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How to Lose a Loyal Customer in Three Easy Calls

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Today's guest post comes from The Casual Observer. For the first time, I'm highlighting a blog that isn't a personal finance blog. Why? His outstanding satirical piece on guerrilla economic warfare caught my attention. You can subscribe to his RSS Feed here.

My wife has been a long time subscriber to TV Guide. Judging by the number of useless TV Guide tote bags in the closet, ten or more years. She diligently sends out the renewal card plenty early, and we have never missed an issue. Even with the availability of better options "“ such as our cable box's onscreen schedule "“ the TV Guide provides a critical household function. It stabilizes our pile of junk mail, with its width proving a broad foundation.

Our current subscription will expire in August. At some point in the next six months, we planned to send off the renewal card.

Over the weekend, we received a call from TV Guide's telemarketers. The cost of the subscription would be going up soon, so now was the time to renew in order to lock in the lower rate. We told them that we would renew when it was closer to the point of expiration, and that we would simply take the risk of a higher subscription rate. We requested that they not call back. This call was completely civil.

On Tuesday (February 3) we received another call. I politely told the telemarketer that we would renew when we got around to it. He asked me to put my wife on the phone (getting her name wrong in the process). I repeated my previous statement. At this point, he demanded that I put her on the line. Since he was not a police officer or a doctor, I decided that I was probably a better judge of whether or not she needed to take this call "“ especially since I had heard her tell the previous caller not to call back. I told him that I was not going to take orders from him. He threatened to call back if I didn't put her on the phone. I countered with a threat to file a phone harassment complaint with the state Attorney General if he did this. He laughed at the threat. We exchanged a few more unpleasant words and I hung up.

At this point, the telemarketer certainly realizes that he has damaged the customer relationship enough, and that he should put a notation in our customer record indicating that we should not be called back. Right?

Apparently not. A female TV Guide telemarketer called on Thursday (February 5). When my wife told her that we had asked them not to call back, the telemarketer's response was "waa, waa, waaa" - fake crying. I had considered Tuesday's telemarketer to be quite unprofessional, but this lady took the art to a new low.

Within minutes, I was on TV Guide's web site, looking for a way to contact them. I eventually found the contact form. I composed a 300 word summary of the incident, including the date and times of the calls. I suggested that they review these calls (if they were recorded) and consider firing these employees.

At this point, we really just hope that the calls stop. If the telemarketers are fired, that would be a nice bonus. With a 7.5% unemployment rate, there are certainly other people who could fill their shoes. If the calls do continue, we will log the times of the calls and we will file complaints with the FCC and the state Attorney General.

This whole episode makes me wonder what sort of training these people receive. How can a customer facing employee believe that it is acceptable to bully and mock your existing customers? Perhaps these people are paid on commission, and this causes them to be more aggressive. If this is the case, perhaps the pay structure should be modified so that customer complaints reduce their pay.

If there is one lesson to be learned from this incident, it is this: if a subscription card asks for a phone number, leave it blank. There is no upside to allowing them to have this information. They are not going to call you to let you know that a problem with the printing press is going to delay your magazine by 5 days. The only reason they will call you is to try to sell you stuff.

If you enjoyed this post, you might want to read The Casual Observer's whole dealing with TV Guide's sales team.

Last updated on August 1, 2011.

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14 Responses to “How to Lose a Loyal Customer in Three Easy Calls”

  1. Unfortunately, I doubt any of these telemarketers were TV Guide employees. They were probably employees of a telemarketing firm. These firms typically have a very high turnover as they hire a lot of employees like this. The employees also are given a form of incentive to behave like that. Sometimes by harassing or degrading a customer, they can get that customer to renew the subscription, thus getting them closer to whatever quota or commission they’re working toward. I doubt TV Guide cares. They probably figure that even if you cancel the subscription, you’ll just buy it at the grocery store anyway. In any case, often by outsourcing business functions like sales and retention, they also however inadvertently outsource their accountability.

    I’ve never bought TV Guide.

  2. kosmo says:

    First off, thanks for the opportunity, Lazy. It is much appreciated.

