Verizon’s Arbitrary Pricing Leads to Customer Confusion

There are three schools of thought on product pricing:

  1. Set it and forget it
  2. Set it and haggle
  3. Leave it open for interpretation

We are used to the price being the price and unless there is a coupon or special, the marked price is what you are expected to pay.  Conversely, if you have traveled to Mexico or other countries where pricing is a bidding war; you are also familiar with this entertaining debate where pricing becomes more of a game of “chicken.” Who ever blinks first is the loser.

But this last mode of pricing was new to me and I recently experienced it at the local Verizon store. Both of my children’s phones were up for a new phone. It had been two years and so I knew that I would be offered a significant discount on the purchase of a new model.  I went first to replace my son’s phone, knowing he didn’t care what it looked like so long as he could text and take pictures. He was still in the hospital so I went on a lunch break to replace his phone.

I was shown three models that met his needs and chose the middle model, one with a touch screen and nice camera feature. The price on the example was for those that weren’t due an upgrade so I looked for the sales person to tell me the price.  $99 before rebate, he told me. And the phone was eligible for a $50 rebate.  Cool.

We processed the paperwork, he transferred the data from old to new and bada bing bada boom, I was back at the hospital with a new phone. $106 and change with tax.

My daughter is more selective so I knew I would need to take her with me. Two days later we went to the same store but a different sales person was on duty. She was offered the same three choices and selected the same phone as my son’s. Unlike the first sales person, this one didn’t engage us in conversation as he went about typing in the information and so I took that moment to pull out my checkbook. The last check I’d written was the one for the other phone and so I said “So that will be $106 and change, right?”

He stopped typing, looked at me with a strange look and said, “Where did you get that price?”

“I bought the same exact phone two days ago, has the price changed?”

“No.”

“So it is $106 with tax, right?”

“No, it isn’t.”

“So, how much is it?”

“$150.”

Imagine my confusion. I explained that I just bought the same exact phone under the same exact conditions and didn’t understand the pricing difference. He told me, quite hacked off, that I was obviously given a special price.

I said that was a surprise to me as I hadn’t asked for a special price. I just asked for the price. I said, perhaps you aren’t familiar with the pricing of your inventory.

Well, that led to more indignation. Finally he looked at me and said “I can charge what ever I want for this phone. I can charge you ten cents if I want but I’d be out of business in a month, now wouldn’t I? Clearly the other person decided to give you a different price which I will honor but just so you know, that isn’t the price of the phone.”

Wow.

Here is a case, where a company has given their employees some freedom with discounts but forgot to teach them the benefit of making sure the customer knows up front that they are receiving a discount. Not to mention, teaching employees how to be gracious.

I still don’t know why I got the better deal the first time around (the second person did match that price) but I left feeling like I was cheating them out of their due. I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. In the end I took the new phone before all of my daughter’s data was downloaded from her old phone because I felt so uncomfortable. I left with a bad feeling. I left feeling like I was a bad person. 

Now some of that may be my own personal issues 🙂 – but the bottom line is that when companies allow their employees to price willy nilly, it can back fire.

Today I am filling out the rebate forms and I notice that the first guy filled out the form for me so all I have to do is sign it while the second guy didn’t.  The bad taste continues.

Has this happened to you? Have you found yourself in a situation where there is pricing confusion and the employee makes you feel at fault? Did you go back?  Would you refer them?

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Is Staples Making it Easy?

I have been buying my office supplies and equipment at Staples since I opened my business in 2005. I love flashing my rewards card and knowing that soon I will receive a check in the mail.  In this age when most of the mail is junk or bills, it is nice to know that occasionally you’ll receive a check.

Not any more.

Monday I was informed that they’ve changed their process. As of May 1, 2011, you now have to go online, sign up for an account, remember your password, look up your rewards card number and worst of all – remember on a regular basis to go back to see if you have earned any rewards. 

The burden is now on me.

I really embraced Staples “easy button” campaign when it first came out because I realized that they “got it.” Putting customers first means understanding that we need to make it easy for them to do business with us.

