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How To Lose 1 Million Customers In 3 Months

Everything happens for a reason, especially in business. Companies don’t go out of business or lose customers for reasons totally beyond their control: there’s always a reason.

Most likely their service stunk; or they had really bad management. Perhaps their prices were out of whack with the value, or lack of same, they provided. But believe me; it has nothing to do with bad luck, bad economy or competition. As with anything else in life, when things aren’t going the way you hoped they would, your best bet is to look in the mirror. That brings me to Sprint.

On MarketWatch, there was an article last week titled, Sprint loses more money, customers.

The article began:

“Sprint Nextel Corp. on Monday said it lost more than 1 million of its most profitable customers (about to be 1 million and 1, I might add) in the first three months of 2008 as the company’s net loss widened in the most recent quarter.

Sprint has lost millions of customers to rivals in the past few years owing to poor customer service, a less appealing selection of phones and snafus related to it’s $35 billion purchase of Nextel in 2005.

Chief Executive Daniel Hesse, hired in December, has already taken a number of steps to improve the company’s financial performance and its relationship with customers.”

Well, you could have fooled me.

I have been a Sprint Wireless customer for over 5 years, which definitely puts me WAYYYYY above average. However, as it stands right now, I will be an ex-customer when my contract runs out in February of ’09.

I have four cell numbers under contract; one for each member of the family. This last contract started back in May of 2006. It had 2100 anytime minutes per month, unlimited nights and weekends, no roaming charges and was a “Fair and Flexible Plan,” meaning if we went over our minutes we would only be charged $5 for each 100 minute overage.

A few months later I realized we didn’t need 2100 anytime minutes (I use Skype far more than my cell; better value), so I downgraded the plan to 1400 anytime minutes per month. Little did I know (because nobody ever bothered to tell me) that when I changed my plan Sprint extended it another 2 years, meaning instead of my plan expiring in May of ’08, it won’t expire until February of ’09.

On top of that, when I received my latest bill I noticed that I was charged twenty cents per minute extra for going over my minutes: What happened to Fair and Flexible?

So I called Sprint Customer Service, something I really hate doing, because there’s never any way to do it quickly. I was told that when I changed my plan I lost the Fair and Flexible component because that service was no longer being offered at that time (Probably because it was a good thing for the customer). I asked how come I was never notified of this at the time and naturally I received a stupid answer. I was also told that Sprint no longer offered the Fair and Flexible plan (remember this part; it comes up later).

Now, to add insult to injury, Sprint announced a couple of months ago that as a service to their customers, in their latest effort to stop the bleeding, they will no longer penalize customers and extend their contracts just for changing their plans.

Now here’s a real pet peeve of mine!

Don’t you just hate it when companies treat new customers better than they treat their long term loyal customers? Cellphone companies are notorious for this.

So now I’m really ticked and I’m going to complain. I decide I want to write a letter to Daniel Hesse, the new CEO, since he claims he wants to improve the company’s relationship with its customers.

But now there’s a problem: I go to the Sprint website and nowhere on that website is there an address for their corporate headquarters or even an email address for the CEO. I guess Mr. Hesse, like so many other executives of bad companies only wants to improve customer relations if he doesn’t actually have to be in contact with any of us.

So once again I called customer service, only this time I started my stop watch. I told my story to the Customer Service Rep and the first thing he said was, “Let me see if I can get you back on the Fair and Flexible Plan.” I know what you’re saying, “I thought the Fair and Flexible Plan wasn’t being offered anymore,” and you’d be right to think that because that’s what I was told.

Don’t you just love it when two people from the same company tell you completely different stories? Remember what I said at the beginning; there are always good reasons why companies fail.

Naturally, I couldn’t get the Fair and Flexible plan but that didn’t matter; I wanted Sprint to do something for me or I would cancel my service when my contract was up. This young man said he couldn’t do anything for me but would transfer me to someone who could and he put me on hold while he went to contact that department.