    A few quick notes about my blog. I write on a few different topics each month – customer service (detailing a specific experience), news, sports (especially baseball, since I am a baseball geek), and a book review. An upcoming post will be about archaeology, of all things … needless to say, I’m not a direct competitor to Lazy. I try to give folks a fun, entertaining read, occasionally throwing a satire into the mix. My viewpoint tends to be about a quarter turn away from the average person’s … or sometimes a half turn. But enough about me and my shameless self-promotion …

    One of my degrees is in marketing, and the adage that “it is cheaper to retain an existing customer than to attract a new one” was pounded into us relentlessly. Alienating an existing customer during a recession seems like a bad idea – especially when there are free alternatives to your product. At this my, I think my wife had only been renewing out of momentum … she rarely actually READS the magazine (and I don’t watch a lot of TV, so I very rarely read it) – it often lays in the mail pile until I notice that it’s not current and recycle it.

    Maybe I’m atypical, but if you annoy me, you have lost me as a customer. Bank of America annoyed us enough with a credit card issue enough that when we refi’d our mortgage, we didn’t even consider staying with them as a lender. (Yep, this is also detailed on my blog. There I go with the shameless self promotion again …)

    Companies that outsource retention are handing over their lifeline, in my opinion.

  3. Kenny says:

    LA Times lost my business because of bad telemarketers. We had a Weekend-only subscription. I liked the Sunday paper and got coupons on top of it. It was relatively cheap too. But after having it for a few months I started getting several calls a day from LA Times. Most were just on our caller id, but i’d probably get 3-5 voicemails a week on top of that. That was annoying, but what lost our business was the deception.

    First, I answered a call where the telemarketer told me that someone would be my neighborhood on Monday from the Times and wanted to know if I wanted a free paper. I said sure, why not. Then he said, ok, let me put you on hold. Another woman picked up and said, “So I understand you want to switch to a daily subscription?” I told her no…

    Next, my wife got a similar call with a similar deceptive tactic.

    After that, I called and canceled my subscription and then when they called back I asked them to remove me from their list.

  4. dawn says:

    I am guessing these people make close to minimum wage, receive minimal training and have little incentive to do a good job. I suspect there are bad apples in every group and unfortunately, you were on the phone with 2 of them.

  5. Candace says:

    Gee, this sounds like you were a fly on the wall in my house recently.
    We have an ongoing similar issue with the telemarketers for Reader’s Digest. We have subscribed to them for at least 15 years, I think closer to 20, never missing a subscription.

    We had an almost identical situation with the telemarketers for them, and through this I learned what you have, and that is that these are 3rd party companies that are not employees of the magazine they are hawking. They have nothing to lose by being rude.

    I am also a staunch believer in and supporter of not doing business with a company that has treated me poorly. To date these companies are: Wells Fargo Bank, in any capacity, and Old Navy. Both due to horrid customer service.
    Reader’s Digest still has our business because the poor service was not their doing.

  6. Lazy Man says:

    I guess I have a question for all…

    I assumed it was TV Guide who called. If it’s similar to the guy selling magazines door-to-door – trying to pick up a commission by guessing that I subscribe to TV Guide then it’s a different situation. TV Guide shouldn’t be blamed for someone not really affiliated with it.

    On the other hand, it sounded like this person knew when the subscription was going to end. If that’s the case, they are either directly TV Guide employees or indirectly TV Guide employees (through a third party). In either of these cases, I think it’s fair to punish TV Guide. They should be able to control the actions of their employees and they are responsible for the third-party employees if they are giving them information about my subscription.

    I left a comment on The Casual Observer, but he makes a great point here that most of the people are getting their product for free on their cable/DVR system. Maybe TV Guide is trying to bully people into subscribing because they have no other legit alternative? That’s probably a stretch.

  7. kosmo says:

    That’s a very good point. I suppose that is possible (and would be a violation of do not call, if it was Joe Smith making cold calls).

    I did contact TV Guide through their web site to make them aware of this (including date/time of the calls as we as my phone number). If they had nothing to do with the call, I would expect them to respond with a a vehement denial that these folks were calling on their behalf.

    As far as whether the people were employees or employed by a company that TVG contracted the work to, I don’t make a distinction. In either case, I see it as the responsibility of TVG to ensure quality control. There are ways of doing this – such as the “secret shopper” method. Randomly seed the customer database with phone numbers that go to a TV Guide quality control rep and guage how the telemarketer treats them.

  8. pharmboy says:

    I love the irony of this blog. I work for Wal-mart and my brother works for TV Guide. What are the odds that I would click on an entry about poor customer service and it be about his company and not mine? Go Big Blue.

