I’ve just reached the end of my existing phone contract. Despite bitching and grumbling about Three, my ‘service provider’, for as long as I can remember; I decided to shoot myself in the balls yet again by renewing with them. I don’t like the idea of losing my current phone number, even if it means dealing with half a signal bar in my own house.
The Samsung Galaxy S2 looked sufficiently tasty to merit a goodbye to my HTC, so I got the ball rolling. I hit 333 on my keypad and waited to be put through to somebody who could help me.
Calling a sales representative at Three is like challenging Derren Brown to a game of misdirection. There’s something deliberately perplexing about the South Indian dialect, and the guy on the end of the phone can call himself ‘Graham’ until he’s blue in the face; I’m still not buying it.
I believe I made the critical error of calling Three with the stated intention of upgrading. Had I waited for them to call me, I could have easily fudged their sales funnel with my threats to move network. Guys, if you ever want more from your phone contract, press x to speak to somebody about canceling your existing deal. It works every time.
To my surprise, it took all of about 37 seconds for the bloodsuckers to translate my keyword ‘new contract’ in to an apparent desire to be upsold the moon. I found myself being shoved towards ‘Steve’ on the sales team.
We went through the usual security verification, littered with bullshit idle small talk. Apparently there is a command in the Three support system that encourages employees to wish happy birthday to anybody whose birth date falls in a 4 day range. I found myself describing my celebrations three times in a row.
“Oh, I see that it was your birthday four days ago, Mr. Osborn. May I ask how you spent it?”
“Well actually, ‘Steve’, I spent it in the darkest corner of my basement. I’m still there now. I’ve been waiting for this call, ‘Steve’. I’ve been chanting my security answers in a tribal beat. Oh yes, I’ve been praying for this conversation, ‘Steve’. Now why don’t you tell me a little more about that Samsung?”
“…uh, excellent, now, Mr. Osborn…” By this point, his cordial laugh has degenerated in to a nervous hush. All thoughts of a commission have been banished in the name of a psycho on Line 107.
You see, the only way to play Three effectively is to beat them at their own game. And their game is essentially ‘the mindfuck’. It’s a tour de force in disorientation, rapid-fire T&Cs and blatant trickery.
It wasn’t long before I was being offered my sparkling new contract.
“Yes, Mr. Osborn, I can certainly help you today. Now, you say that you are interested in the Samsung Galaxy S2. Well, I am going to give you a special deal on that phone, your preferred handset. I’m going to give you unlimited Internet usage, 8000 texts, 8000 minutes for a monthly charge of just £40. Would you say that that is a good deal, Mr. Osborn?”
“Sounds pretty good to me.”
“Excellent, fantastic. Well, that’s great. Now as a loyal customer to Three, I’d also like to tell you about a special ‘benefit’ that I’d love to offer to you exclusively. I think you’re going to really love it. Would you like to hear about that, Mr. Osborn?”
Marketing note: Clearly the salesmen at Three have the classic ‘benefits over features’ argument drummed in to their heads. They crowbar the words ‘special benefit’ in to their pitch like relentless drones. Also, they’re skilled at using one of my favourite sales techniques: they build up momentum by feeding a barrage of questions where the only answer is ‘yes’. Get a prospect to say ‘yes’ to a bunch of smaller questions and his answer to the big one is likely to be influenced.
By this point, I knew damn well where the conversation was heading. I’ve been cold-called several times by Three in the last few months. They seem absolutely determined to sell me a second handset, or to draw family referrals like blood from a stone.
Sure enough, ‘Steve’ pitched me with a second handset. 300 minutes, 200 texts and 500mb of Internet allowance. But best of all, I could have this handset absolutely free. Now here’s where their shenanigans get somewhat murky.
I asked twice, specifically, if the handset was available for £0 and no monthly charges. Both times, ‘Steve’ confirmed that it was.
Reluctantly, but sensing something was amiss, I agree to be sent the second handset. I figured I’d flog it on eBay, or give it to one of my many friends with cracked iPhone screens. I do love a gesture of irony.