After about a 5 minute wait I was put in touch with a woman who had no idea what I was calling about. Wouldn’t you assume, as I did, that when the first person said he would transfer me to someone who could help me, then put me on hold while he contacted them that he would have relayed the problem to them? Well, you, like me, would have been wrong. I had to tell my story all over again (another pet peeve).

Now I had been on the phone with Sprint for 24 minutes and had accomplished nothing, so I said to this woman, “Look here’s my story, the other person I spoke to said you would help me. I don’t have time to stay on the phone with you anymore, I’ve wasted enough time already. You have all my information. If you want to do something for me, call me and let me know.”

And I hung up…

It has now been over 24 hours and I haven’t heard from Sprint. What’s the odds that I never will? Probably, 1 to 1? Like I said before and I’ll say it again: there are always very valid reasons why companies fail.

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A Recession Is Coming And I Can’t Wait!

If you’ve been following the economic news lately, you pretty much hear nothing but doom and gloom. Energy prices climbing; the housing market continues to fall; the dollar is weak; economic growth in the fourth quarter climbed but at a much slower rate due to weak holiday sales; the consumer spending binge seems to be slowing; and then, as I write this, I see on my newsreader “Inflation rate is worst in 17 years.”

All I can say to that is, “What a perfect time to do business!” Now before you start filling out the commitment papers, let me tell you something; there is no better time to do business than during a down economic period and for one simple reason: most of your competition has given up. It is my belief that during down economic periods or recessions, salespeople stop selling long before customers stop buying.

Sure there might be less business out there, and, most likely, the size of the average sale might decrease; but, with less people chasing the business, it will be a lot easier for you to get what’s out there. It is the perfect opportunity for each and every one of you to go out there and grab market share.

One thing we know about the economy is that no matter how bad it may get (and I don’t think it will be that bad. Remember, good news doesn’t sell), the economy always comes back. If you capture market share when business is down, you’ll be perfectly positioned to explode your business and crush your competition when things turn around.

It is so critical for you to be more visible than ever to your clients and prospects, because of the perceptions you create. During good times, if your clients and prospects don’t see you for a while, they just assume you’re busy. But if they don’t see or hear from you during tough times, they just assume you’re gone.

The average to poor salesperson is not looking for business: they’re looking for an excuse and a recession is a great excuse. They can go see one prospect or client who will tell them, “Business is tough right now, we’re not buying,” and turn that into “Nobody’s buying.” You see this way they can’t actually fail. They can tell their manager, “I’ve been out there. Business is bad, nobody’s buying.” Their ass is covered. Of course, they never do succeed: which is what it’s all about.

Don’t you just love it when people say, “Nobody’s buying?” What the hell does that mean? The United States has a 13 TRILLION dollar economy. If it went down 10%, which is unheard of and would cause panic in the streets, there would still be 11.7 TRILLION dollars of economic activity going on: Somebody’s buying something.

Do yourself a favor, don’t listen to the negativity: let your competition do that. Just go out there and show up. Keep talking to prospects and clients and keep asking for the sale. Lot’s of companies will be buying and you might be the only salesperson out there who’s actually selling.

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Great Salespeople Are Not Rip-Off Artists

Dan Giese has been a professional baseball player since being drafted by the Red Sox in 1999. But until two days ago, when he was called up to the Major Leagues by the San Francisco Giants, he had spent his entire career in the minor leagues.

In 2005, dealing with the frustration of not making it to the big leagues and having to support a family (his wife was pregnant with their first child), Dan Giese quit baseball and went to work selling cars at a Honda dealership in San Diego.

Unfortunately for Dan he found sales even harder than playing ball, which is why he’s back playing ball. However, a big part of Dan’s problem was that he had no conception of what it takes to be a good salesperson, or even what a good salesperson could be. Here’s what he had to say about his experience:

“I think I sold maybe five or six cars in two months, so I was probably going to get fired anyway," he said. "I was telling people, ‘This isn’t a good deal at all.’ Usually Honda buyers are young, like my age, so you know how much money they make. I couldn’t rip them off. I’m just not a salesman, I guess."

