Sunday, September 6, 2020

The not-so-fine art of discouraging customers

                                        (Man at desk surrounded by Darth Vader figures*)

As the expression “a word to the wise is sufficient” suggests, it is always advisable to learn from others, including their mistakes. I wish to provide a personal precautionary tale that demonstrates even in the Corona-period hunger for customers, old habits don’t die as well as remind all sellers of both goods and services of some important basic principles. 

To make a long story short, a phrase that indicates that a long story will follow, I am considering taking a law course, not program, to improve my contract writing skills. To explain, I attended law school more than 30 years ago but never completed the full program or obviously became a lawyer but have been translated contracts for some 16 years now from French, Russian and Hebrew to English. While my current level of legal writing is sufficient, I have no doubt that there is room for improvement. I was contacted by a reputable on-line law school and was intrigued to know that non-degree seeking students could take individual courses for an appropriate fee. I decided to investigate the matter. That is where the fun began.

 My first contact was with the on-line chat. The representative, despite all my direct questioning, was unable to provide me a list of available courses, forcing me to ask about them one by one, with time in between for him to check. He clearly knew nothing about this program nor understood what the difference between a course description and syllabus is. All he could do was to send me a link to the program site and say that he would send me more information by email, which never arrived. After 30 minutes, I ended the “chat” frustrated and still knowing nothing.

The next day, a Monday, I tried to call but was kept on hold for 30 minutes without reaching an advisor at long distance rates. I again tried the chat and unfortunately reached the same clueless representative, who ignored my requests to pass me on someone that understands. We chatted for some 30 minutes but this time I managed to receive a list of available courses but no additional information. The same promise to send material was made with the same result. 

Many years ago, I learned to ignore unpleasantness and focus on my goals. On Wednesday, I called again and was immediately answered by a pleasant and knowledgeable advisor. She apologized for the issues, answered my questions, took my email and sent me all the material I requested. She even gave me her direct number should I have any further questions. I am now seriously considering enrolling for the course. 

This tale of woe with a happy ending, Disney style if you will, is not intended as a complaint against this honorable institution in particular as the problem is far from unique. To demonstrate, I have yet to receive replies from two other law schools to which I sent requests for information. The Corona crises, among its many effects, should have made all businesses, regardless of type, further appreciate all existing and potential clients as the margin for error for business survival is very small today. Most unhappy customers do not complain; they simply do not buy, a silent killer. 

The essential error was committed by the college, not the representative regardless of how incompetent he may be. The college was aggressively marketing its programs. It is clear that all front-line personnel, those that directly recruit the students, must be thoroughly familiar with the programs. Furthermore, if the latter is not possible, the college must provide immediate expert backup and train the employees when should they pass customers on. Finally, during high demand period, it should increase the number of personnel and phone lines to properly answer requests for deadline. On the positive side, the higher-level personnel, the advisor in this case, knew how to diffuse the negative feeling and go forward. However, a company is only as good as its weakest front-line link as most potential customers will simply look elsewhere. 

My father used to say that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Unfortunately, the college in question did a very solid job pushing me away. It is not alone as many business, large and small, are equally proficient at making the buyer feel unwanted. It is not a fine art by any means as it can lead to bankruptcy. Let the seller beware.

* Label your pictures to allow full access to the blind. Picture creditd: Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2539844">www_slon_pics</a> from <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2539844">Pixabay</a>


  1. Sounds like your online chat may have been with a chatbot rather than a person. Some chatbots are more useful than others. They work on call scripts, just like the call center people they are suppose to partially replace.

    The figures in the image are Imperial stormtroopers, not Darth Vader

    1. The force was not with me. Many moons have waned since I saw the premier decades ago...... You may be right about the bot but I am not sure. I actually think he was clueless. In any case, thanks for being a regular reader. Shana tova.