Now Staples may counter and say that this new reward program is “green” in that they are no longer sending us a check or spending the postage. But I still have to print the paper.  It isn’t like our rewards are loaded onto our card and automatically deducted with each new purchase. Now THAT would be easy.

The burden is on me to remember to visit their website.  And I have to be quick – because the rewards are only good for a short period of time. Sort of makes me wonder is Staples is hoping I will forget so that they don’t have to pay out the rewards.

How is this making it easy?

Thoughts?

 

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ADVO- Proving Customers Perspectives Are Ever Changing

I went to my first SMEI dinner and program last week.  Great speaker, Kurt Southam, PhD  talked about how to influence change and I took lots of notes. We’ll talk about it more in a different blog post.

But first – I want to tell you about a person I met at my dinner table. She is a salesperson for a direct mail company Valassis – formerly known as ADVO. I asked her how business was. As a freelance writer I know that a lot of businesses have pulled back on some of their print advertising.  However, not so with direct mail into the homes.

She said “We used to be JUNK mail.”

The coupon pages in the Sunday paper. The free standing inserts in your mail box. Remember when you’d place a trash bag next to the mailbox and just chuck those junk pages in the pail?

How has business changed in the last eighteen months, I asked her.

“We used to be junk and now we are VALUE ORIENTED CONTENT.”

I loved this new perspective.  It is the perfect example of how quickly and COMPLETELY our customer’s perspective of our products and services change. If we aren’t in touch with them to learn their new thought process, we could be missing out on valuable information that will help our business grow.

Imagine how her sales pitch has changed with this new perspective of her product. Customers might not invest in junk mail that may or may not bring a return but who doesn’t want to have their company brand message and an action oriented coupon associated with Value Oriented Content?

Talk to your customer. Ask them how their perspectives have changed over the  last 18 months. Is there a change you should be making to your business that could net you sales growth?

Are you junk or value oriented?

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Being Positive is Contagious – Catch it!

You’ve heard of giving yourself a pep talk, right? Michael Jackson sang about the Man in the Mirror – it all starts with us!

Here’s an example of just how to start your day in a positive way!

There is a lesson to be learned here!  I don’t know about you…after watching that video pep talk – I’m ready for anything!

I’m Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good,
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right . . .

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Set Yourself Apart from the Competition

I decided that I needed to hire a virtual assistant. I am at a point where there are some things I just can’t do anymore and a friend of mine once told me “delegate everything but your genius.”  So – I was off to find a virtual assistant.

The first project – transcribe a one hour speech from an audio file. I’m familiar with Elance but a colleague who had a similar project told me that she’d had great success with oDesk – so that’s where I started.

It was simple to set up the account and post the job and before long I had 40 people apply for the job. Each had a resume, test scores of the tests they’d volunteered to take to show their abilities and each provided a cover letter and their hourly rate.

Hourly rates ranged from $2 and change to over $46.  Candidates were from around the world.  So throwing out the high and the low, I started to look for people to interview.  Here’s what I discovered:

  • Some had experience and testimonials – that was a bonus. However, I kept thinking, how can they get experience if someone doesn’t hire them so I didn’t eliminate all without experience on oDesk….at first.
  • I thought I would prefer someone from the United States and Canada but I soon learned that they were the highest cost and not all had experience.
  • The cover letters were of varying degrees – some addressed me as Sir/Madam or To Whom It May Concern while some called me by name.
  • Most cover letters stated that English was their first language or that they had experience with transcribing English
  • Some listed their experience in audio transcription

I narrowed it down to a few – prices ranging from just under $4/hour to $16/hour. I started to look at their test scores.

  • Some took more tests than others
  • Some did better on the tests than others

I now had it narrowed down to a gentleman from India and a woman from Bolivia.  I sent emailed interview questions. Shriram responded within minutes. His record had the most experience and the highest number of testimonials and the highest test scores for English grammar and vocabulary (higher than the United States candidates).

