Make sure you don’t confuse your customers – and your staff

the pitfalls of special offers

Just a few days ago, I had a text message from my mobile phone operator. ‘You could call Ireland for just 10p a minute to landlines, or 20p a minute to mobiles,’ it said. All I had to do was send a text to activate the service. And I could check out their website for other great rates. So I checked out the website. Sure enough, the rates were great. I could call Sydney for 10p a minute. Bratislava for 5p a minute. LA for 10p a minute. But here’s the thing: my normal rate is 15p a minute to a UK. And I never call Sydney, Bratislava or LA. Still, it’s a great deal, I thought. So I sent the text message. Two things bothered me, though. First, I’d looked into international rates before. And on my pay-as-you-go mobile, they were an eyeball-popping £1.80 a minute to an EU country. Now, that was slashed to just 10p. I’d also remembered seeing that ‘passes’ were available to contract customers – you pay X, and you get cheap international rates. But the pass was valid for a month. So I was getting a great deal for absolutely no commitment? A niggling doubt started to niggle. The second thing was that the acknowledgement text message I received didn’t say the service was activated. Just that they thanked me for my message. So was it or wasn’t it activated? Only one way to find out – call customer services.

Who’s sorry now?

And that’s when it all started to go wrong. ‘JR’ (Texan twang, but more Delhi than Dallas) told me that it hadn’t been turned on. But he’d do it right away, and it would be confirmed in five minutes. Five minutes later, I got an identical text message. Still none the wiser, I called customer services again. ‘Ellen’ (East Coast, but more Bangalore than Baltimore) told me that it had been activated. Great, I said. So I could start making calls to Lithuania for just 5p a minute right away? Or Slovakia? Or New Zealand? Uhm. Let me check. Screeching on-hold music. Five minutes of screeching on-hold music. “I can confirm that you can make top-ups as normal,” she said. So wait, I said. I need to make a top-up to get these rates? On my existing balance, I’d still pay the old rate? Silence. “Ellen,” I said tentatively, “are you still there?” She was. But she’d have to put me on hold again. More screeching. “Thank you for holding, Kevin,” she said in her too-friendly way. “I can confirm that tou can make top-ups as normal.” I pointed out that she hadn’t answered my question, and that she was simply repeating her earlier (irrelevant) line. “I can confirm…” And she was off. “Ellen,” I said patiently. “It’s a simple question. I’m sure there’s a simple answer. Do I get these great rates just by using my phone right now? Is that how it works?” “You know,” she said slowly and deliberately, “it’s very confusing for us too.”

It wasn’t meant to be like this

Pricing is complicated enough without special offers that confuse everyone. In my case, I couldn’t help feeling that my mobile operator was being less than honest. Why were Eastern Europeans getting bargain-basement rates? And if I were a contract customer, I’d wonder why pay-as-you-go nobodies like me were undercutting their expensive passes. Pricing isn’t a science – it’s an art. And special offers are part of the mix. While there’s no ‘right’ way to do them there are some guidelines you can follow to make your life – and your customers’ – a whole lot easier:
  • Keep it simple. If your staff don’t understand your pricing, what chance is there that your customers will?
  • Get the word out. When you launch a new deal, make sure you tell everybody inside your organisation too.
  • Don’t alienate existing customers. Everybody needs new customers if they’re to grow and expand. And that means special offers – of course it does. But you can’t stop existing customers seeing your ads, browsing your site and chatting to friends (after all, that’s what they do with the phone, right?). So you can’t stop them finding out.
  • Don’t do it too often. When I was working for a major international software company, one of the subsidiaries in the EMEA region became famous – infamous – for its special offers. It did so many of them that it became expected. When there was no special offer, sales died. Stone dead. They only ever sold software when they had a special – but they had to make a lot more sales to make up for the reduced revenue on each sale.
And that’s it. Now, I’m off to randomly dial people in Sczeczin for 5p a minute. Why? Because I can.