Put the Customer First

Achieve Better Outcomes by Making the Prospect a Priority

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I put off buying things. It’s not because I procrastinate (at least not too much), don’t like making decisions, or don’t want to spend money.

Sadly, the reason I often avoid buying what I want or need is simply because it’s too much of a hassle. More to the point, going without some items is less inconvenient than investing the time and enduring the frustration to try to buy them.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Too many of my negative experiences relate to cell phones. It’s a sad commentary on the industry. Fortunately, I’ve seen some positive correction in recent years. Nevertheless, the following experience from a couple decades ago still supplies us relevant insight.

For quite some time—okay, more than a year—I considered getting three more cell phones. I expected to sign up for a family plan, adding phones for my wife and our two kids.

At a few bucks more each month per additional phone, it was a no-brainer. I could then find my wife when she was out, keep in touch with our daughter in college, and give a nice perk to our teenage son.

However, I put off moving forward because I so dreaded the process.

A Rigid Requirement

The time to act finally came. I gathered my courage to move forward. I called my existing carrier. They confirmed I’d met my contract requirements and could make changes.

“What I want,” I explained, “is to get on your family plan and add a couple of phones.” I was even willing to buy the other phones.

“No problem,” the rep assured. “Each additional phone is only ten dollars a month and some phones are free if you sign a one-year contract. . .and,” she added, “we can replace your current phone too.”

This sounded too good to be true, but before I could tell her to go ahead, she interrupted my short-lived euphoria.

“Oh, there’s a problem. . .” The problem was that they required me to be on a plan with more minutes—many more.

I tried every angle I could think of. More phones, fewer phones, buying the phones, longer contract, and not replacing my current phone.

She was intractable. “No, you still need to move to a bigger plan.”

Doing so, and adding just one more phone, would more than double my rate. I’m not opposed to spending money, but I hate wasting it. Her solution didn’t seem very family oriented. I told her so.

Then I tried an emotional gambit. “I guess I’ll just need to cancel my service and go with another carrier.”

“If you need to, go ahead, but you won’t find a better deal.” Her arrogance appalled me. “We’ve all got basically the same rates.”

“Okay, let’s leave everything as is for now,” I said, not wanting to burn my bridges.

A Cavalier Attitude

Now it was time for plan B.

If only I could talk to someone face-to-face, to do business with a local person who would take a personal interest in helping me. I headed to the local store of a national carrier that does lots of TV advertising.

Several aspects of their pitch appealed to me. I was confident they had a plan for me, and I intended to complete my mission in one stop.

I walked in the door and, as my eyes adjusted to the lighting, a stereotypical salesperson charged toward me—must be they were on commission. Brashly, he ushered me into his office and grilled me on what I wanted.

With each request, he would nod and affirm he could do that. He was typing things into a computer and then he gave me a total. His solution was twice the amount of the family plan quoted by my current carrier. The rates weren’t all the same after all.

I couldn’t suppress my laugh. This irritated him.

“Okay,” I said. “Now, let’s get realistic.”

“Nope, that’s the best I can do,” he answered.

Thinking we were still pursuing a mutually desired goal, I began to reply, when he stood up and gestured toward the door.

“Sorry I can’t help you.” He said the right words, but his tone conveyed the opposite. Maybe he wasn’t on commission after all.

Not ready to give up, I asked if he had any literature about what we had discussed. “We don’t have any.” He sneered. “It’s all online. Just go to our website and order your phones there.”

In five short minutes, I went from ready-to-buy to unable to leave fast enough.

Online, I later discovered his company had a much more attractive package, closely matching what I wanted. I’d have bought it had he only offered it.

A Calculated Lie

On to plan C. Originally, I intended the phones as a surprise, but I needed help. I enlisted the aid of our daughter, who was home for the summer. Having just completed her summer-school job, she had extra time on her hands.

We listed the features we wanted. Then she got busy doing research online. The next day she presented me with a spreadsheet of comparisons. She explained what she learned, we talked about options, and she made a recommendation.

It required a two-year contract, so I wanted to make sure it was right. We discussed each plan’s weaknesses, the fine-print exceptions, and ways they might charge us for services we thought were free.

I agreed with her recommendation and we made a list of questions, the chief one being whether the plan’s coverage area included the city she’d move to next year.

I called the carrier and verified our understanding of the details. He confirmed everything, and a sale was imminent.

Last, I asked if they covered the city in question. “Yes, we do.” The rep said this a bit too quickly and with a false confidence. I doubted his answer and prodded some more. He kept to his answer, but I doubted his honesty.

I ended the call without placing an order. It was good that I didn’t, as we later found a coverage map—albeit a bad one—online. The map showed the city in question annexed from the coverage area.

He lied to me—imagine that. I assume he knew the truth but reasoned that before I figured it out, he’d have made a sale and earned his commission, with no recourse on my end.

A Successful Outcome

My daughter and I discussed our remaining options and revisited the website of our fourth choice. Thinking I would once more attempt working with a local rep, I called their closest office. After several rings, a recording informed me that no one was available and disconnected me.

Next, I dialed their toll-free number. This rep was actually helpful. Why are accommodating employees such an anomaly?

She was the first truly pleasant and knowledgeable person I had talked to during this whole quest. She patiently answered my questions with professionalism. She confirmed the plan’s coverage and told me about their 14-day, no-obligation trial.

I placed my order. The phones arrived the next day.

Sales Summary: Put the Customer First

With my existing carrier, I was willing to buy a second phone, pay an additional $10 a month, sign a long-term contract, and run the risk of overage charges. They were only willing to upsell me and lost a customer.

At the second carrier, their rep got greedy—or was undertrained. He ushered a ready-to-buy prospect out the door.

For the third carrier, a cavalier lie on a critical issue dropped them from further consideration.

After a bad start at the fourth carrier, a well-trained, professional, customer-focused phone rep made a nice recovery and closed a sale.

Sales Success Tip

Seek to help your prospect achieve their goal, and you’re more likely to achieve yours.

Put the customer first.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer ServiceSticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Leadership and Management featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

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.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.