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If you are like many others out there, the current economic conditions might be having an impact on your top and bottom lines. The challenging environment means that we need to find new ways to generate sales, hold on to current customer and attract new ones. I’ve had three interactions with sales and customer service folks that left me shaking my head and wondering aloud, “who told them to say that?” These are NOT winning strategies. Please do not replicate them.

1. The car service department catastrophe
My car, fortunately, has an extended warranty that lasts for a few years and tens of thousands of miles. I am in year three of ownership of said vehicle and I am still below the milage threshold. I called to make an appointment for one of the scheduled tune-ups. The woman on the other end of the phone barely eeked out a polite “hello-and-how-can-I-help-you?”. I told her that I needed to make an appointment for service. She asked the make, model and year of my car. I supplied the information not a second after I’d finished, she shot back with, “this will be your last complimentary tune up.” I was taken aback for a couple of reasons. 1. It wasn’t correct. 2. If it was correct, why would you inform me like that? Here’s a suggestion, let me enjoy my last complimentary tune up, then tell me that I am off warranty, but that you can help with my future needs.

I was so turned off by her attitude, all I could think was, “great! I’ll start looking for a new mechanic, because I know I don’t want to send any money your way.”

If an organization has a customer in a complimentary/free program and that customer is going to have to start paying for a product or service somewhere, why not retain that customer and transition them into a paying customer? If I’d had a great experience with this car service place, I’d be happy to give them my future business. Don’t alientate your free customers and make them feel like they are the unwashed masses – they are leads you already have. You have a chance to interact with and perform for them and make them realize how much they love you and that they can’t live without you.

2. The HVAC company that blows hot air
My friend’s central air started acting funny during a heat wave we had last week. The unit on their house is on its last legs, but it’s not dead yet. She called the company she uses for servicing the A/C and and made an appointment to have it checked out. The repairman showed up, asked her a few questions, took a BRIEF look at the system and told her the unit was dead. There was NO way to repair it. He started talking in techincal jargon and said that he could have his Sr. Technician come by to double check that the system was, in fact, dead. The “Sr. Technician,” Tommy, was not a repairman. He was the company’s salesman. My friend had not planned on spending hours on this appoinment or on purchasing a big ticket item that day.

Tommy started by telling her that the unit was dead, then started throwing around four and five figure estimates to replace the A/C unit. He had sheets of paper for her to sign and asked if that Friday would be a good day for the new system to be delivered and installed. She was so disgusted by this bait, switch and fib tactic, that she has vowed never to use this company again. Furthermore, she has told all her friends (including me) about their slimy sales tactics. Word of mouth works both ways – good and bad. Unfortunately for this company, studies have shown that BAD word of mouth spreads ten times faster than glowing WOM.

She got a second opinion from a guy who has a small HVAC company. He came highly recommended and got her A/C working for $20. He said that she could call him anytime the system acts up and he’ll fix it until it is unfixable. Although he can’t sell and install a new unit, he offered to help her get fair estimates when the time comes (at no charge!) Guess who she will be using for all her future repairs?

I know times are tough and we have sales quotas, but in this case David’s approach beats Goliath’s. The small business that was honest and met the customer’s needs (she needed the unit repaired, she didn’t need to be sold a new unit) wins. Twenty bucks isn’t a lot, but lots of customers at $20 and a steady stream of happy repair customers is probably a more sustainable business model than one-off sales of big ticket items with 10-12 year life spans.

3. Let me tell you what I CAN’T do for you
There is a vendor that I work with (that will remain nameless) that has some pretty odd customer retention policies. I have been working with them for about three years. During that time, I have upgraded my services with them as needed. However, right now, I just do not need the capacity that I had in the past. I downgraded my services with them in January, then needed to do so again last month. I didn’t need to be paying for something that I wasn’t using. Instead of saying “thanks for your business, we appreciate you as a customer no matter what size you are,” I got a note that said, “I notice[d] that this was the 2nd request to downgrade your account so far this year. Unfortunately we do have a limit of 2 downgrades per year and will be unable to honor any further downgrade requests for the remainder of 2009.” What kind of inflexible policy is that? Next time I need to “downgrade” I might just downgrade myself right off your client list and over to another vendor. And, when my demand for your service picks up, my upgrade will be with the other guy.

Please do not follow that example. I would never want a business to operate at a loss to be accomodating, but seriously, what would it cost them to be flexible and accomodate my needs? If you can help out a customer, do it. It’s likely that they will remember your kindness and stick with you as they grow.

Have you had experiences with any sales tactics that left you thinking “what are they thinking?!?”

Do you have any success stories to share? Leave ‘em in the comments section!