Listen to Your Customer

Have you ever worked with a sales person who would just not listen to you? I just had this experience and I felt bad for the poorly trained soul on the other end of the line.


telephone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just got off the phone with student from one of my alma maters. It is phone-a-thon time for that institution, when the development office hires students to chat up some alumni, help them recall great experiences from their college years, then ask for a donation. I get these calls from both of my alma maters and we usually give to one of them. This call was from the one we usually do not give to. I was there only a year and my connection is with a very few individuals and not so much to the institution.I find myself patient with the students who call. I spent a summer as a telemarketer and have made calls for my current employer. It’s a tough job and I have some empathy for those who do this. However, I found myself impatient with my call this evening because it was obvious he was not well-trained. We began with the small stuff–confirm mailing address and email so the school can keep in touch with me. He then moved into a couple closed questions.

Him: I see your major was higher ed. administration.

Me: Yes, it was.

Him: That must of helped you get your current job with the (mispronounced) university.

Me: Yes, it did. (I never said I was a strong conversationalist, especially on sales calls.)

Him: Well, then, could you support State University with a gift of $100?

Me: I would not like to give at this time. (I thought I was pretty clear).

Him (obviously reading prompter after entering that I said “no”): I understand, Nick. Your gift will help provide scholarships for students. Would you consider a gift of $75?

Me (realizing he did not understand my first answer, even though his prompt told him to say he did): No, I give to my undergraduate institution. I would not like to give to State at this time.

Him (continuing to read from his computer prompts): That is understandable (but I wasn’t trained to do anything but follow script, so), how about a give of $50?

By this time, the frustration in my voice was likely beginning. He continued on to one smaller level after that, bringing up decreased state and federal funding for higher education and I am sure I became even shorter with him.

So what suggestions do I have for improvement? Let me preface this by saying that institutional fundraising is outside my areas of responsibility. Even though I work in higher education, I am not a fundraising expert. In setting up this phone-a-thon, I would have done the following:

  • Created prompts with open-ended questions. One of the main goals in fundraising is to develop a relationship. Without a relationship, even a very short one, I am not going to be enticed to give (or purchase). I have to trust you and you need to have some credibility with me.
  • Gathered information that will be useful to my fundraising efforts. I get a call from this institution a few times a year. Sometimes from the institution, sometimes from the specific college my degree was from. I believe each time I let them know that my higher education gift dollars go to other institutions, yet they keep calling without any relationship, and hoping I might donate. I wonder if they have noted in their system that I am a regular donor to a couple other institutions? If I were the caller, I might skip over someone with my history, especially if notes are entered.
  • Trained my employees better. I have nothing against the student who called. He is giving up a nice summer evening, probably working for $7-8 with another student who has a little more experience than him as a supervisor. His training probably lasted 15 minutes: “Here is the phone, dial 9 to get an outside line. Here is our computer system. Ask the question on the screen, click on the answer you are given to the first question, read the next question that pops up. Repeat until you have asked all the questions. Any questions? Okay, I will listen to you make a couple calls, then you are on your own!” A well-trained employee in this role should be a good conversationalist. They should have a few open questions such as “How are you using your major now?” or “What was your favorite experience at State University?” The employee should be able to NOT sound like they are reading from the prompts.

Any person in a role where they are interacting directly with your customers should be well-trained. Train them to really listen to the customer, not just hear the answer they give and move on the next thing. Systems thinking is great, but it has eroded the conversation that an organization has with their clients. It has at its best grouped clients into large groups of similar customers. At its worst, it treats every customer the same.

How are you making your customer’s experience special for the customer, not convenient for you?


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