His responses anticipated my questions – he offered a website, an easy way to upload my audio file and a clear cut amount of time I could expect the job would take.

He has a Mac and I have a PC – he sent me a Word document as a test so I could be assured that I’d be able to open his files.

Shriram joined my team.

Within an hour of his receiving the audio file – he sent me an email with the first four minutes transcribed and saved in FOUR DIFFERENT FORMATS. He gave me options.

At the end of the day he sent me an updated email – he kept me in the loop.

The following day – I discovered that he’d subscribed to my blog and commented here on my award receipt. Within 48 hours  1/2 of the project was complete.

He has kept me informed, showed that he wants to know more about my business and be actively involved, the quality of his work is impeccable and as a customer, I feel valued and supported.

Wow!

Needless to say he will be receiving more work from me going forward.

I set out with an expectation that I only wanted to hire someone from a country I was familiar with and yet it was someone from a different country that has more closely met my needs and treated me like a valued customer – even before he secured the job.

How do you set yourself apart from the competition? If your services were stacked up against the competition, like the candidates at oDesk, how would you compare? Have you taken the extra step of additional testing or certifications or memberships? Do you have testimonials? Do you take the time to address the prospect by name rather than a generic form letter? Do you anticipate their needs and offer them options?

And oDesk has been a great resource. They provide reports that show hours worked and random screen shots of Shriram’s computer so that I can see he’s working on my project during the hours he says he is.  Cool beans.

So how do you set yourself apart?

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Getting Past Ego to Reach Customers

peaks and valleysI just finished reading Spencer Johnson, M.D.’s new book Peaks and Valleys.  Just like the One Minute Manager and Who Moved My Cheese, the book is set up in a story format to share the great insights of the author. 

Basically the book is about how we view the peaks and valleys of our life; at work and in our personal life. By dwelling on the negative, blowing fear out of proportion and letting our ego get in the way of reality; valleys loom larger and more daunting than necessary.

In one example in the book the wise one man on the peak tells the story of a once great company:

“When I was younger, I worked for a very large and famous company. We provided a great service at a good price-the best in out industry. Then our costs rose and the economy took a turn for the worse. Our service cost us more to provide and soon fewer people could afford it. Sales fell, but due to our fame, management believed they could simply ride out the bad time. The reality of course, was that we needed to change. But they didn’t see this, because their arrogance had made them complacent. Eventually we lost most of our customers and had to sell the business.”

“So what did you do?” the young man asked.

“I asked myself, what is the truth in this situation? The truth was that we were not making our customers happy.”

I love this example.  The point of the story is so simple.  WE WEREN’T MAKING OUR CUSTOMERS HAPPY. The company became too big for its britches, as my Grandma would say, and because they weren’t willing to set aside ego and look at how they might change to stay a viable solution for their customer, they became extinct.

The book goes on to talk about how to view the valleys of life in a more realistic, sensible way and to appreciate the gifts we have even in our hard times.  And when we are on top of the world to make sure we don’t get too full of ourselves and simply enjoy every moment for the gift that it is.

It is a quick read and has lessons that can be applied to all walks of life.  I’d recommend giving it a read.

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Create a Visual for Your Customers

IMG_4578I was visiting Custom Auto  Body in North Canton last week for a meeting with Lance Runion, VP and General Manager.  We are working on a project together and it was the first time I’d visited his shop.  Expecting a typical auto repair store with worn carpet, car and truck magazines and ugly metal chairs I was pleased to walk into an inviting waiting area; warm, clean, comfortable.

Even better – the magazines were more to my liking with a recent copy of People Magazine.  But before I could pick it up and delve into the latest Tiger Woods, Bragelina, Brittany scandal, my eyes fell upon a scrapbook/photo album.

I opened it to find page after page of before and after pictures of the cars they had repaired.  Accompanying each picture was a handwritten thank you note from the customer.

If I was there for an estimate or to have my car repaired – what a wonderful validation that I had selected the right place to have my car fixed.  The before and after pictures were a powerful marketing message that clearly showed their ability.  The testimonials added to their credibility.