Delighted with his coup, ‘Steve’ then hit me with the small print. The sales process is designed to extract audible sighs while you agree and confirm a merciless list of T&Cs. Eventually we neared the end, and I was hit with this…
“So, Mr. Osborn, today you have agreed to not one but two handsets. Firstly, the Samsung Galaxy S2 for £40/month, your desired handset, and secondly a Samsung Europa Whatever, absolutely free as a special benefit for being a loyal customer to Three…”
“…Now I have to tell you, Mr. Osborn, and it’s just a minor detail, but we can’t process the second phone in our system on a free contract. So what I’m going to do is set up two direct debits. The first will charge you £30 for the Galaxy S2, and the second will charge you £10 for the Europa Whatever, which of course, you are receiving free of charge as a special benefit for being a loyal customer. So, all in all, you will be paying £40/month for the Samsung Galaxy S2 and getting a second handset absolutely free of charge. Can I go through and confirm this on the system, Mr. Osborn?”
Hold on, what the hell?
Suddenly it hit me that from the moment ‘Steve’ offered me a £40/month contract, I’d been setup for one of the most long-winded upsell tricks in the book. I directed my browser at the Three website and sure enough, there was the Samsung Galaxy S2 on sale for £35/month. Forget the loyal customer bullshit. He’d actually given me a small discount on my intended phone, which I’m probably entitled to after seven years with the company. And his ‘special benefit’? It was no more than a second contract, lumbering me with a phone that I initially rejected.
Marketing note: Upselling can be effective, but even more effective is getting your prospect to agree to an inflated price and then bundling in the upsell. Customers are notoriously bad at valuing products. They rely on contrast and comparison to decipher the good deals from the bad. As soon as I signaled that I was happy with a £40/month price point, I took on the identity of lamb to the slaughter, so easy would it be to get me to approve of the same contract I’ve been declining for the last 6 months…
I tip my hat to Three, because by this point, I truly couldn’t have given a shit. I’d been on the phone for close to 30 minutes.
In the UK, we have a customer protection scheme for online and phone-based sales. It’s a statutory cooling off period, where contracts can be cancelled in the first few days (Incidentally, the same law does not apply in-store so always get your contracted shit online, guys.). I decided to wait for the phones to be delivered and then send back the second unwanted handset. By canceling, I would get the Samsung Galaxy for £30/month – finally, a good deal that looks, smells and tastes like a good deal!
So, I waited for the delivery and then called Three again… pressed 4 to speak to a cancellation assistant, pressed 6 to confirm that I was serious, pressed 9 to answer some algebra, before finally muttering the ‘secret word’ to reach the help desk: “ARRRGHHHH!”
It’s no surprise that from the moment I mentioned ‘cancel contract’, I found myself plunged in to a labyrinth of darkness, holding queues and the motherfucking Black Eyed Peas. If you think upgrading your contract is a pain in the arse, just try canceling one. Invariably you’ll find that the most persistent, crafty bastards are placed on these desks. Their mission is to make you think twice.
Before long, you’re pleading to speak to ‘Steve’ again. Except this world resembles the Orwellian dystopia, where ‘Steve’ is now known as ‘Abraham’, and your sanity is questioned for stating otherwise.
Note to service providers: If you’re a large company like Three, you can generally get away with making the cancellation procedure a thousand times more agonizing than the sales funnel. If you’re a small business, this is reputation suicide. In fact, I would even suggest that dealing with the customers looking to cancel is more important than wooing new prospects. Prospects are still prospects, they’ll come and go. But your customers possess the ammunition to leave your reputation in the gutter. Make life easy for them – even when their intention is to ditch you.
If you’re still following by now, you’re probably wondering: did I manage to cancel the contract? or did I succumb to the web of lies and tricky? Well, I’m about to find out.
After negotiating the Black Eyed Peas, a sore arse, and close to an hour being bounced around on hold, I finally reached the contract cancellation help desk. What did I discover? My contracts weren’t even active in the system yet! And, of course, the Three system is designed in such a way that inactive accounts cannot be terminated. I was told to call back today, which I’m about to do.
A final marketing note: If the customer is aware of his cooling off period, insist that he observes another cooling off period before he can make his final decision. If you’re that customer? Congratulations. The ‘cooling off period within a cooling off period’ is the very last hurdle guarding the light at the end of the tunnel. You’re almost home and dry!
Recommended This Week
Make sure you grab a copy of Premium Posts Volume 3. Featuring over 75 pages of tips and techniques to help you dominate the dating niche, Volume 3 should give your campaigns a nice boost for 2012. Download a copy here.
I’ve recently re-branded FinchBlogs.com to cover a more personal flavour of the crap I’m currently working on. I’ll be blogging about issues even more obscure than sleazeball marketing, so check it out if you dare.