I get between 10 and 30 sales calls every week. Of these, I take 5-10. I would take more, but my time is precious and the calls are not always at a convenient time. It is one of the problems of being both chief cook and bottle washer in my business.

Recently, I had to review our home broadband package. I was out of contract with AOL(UK) and I had some concerns about the speed of the service.

Now let me say from the outset that generally speaking, I quite like dealing with salespeople and I have great empathy with them, particularly those learning the job for the first time. I try to be pleasant and helpful where possible and even if I am saying no I try to do so politely and to provide some reasons for my decision. In short I have a higher tolerance than many to sales people and sales practice.

AOL has been calling me for some time now, eager to persuade me to renew the contract. This is what the experience is like.

I answer the phone and there is a two to three second delay before I hear an echoey voice

“Hello……. Is that Mr Paul Kenny?”(Many times my name is pronounced very slowly as if being read for the first time)

So, first impressions are not great. I feel somewhat disengaged and I know that I am simply the next person on the CRM list.

When I acknowledge that they have the right person, they introduce themselves, but I can’t quite catch their name. This is followed by a rather exaggerated “How are you Mr Kenny?”

Now I am all for politeness, but this person, whose name I didn’t catch and who I don’t know, is enquiring after my wellbeing. Before I have a chance to finish my (somewhat guarded) reply, they say “That’s great Mr Kenny” and I am not feeling the sincerity.

I now feel that I have just done a bit of an awkward verbal dance with someone who patently sees me as nothing more than the next number on their list and who I care little about. There follows a couple of seconds of awkward silence, I disengage further and start to think about tonight’s dinner that I can smell cooking in the kitchen.

My ‘no name’ contact now proceeds to tell me that he has some fantastic news for me. “I’ll be the judge of that” I think. The forced friendliness and enthusiasm is already starting to wear thin.

“Mr Kenny” they say for the fourth or fifth time (no-one really calls me Mr Kenny – only tax inspectors, so no great warmth is being generated by this overly-formal address). “Mr Kenny, we want to thank you for being such a loyal customer and to offer you 3 months free (I think it was 3 months, I don’t recall the detail) broadband followed by a new monthly rate of £xx”.

Now this might normally be seen as good news, but I suspect that there might be a catch, so being a bit hungry (dinner is now smelling great) I ask outright “what’s the catch?”. “No catch Mr Kenny, we want to say thank you for being such a loyal customer”.

Now I am getting the feeling that this person is reverting to their script and they do not want to tell me about the conditions. I decide to let things run on, though now my son is doing keepie- uppies with his new football in my office, my attention is waning.

No name now proceeds to go through a script telling me what a wonderful package they are offering me, their most loyal customer. And guess what? All I have to do to get this loyalty reward is to sign a new contract for another 12 months.

“Aha” I say, so there was a condition. No name insists that the offer is for loyalty. I guess they mean for future loyalty, but now I am a bit disgruntled. We could have saved a lot of time by getting to the point –“we have some great discounts if you commit” would have done nicely.

But now the wheels start to come off. No name is clearly expecting a straight “yes” or “no”, but I have a few issues to discuss first. I explain that I don’t want to re-sign a contract for another year because I have been experiencing very slow connection speeds and attempts to address the problem through the help lines have been frustrating and unproductive.

No name says “I am very sorry to hear that you are experiencing difficulties with your service Mr Kenny” Strangely, he says it in exactly the same way (words, tone, pace, everything as the technical support people who had patently failed to  give any technical support). I start to think that AOL script writers are using copy and paste a little too freely!

No name tells me that AOL are working on the problem and that all will be well soon. I’m expected to believe this on trust because no explanation or evidence was given. He then goes on to remind me that this is a big discount and a great deal!

We do a couple more rounds of this dance before I realise that no name has no intention or deviating from the approved script. He continues to sell a discount even though I thought the package was fairly priced (at least when it worked!) and that my only real concern was reliability of service.

No name made no attempt to explore or clarify my issues, so now I feel that I have been processed rather than sold to. It’s not going well and to give him some credit, no name is also feeling the pain. In spite of me being a loyal and valued customer, we are just not getting on. Dinner is almost ready and my son is desperate to practice a few penalty shots before Mum calls us in to eat. I politely decline the offer and no name mumbles through an exit script- something about calling back again soon, but he and I have lost all heart and he can’t get off the phone fast enough.

So how do I feel about AOL? Well, before the calls (there were 3 or 4 attempts by AOL to repeat the process) I was a loyal customer  (more than 10 years) who paid by direct debit and rarely gave a moment’s thought to broadband supply. For 9 of the 10 years I have been a customer, I have been satisfied. I had a few issues recently, which I would have discussed in detail, had anyone asked. Broadly speaking, I was indifferent. Home broadband is not a big deal for me – some detailed assurances and guarantees of service may well have been enough to ensure my continued custom . On this occasion I am very much an ease and convenience buyer.

The experience of being sold to by AOL left me determined to change suppliers. The calls politicised me, they made me actively seek an alternative. They were, in every way, the opposite of what a salesperson should do.

  • Garbled openings and overly-formalised scripts make the customer feel disengaged from the start.
  • The sales promotion was based on a strategy of deciet (“our most loyal customers get a special offer) instead of honesty (“we’d like your continued custom and are prepared to reward you for it”).
  • An utter failure to question or to listen and an over-reliance on scripted responses left the customer feeling completely disengaged.
  • Price incentives were offered without any reference to how happy I was with the service. They were thrown into the conversation so casually that I was left wondering whether I had been overpaying for the service all along.
  • Ignoring objections about quality issues or glossing over them leaves the customer feeling dissatisfied and doubtful.
  • Dropping all pretence of interest once the call is going badly simply re-confirms all the worries, doubts and fears that the customer has.
  • Dropping all pretence of interest once the call is going badly simply re-confirms all the worries, doubts and fears that the customer has.

AOL, you could do so much better. Your current sales processes are damaging, not enhancing your customer experience.

In Part 2, I will tell you how 2 sales people and BT made their business stand out from the competition and how it was the sales person that swung the deal.