Friday, July 2, 2010

The art of really listening

Retailers should be real & encourage employees to truly listen to customers

Today I went through what I creatively (not) call the "Bill Book." I went through some papers, was able to clear out some clutter.

I found a Belk Department store credit card that I hadn't activated. I thought, "What the heck, I'll call the toll-free number and activate it." With back-to-school shopping needed soon, it might come in handy to have it active. I looked over the paperwork and saw they had a "credit protection plan." In this "credit protection plan," the consumer pays Belk $1.66 a month for every $100 in revolving credit they have, to "protect" their credit in case they get laid off from work or disabled and can't pay their credit card bill. I've always thought these kinds of things are ridiculous. Why should I pay Belk insurance money for something that ultimately protects Belk?

I don't run a balance with them, so that would be the essence of idiocy for me to pay that. Once I was past the phone tree options, they bounced me to a human being. After cheesily asking me how the weather is where I am (she didn't ask where I am, so it was emotionally hollow in both tone and content), the lady immediately launched into a campaign to sign me up for their credit insurance plan. I expected this, so I already had my "no thank you" speech ready. I told her kindly but firmly that I had the paperwork on that right in front of me, I had already read it, and I did NOT want it.

She proceeded to continue her script anyway, saying, "None of us ever think we will become disabled or laid off, but-let-me-just-run-down-the-list-of-benefits-for-you...." This was said without even an intake of breath that would allow me to interject (again) that I did not want the "protection" plan.

Rather than sit through all that, I decided to just hang up. I do not need the Belk card - there isn't anything that Belk sells that I can't get at another retailer. If they sold something extremely specialized that I couldn't get anywhere else, I might put up with their nonsense just because I love the product so much ...but since I can easily get the same products elsewhere, I really have no patience for it.

Why can't companies learn to encourage their employees to actively listen to the customer, not just stick to a formatted script? They should allow their employees some free thought. Because the message their sales technique sent to me was pretty clear: (1) They will bulldoze over me; (2) They do not care what I want; and (3) They do not want to listen to me. Message received!

In comparison, I renewed my Kohl's Department Store credit card today, and the automated menu gave me an extremely brief overview of what the credit protection plan would do, asked me to press 1 if I wanted the credit protection plan, or press 2 to decline it. It was that simple. The Kohl's machine was more pleasant than a real human being at Belk. Normally, I'd rather speak to a human being so someone will have a job, but if the human interaction isn't good it can be harmful to the company.

If I was the CEO of Belk, that is something that would cause me great alarm for the future of my company. Unfortunately, upper and middle management always want to blame the lower level employees for this sort of thing, but the problem is really the creation of management's insistence that the employees push these plans and follow the scripts word-for-word. The employees are just following the directions of those on-high. So if corporate wants to blame anyone for this, they should blame themselves.

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