  9. Good guest post – I will be sure to check out your website.

  10. Candace says:

    I admit that I don’t fully understand how these 3rd party companies operate. It sounded to me like this: at some point in time, unbeknown to me, a 3rd party magazine subscription service gained access to information about our subscriptions. If, at any time, you (or I) unknowingly renewed through them (Thinking we were dealing directly with the publication office), as opposed to how we originally began our subscription, from that point on, this company has our subscription and earns money by keeping us renewed. For years, literally, we were renewing this way, until at one point we ended up with double subscriptions. I called Reader’s Digest, and they straightened it out, and added the outstanding issues that were still coming on the duplicate subscription to our actual current subscription. It took a while for me to understand what had happened and how…so I didn’t ask Reader’s Digest the correct questions about how this happened and how these companies came to have this information about my subscription…so I still don’t fully understand how these companies come into knowledge about subscribers…it has to be that the publications are selling the names or providing them with a list somehow.

    At the time I had two small babies and the subscription was very low on my list of priorities, so I didn’t bother with trying to figure it all out.

    Fast forward to today, and I have them calling wanting me to renew as “your subscription is about to expire, and you will have to renew at the full price!! If you act now, we can give you 4 years for the price of one, if you wait until it expires, you won’t have that option, etc, etc.”

    What is interesting about this, and why this post got my attention is the renewal I want to do now. My niece is in Girl Scouts, and they are having a fund raiser. If I renew my subscription through the subscription service the girl scouts uses, then the girl scouts, my niece, and her troop, get credit for my renewal as if it were a sale. SO…now…the telemarketer called, and I told her we would be renewing that way…you should have heard how low the price got if only I would renew through her and NOT the girl scouts.

    SO…now I don’t know which way to go…if I renew through the Girl Scouts so my niece gets the credit, will I then end up with another double subscription? And will this third party company be even worse than the previous company that was calling about our “subscription that’s about to expire” at the most inconvenient times?

    It just seems like a no win either way, and I do enjoy getting the publication. Why can’t these companies handle their own subscriptions and renewals? Why does it have to be so complicated and inconvenient? Is it because at one point in the life of our subscriptions we unknowingly renewed through a 3rd party?

  11. Unfortunately, I’ve heard more stories about telemarketer calls behaving in this sort of fashion than I care to acknowledge. Like blogging, phone calls provide a form of anonymity that some people seem to take as a license to be an a*hole.

    I had a similar experience with my Capital One credit card several years back. One of their third party partners contacted me at 9am (early by my standards in those days) and tried to sell me something. I was half asleep so I just told them I wasn’t interested. The rep on the phone said “Too late,” and hung up on me. My sleep-soaked mind didn’t comprehend what was going on until about a week later I get this stack of magazine subscriptions and a bill for $200. I immediately called Capital One and explained what had happened and they told me that they couldn’t do anything about their partners, I would just have to ask them to remove me from their calling lists, and that in order for my account to be credited I would need to return the magazines. When I tried to return the magazines, the partner company told Capital One that I had agreed to the sale and sent them back to me, with Capital One reversing the previously issued credit. I went back and forth before I finally got a hold of a manager at the partner company and we tracked down a copy of the call, in which we could clearly hear me tell the representative that I was not interested and her telling me it was too late. They promised to handle the situation with the employee and removed my name and number from their mailing list and when Capital One credited my account I promptly closed the card. I was less than impressed with their handling of the situation. I was angry they would not let me opt-out from them giving out my information. And I really didn’t want to go through the experience again with any of their other partners.

    I agree completely that when a company outsources or gives your information to a third party partner, they need to make sure that any interaction with their customers is representative of the quality that is expected of the brand name. In my opinion, the way Capital One and partner handled the situation was of low quality, therefore that equated to Capital One being of low quality and not a card I wanted to carry. I think it’s the same thing with your assessment of TV Guide.

  12. kosmo says:

    Wow. That sounds criminal.

  13. It’s amazing how many companies have let their phone service suffer so. And the story you present leaves me speechless. Regardless of what link of the company’s chain telemarketers represent, they still fully represent the company, no matter in what form.

    I experienced some phone service today that, although certainly not as severe as yours, made me seriously think about switching to another company. I was bounced around all over the place, was disconnected once, on hold for over 45 minutes, all to get a simple answer to something which they could have mentioned on their hold recording. The service was rude by the actual live representatives, and my whole impression of the company was tarnished. I think companies forget that their phone reps are the first line of contact that can make or break their relationships with their customers.

  14. WOW. And people wonder why the don’t have jobs?

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