with other contact methods.
- Don’t use bait and switch tactics.
- Police your staff so they don’t take shortcuts or treat customers badly when it doesn’t serve their interests.
- Compensate your staff for the results you want. If you only pay for closed sales, expect nothing else from them.
- Don’t force customers to use automated solutions.
- Provide a way out of automation. Let them press zero for an operator or at least leave a message.
- Offer an alternative means of contact, such as email or even snail mail.
- Don’t send illegal or unethical faxes, emails, or chat messages. Don’t make illegal phone calls.
- If you perform services for other companies, don’t work with unscrupulous clients.
Since you’re reading this book, you don’t need this advice. But others do. I hope these words will somehow find their way into the hands of a manager or business owner who needs to reform their sales and marketing practices and do right for their customers and prospects.
Marketing Management Success Tip
Confirm that your marketing practices are legal and ethical. Then review your staff’s training. Work to make sure they represent your company with excellence, every time.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.
He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.