There are so many stupid assumptions in that quote, it’s hard to know where to begin. The first thing that jumped out at me was that Dan Giese believes a good salesperson is someone who rips people off. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know that the most successful salespeople do it on repeat business and referrals. How much repeat and referral business do you think you’d bring in if you were ripping people off?

The second dumb assumption is that “Honda buyers are young, like my age, so you know how much money they make.” It’s obvious that Dan Giese didn’t do his homework (like great salespeople do). Off the top of my head I know three Honda owners who are my age or older (not young) and are in the upper income brackets. And here’s another question: Why does Dan assume that just because these people are young they don’t have very much income? Not everyone is a minor league baseball pitcher, struggling to scrape together a living. Some young people coming out of college make very substantial incomes; just the other day I heard of a hospital that was paying first year nurses $80,000 with a $20,000 signing bonus.

Honda has cars like the Fit and Civic that start at under $15,000. They also have cars like the S2000, Pilot and Ridgeline, which start at around $30,000.

There are far too many salespeople who only sell what THEY can afford, and assume that’s all the client can afford. Maybe, instead of assuming, Dan Giese should have talked to the prospects and asked questions about how much money they have, how much they earn, whether or not they believe their income will be going up in the next couple of years and then put them in a car that fit their income and cash flow. That’s what a great salesperson does.

I hope Mr. Giese works harder at succeeding in baseball than he did at sales. Otherwise his stay in the Major Leagues will be just as short as his time with Honda.

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The Biggest Con Job Since The Sting

WARNING: Off-topic Rant from World-Class Ranter Below.

This week, the yearly “Con job” is taking place once again in Chapel Hill, NC. It is where the school board and the local “Bored” of Education tells us that if the county doesn’t kick in with the money they need for the next fiscal year and the citizens don’t agree to another tax hike, they’re going to have to cut back on such things as teachers, teachers aides, certain extra-curricular programs and of course some varsity and JV sports.

Where does the “Con job” come in to play you ask? Aren’t the people willing to pay more to ensure their children get a good education?

Well let me tell you where the “Big Con” is exactly. Not once in the ten years that I’ve been living here have I ever heard the Superintendent or any other pointy-headed donkey from the school board ever say: “If we don’t get the money we requested for this upcoming year, we’re going to have to lay off people at Lincoln Center (This is the central administration office for the entire Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system). And you know why they never say that? Two reasons:

  • Most every taxpayer in town would say, “Who cares! Go ahead and do it.” Of course, most people will panic and say, “Oh please don’t get rid of teachers, or sports programs. I’ll be more than willing to pay more taxes to save that.” But nobody in their right mind would willingly pour more money into the never-ending black hole that is public education in order to save another bureaucrat.
  • School boards and Boards of Education treat these central offices as fiefdoms, power bases and their own businesses (of course, with some other sucker, the taxpayer, footing the bill for all the overhead). Do you really think they want to bring any attention to this? Does anyone have any idea how many people work in these places? And, if they lined everyone up, had them count off in 3’s, then got rid of everyone who was a number 3, would anyone ever notice a difference?

In 1993, when Rudy Giuliani first became Mayor of New York City (I lived in Manhattan until 1999), the city was an economic basket-case and a social cesspool. The first thing he did was lower taxes and slash the bloated budget. How bloated you ask? When he got to the central “Bored” of Education he found 3,000 people on the payroll that nobody knew existed! Not 3,000 people working there; this was 3,000 ADDITIONAL people that no one could account for, but were on the payroll nonetheless.

Now in all fairness, the Chapel Hill School system is nothing like N.Y.C., but when a central bureaucracy is allowed to grow unchecked, with no one even questioning it; when programs and people vital to the system are constantly threatened with the axe, while useless bureaucrats keep picking up paychecks, it’s time to make some changes: especially at the top!