A big problem with modern retail practices - Denny Scott editorial
If you were taking in CBC content on Monday morning, you may have heard the sad tale of Ross Miller, an octogenarian with Alzheimer’s Disease, who was allegedly taken advantage of by sales people at The Source - an electronics store owned by Bell Canada.
Miller went into the store looking for a new television and walked out with a litany of electronic devices and services that would make me blush if you caught me buying it all at once, and I’ve got bad spending habits.
Miller was sold a landline telephone, a second cell phone, a tablet, a cable package and all the charges and contracts that go with them. Actually, he didn’t even get the television he wanted in the first place.
While Bell says it doesn’t employ the kind of high-pressure sales tactics that would lead to someone taking advantage of someone like Miller, an insider from another Source site says staff are put under pressure to hit unattainable goals. According to the CBC, the insider says that he and his fellow salespeople are encouraged to avoid questions when a customer doesn’t have good cognitive function.
“The goal… is to get them to put pen to paper, signing a contract,” the insider said. “So if the person does not have their faculties, then we’re basically told to go through the [sales] script.”
Knowing nothing about this insider, I’m still inclined to side with him because, once upon a time, I worked for another cellular giant and I can tell you, everything he said rings true.
When I was in my late teens, aside from relying on Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) funding, which has haunted me for over a decade now, I also paid my way through school working at a call centre in Brantford that fielded calls for Nextel, an American cell phone company.
I was in the sales department but, thanks to working the late or overnight shifts, the expectations of sales were pretty low for me and I was able to hit my goals nine times out of 10. The folks who worked the day shift, however, were under intense pressure to deal with customers quickly and close the sale.
When I was young, I felt that there was a problem with that kind of system, but I couldn’t put my finger on it, now, in the light of gained wisdom and stories from the lockdowns, I know what it is: I seldom offer repeat business to places that try to sell me something more than what I need. The places that earn my repeat business are the ones where people try to help me, regardless of whether a sale is made or not.
That’s how you build brand loyalty - by putting the customer first, and I’m sure I won’t be startling anyone by saying modern telecommunication companies seemed to have forgotten that message long ago.
Granted, there are some jobs where you need quotas to hit, not because some rich executive needs to buy a second home or a third boat, but because it keeps the company afloat. For retail sales people, however, the focus should be on helping people, whether that be through processing an expedient return, showing someone what they need and don’t need or selling them something. Companies putting the almighty dollar first may be successful, but they’re also the ones we complain about the most (which often includes telecommunication companies).
It’s like a local car dealership says in its commercials (or maybe used to), “We’re not here to sell you a car, we’re here to help you buy one.”
Everyone knows, when they walk into a store, that there is the hope by the owner and the salespeople that they buy something, but that understood dynamic is significantly different than the high-pressure sales tactics that are forced on both salespeople and customers by companies like Bell. (Unfortunately, due to lack of government oversight, Bell and Rogers - which own Telus and Fido, respectively - are the only horses in the cellular service race here in rural Ontario, so we don’t have much choice who to support.)
It’s not just electronics, either. When I bought my wife the first piece of jewelry I ever gave her, it was from a local jewelry shop which helped me find something meaningful. When we went engagement ring shopping, we ended up in a city because my wife lived there at the time. It was a rushed experience where I felt like I was being pushed to higher- and higher-end merchandise.
Locally-owned shops know that people will come back because they want to support their community, but also because the added personal touch is important and a lot of that personal touch is the desire to help customers, not just sell to them.