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The Insulting Gatekeeper

The Insulting Gatekeeper

Why would you try to chase customers away?

Picture a large, rude, aggressive and menacing doorman, who did his best to intimidate customers into turning away from your business and upset those who persevered. Few businesses would want him harassing and insulting their customers and stopping them from buying, and yet so many do put rude, insulting and harassing barriers between themselves and their customers, making it difficult and demeaning for customers to approach them.

Even your business may have allowed some of these horrors to creep in.

The most common insult is the vanishing telephone message. The switchboard operator, if there is still such a person in the business, no longer takes messages nor does she know when people are in, on leave or in meetings. The customer needing information or wanting to complain is put through to an extension that (tick one or more) rings endlessly; goes to voicemail with the message is never returned; tells the customer to call on a cell number which repeats the process; or is diverted to another extension which also repeats the process. All levels of government and many very large businesses are even worse than this. If you haven’t done so recently, listen in as a friend tries to reach your sales or production manager, query a delivery or find someone who can explain a product feature. Then fix the problem. Customers who want to talk to your business are actually good news, not the nuisances some staff members and managers seem to think they are.

Call centres

Then there is the call centre. It is a wonderful customer service invention at its best, and at its worst a facility that ruthlessly keeps customers who need service away from those that can provide the service. Sadly there are lots more bad call centres than good ones. Some companies only provide a call centre number, so that callers who want to talk to someone who can discuss issues beyond the scope of the call centre are forced to endure queues, recordings telling them how important their call is, endless menus of irrelevant choices only to get to a call centre operator whose knowledge of the company is limited to the script in front of them. If the information the caller needs is not on the script or part of the menus of choices he or she will be put through to a number which (tick one or more) rings endlessly, goes to voice mail…..

e-mail insults

It is not much better trying to make an enquiry over the Internet. The potential customer cannot simply send an e-mail to the right party. He needs to fill in a form, copy indecipherable words to prove he is not a robot and has no recourse if there is no response, which is, sadly almost a norm. But he will get on to a mailing list and be bombarded with offers. Try it yourself – send an obscure query to your own firm from a hotmail address. Be prepared to cringe.

Which raises the whole question of e-mail security. Spam and virus attack are serious problems to everyone, and the usual reaction to these problems is to tighten anti spam measures. This is passing the buck to customers and potential customers, who have to make more effort and may find that their e-mails have been trapped in your anti-spam filters. Some anti spam filters do not report to either the sender or the recipient that they have stopped a mail, so you may never know about that million rand enquiry. Are there customer and supplier communications you never see as a result of your IT people making life easier for themselves?

Even a physical approach to a company can be a forbidding challenge. Limited visitor parking which is often filled with staff cars, business parks with intense security and little directional signage, retail centres with impossibly narrow parking bays and predatory car guards, and my favourite, multiple successive sites where the visitor must sign a register before being allowed into your hallowed presence.

Take time to look at the approaches to your company through your customer and prospects eyes. Look for the cruel and insulting gatekeepers masquerading as efficient systems. Then do something about them.

Have you experienced a hostile reception when trying to approach a company? Or found your own company was guilty? Please leave a comment.

©copyright  Ed Hatton. All rights reserved. You may republish this article or extracts from it provided you acknowledge me as the author and acknowledge my copyright.


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