Sometimes we just need a little validation that the vendor we’ve selected is the right one.  What simple visual tool can you put together to help your customers know the value you provide?

Do you ask for testimonials?  Think about your best customers – would they be willing to say something positive about your business? Follow these simple steps:

  • Give them a call and ask if they’ll provide a quote. 
  • Offer to write it for them. (have them approve before you publish)
  • Think of one specific thing you’d like the quote to be about and write the sentence with that focus (responsive, quality, knowledgeable, great listener, experienced)
  • Amass a library of quotes; each one focused on a different aspect of your abilities
  • Use the quotes in your email signature (rotate a different one each week/month)
  • Put quotes on each of your website pages
  • Include a quote in your e-newsletter

Make it easy for your prospects to decide to be your customer by giving them visual proof that others have been pleased.  Do you have a creative way you use customer testimonials?  Share it with us here! 

For more ways to use your testimonials – read this article from Copyblogger offering ten ways to use your testimonials.

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Men of a Certain Age – Pathetic?

Ray Romano of Everybody Loves Raymond fame, premiered a new show on TNT last week and the second episode airs tonight.  Men of a Certain Age.

It follows the life of three 40/50 something guys and gives the viewer an insight into how they think.

My best friend couldn’t wait for the show to air, being a man of a certain age himself, and so I watched as well.  We chatted the next day – our review?

He LOVED IT.

I thought it was a show about three pathetic guys who didn’t know how to SUCK IT UP and deal. 

hmmmm.

So I had lunch with a business acquaintance today and the show came up in conversation. He also is a man of a certain age and LOVES THE SHOW.

“Finally a show that shows how I am thinking and what I deal with.”

As I watched the show I kept waiting for one of the men to be a shining example – a role model. I look at my BFF and don’t see someone who has given up like the characters on the show.

“There are tons of shows and movies about women of a certain age,” he told me. “Now finally there is one for me.”

So is this a difference in perspective? Is it a gender thing? 

And how does this relate to our customers?

If you’ve had sales training you’ve most likely taken the Myers Briggs  analysis (or something like it) in which you’ve learned your personality type.  You’ve then been taught how to analyze someone else’s type and then use a modified sales technique to effectively connect with them.

We also know that men and women are motivated differently and therefore it requires perhaps a different approach with women than with men. In fact, there is a book In Women We Trust, which outlines the difference in marketing to women and the fact that they influence 80% of all purchases.

But what happens when your view of a circumstance is so vastly different from the person you are having a conversation with?

The reviews of the Men of a Certain Age are through-the-roof FANTASTIC.  So is it just me? Is it because I’m a woman? Are the writers of the show only interested in attracting the men pictured in the show and thumbing their noses at a younger audience and the female population?

As a company do you craft your message to such a targeted niche that you turn off 50% of the population?  Is that okay with you?

I don’t know if there is a correlation here – but when I find a product (the television show) and two such vastly different opinions about the same product – it makes me wonder how that information can be used constructively to help others in business.

So what do you think? about the show? about gender messaging? Or am I on an island alone on this topic?

UPDATE: After watching last night’s episode I must now revise my opinion of Men of a Certain Age.  Wow – powerful, dynamic relationship development.  Yes – there is some back bone.  I am now curious to see how this develops.

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What First Impression Do We Make?

In the recent edition of Cosmo there is an article that talks about the Six Things Guys Notice in the First Six Seconds. There are a few obvious answers: smile, hair and cleavage but also a couple surprises: makeup, skin and your purse.

The article reports that guys make certain assumptions about you by what they notice in the first six seconds.  For example: 

Are all women who haul around big purses—in other words, cavernous rucksacks stuffed full of old receipts, emergency sweaters, and half-used bottles of hand sanitizer—high maintenance? Maybe not. But guys will go ahead and assume they are anyway.

I heard about this article on the radio this morning and a caller said – I have a large bag but it was a gift. Another caller said their purse was big because it contained items they might need in an emergency – they wanted to be prepared. The third caller said she had items in her purse so that she could look good for her man.

