15 May, 2010

Why won't companies talk to their customers?

This week's Marketeer: Herald Sun, 15 May 2010

It started when I discovered that Big Pond were blocking my emails. You see I send regular newsletters to a few hundred of my clients and prospects - as any good business should. But every time my email program sent 20 out, the rest failed.

When I investigated, it turned out that Big Pond, my provider, does not allow you to send out more than about 20 emails every 10 minutes. So I’d have to continually re-start the program, 20 emails at a time.

I called their offices to see if there was any way around this problem - and ended up in Manila, I think. I was politely told, “We cannot change that, it is policy.”

So let’s tackle the policy. “I want to speak with Big Pond Management,” I said. “Sorry sir but you can’t speak to management,” the supervisor replied.

After a couple of hours it was clear that there was no way I could talk to someone in Big Pond about their policy - because their policy is not to talk to customers.

Then I wanted to ask my branch of the NAB about a new cheque book. I plunged into the world of cloying robots: “Thank you for your call” and “To check your balance press 2" and dozens of other menu choices, through voice recognition which could not recognise: “I want to speak to my branch”.

Somehow after five minutes I reached a human. And she found me in a surly mood. I think I scared her into putting me through. The branch conversation was great - the teller knew me, checked my account, arranged for the cheque book. I asked if she could save all this angst and just give me their phone number. “I’m sorry Mr Beatty, we can’t give our number out.” “Why not?” “It’s policy.”

I decided to survey just how many companies refuse to talk to their customers. With Woolworths it took a lot of robot barriers but I finally found a human. No she could not put me through to the marketing manager. Nor to anyone in the management team.

I deliberately did not say I was from the press. I wanted them to think I was a customer who needed to talk to someone in management. I discovered the marketing manager’s name is Lew Dunkeley. Could I speak to him or his secretary? “Sorry sir, policies and procedures do not allow me to put you through.” Why not? “Because you are a customer.”

I tried other companies with varying success. But nowhere could I reach anyone senior - except, actually, Intel. They had a receptionist who put me through to their Melbourne manager.

At Fosters I reached a Brand Communications Manager. What did that mean? “Well it’s mostly PR but from time to time I get customer relations calls from the punters.”

Qantas passed me as far as the marketing manager’s secretary, while Telstra has a “Contact the office of the CEO” email link.

I could go on but these are good examples of what happens when you try to talk with corporate managers. Yes they are busy men and women and can’t be bothered by every Tom or Tammy who wants to bend their ears. But building corporate walls is not an answer.

This lack of contact leaves them just talking to each other up on the 20th floor, and a growth of myths and theories instead of reality. It’s a recipe for big errors and monumental incompetence.

I’ve long thought it would be a good corporate habit for executives to take just one short call a day, at random, from the public ringing in. Just to remind them that customers are real people - and that they would not have a job without them.



Anonymous said...

Nice bit of research you did there, Ray. Amazed you got as far as you did!

Your suggestion reminds me of the BBC television series, Back To the Floor. It was interesting to see the reactions of the executives when they had to do the hard graft themselves.

Nerida Haycock
Help Desk Manager
Transit Computer Systems

Anonymous said...

Really impressive. I love the labels: money-sucking and vampires in the same phrase! What a hoot. Can it be linked to the Hun?
BTW does bigpond really block the sending of more than 20 emails? The bums. I use them (as you would see) but I’ve never tried to communicate simultaneously with more than a dozen people.

Anonymous said...

Well written. One of the main reasons I am with the CBA is because they give me a branch business card with their direct line on it.


Alan Dowling
Wishbone Marketing

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! good stuff Ray... you're articles are great!

Ken Ung

Anonymous said...

Hi Ray,
Great article. Couldn't agree more.
Peter Bond.

Anonymous said...

It is exciting! Good on you! Now you won't have to wait
on the paper to make your thoughts available to share.

And you are RIGHT on the money with Saturday's column.
Companies that won't talk to their customers have their
brains screwed in backwards. Who do they think pays their
salaries? And thus protected from the real world, they
wonder why they can't reach their customers ... ! It'd be
hilarious if it wasn't so dire.

In politics, at least, the chiefs know they have to listen
to us once every few years, so it's a little easier "to keep
the bastards honest".

My apologies for not contacting you a little more often.
I certainly miss the banter at WAFLE SIG meetings, but
perhaps that may change after the move to Warrigal Road.
And it's been too long since I heard one of your awful

How's Justine / Electra doing with her music? Hope she
continues to enjoy the satisfying kind of life that only
following your dreams can give.

Phillip Eastwood said...

Hi, Ray! That was some cool investigation you did there. I know you think that managers put up this wall because you didn't get through to them with most of your calls, but there might be a better reason for that. It must be the 'hierarchy' of concerns where the basic and most common issues are only tackled by the people before the managers. The more complicated the matter is, the higher the position of the person who will address it.