The DJ said “it doesn’t matter – it is the PERCEPTION the guy has about you.”

Ahhhh reality isn’t really a factor.

So let’s bring this around to our customer.  What assumptions do our customers make about us and the products/services we provide and our ability to solve their problem?  Are their perceptions based in reality? Would we be surprised?

Customers make assumptions from the moment they pull into our parking lot or click on our Home Page. They look around, and may not even be aware, but begin to make judgements about our ability to suit their needs from the first greeting.

Kevin Stirtz offers some suggestions for making a great first impression.

Daryl Logullo has written an article talking about how the difference between perception and reality can negatively impact your word of mouth reputation.

Bottom line – you have to keep an on-going, open line of communication with your customers to ensure their perception of you as a person, your company and your products and services are the same as what you believe them to be. 

How do you measure your customer’s first impressions of you and your business?

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Vegas Customer Connection

I just got back from six days in Vegas over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  Wish I could tell you details, but you know what they say, “whatever happens in Vegas….”

But I can share some thoughts on customer-focused performances based on the four shows I attended:

The Fabulous Four (A Beatles Tribute Band at the V Theatre at the Miracle Mall)

Cher (at Caesars Palace)

The Mentalist (At the V – inspiration behind the current CBS hit show)

Donny and Marie (at the Flamingo)

Ticket prices ranged from $30 for two (the Mentalist – we had to buy one drink each) to almost $200 each for Cher and we weren’t in the front row.  In all fairness we had terrific seats for all of the performances however we were in the very front for Donny and Marie and I got to hold his hands TWO TIMES during the performance.  If it weren’t for the Swine Flu, I probably wouldn’t wash my hands!

The theatre staff for all of the performances was top notch – no complaints, personable, informative, helpful – all of the stuff of great customer service.

However, if I had to rate the performances for customer connections – I would rank Donny and Marie first (and not because he touched me) and the Mentalist second.  Here’s why:

  • Customer interaction – both shows involved the audience – answering questions, responding to shouts, bringing people up on stage or coming out into the audience to make a connection. 

In Marie’s portion of the show she explained the reason they chose the Flamingo for their show although many other larger venues wanted their act. She said – and I’m paraphrasing:

We chose the Flamingo because it was a small enough theatre that we could actually see all of you and really connect. 

They learned audience member names, they acknowledged the crazy fans waving a host of albums from the 60s and 70s, they kidded with those that shouted their love (nope that wasn’t me… however, my Mom…well, once again, whatever happens in Vegas).  They picked a place to perform that allowed them a PERSONAL CONNECTION with their customer.  And then they took full advantage.

The MentalistGerry McCambridge did the same thing, but then that is the nature of his act.  He is totally involved with the audience and once again, that included me.  It was the interaction that made his humor and amazing mental capabilities all the more enjoyable.

That’s not to say the Fab Four and CHER weren’t incredible performances.  They were terrific.  But when you think about the money you spend and the feeling you get at the end of the night – we walked away saying “That was good.” 

When we left Donny and Marie we said “That was the best show we’ve ever attended” and no amount of money for that kind of a connection would have been too much money.  The perception of our value as audience members to the stars was higher the more interaction there was.

In fact, Cher actually insulted her audience in her opening chat.  She flies across the stage in a cage which hovers for a few moments over the crowd while she sings.  Don’t get me wrong – she LOOKED amazing and she sounds INCREDIBLE and not for a woman of her age – she was fantastic no matter what her age.  However in her chat she talks about her fear of the cage falling in on the audience.

“The newspaper would say Cher dies at Caesars in freak accident and then in a related article “Several unknown tourists die at Caesars.”

It was joke but it also let us know there is the Star and then there are the rest of us.  No connection.  The perception of our value to her?  None.  Our desire to pay $40 for a program of her show?  None.

Bottom line – the customer connection is what sets us apart from our competition – whether it is Cher, Donny and Marie or you.  We all have a customer to connect with.  The question is – do you take the extra step to make the connection?

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