Desi Back to Desh

Between airports, airplanes and transit lounges

Why customers say no or How to turn your customers into repeat buyers?

(This is a continuation of my series for itsy, bitsy, teeny, weenie, mom and pop tech shops in Pakistan)

I am an individual. I appreciate sales calls that focus on my needs as an individual.

Sales Call: Is this Jawwad

Moa: Yes

Scenario 1:

Sales Call: I am calling from Standard Chartered Bank to inquire if you are happy with our service.

Moa: [Two hour lecture on every single complaint I have had with the bank and more…]

Scenario 2:

Sales Call: Sir you have 80% of your card limit unutilized, why don’t you apply for a personal loan

Moa: No. I am in a meeting; please take me off your list.

Scenario 3:

Sales Call: We have noticed that you have been travelling a lot, would you like to enroll in our travel protection plan

Moa: No, it is more expensive than highway robbery… Followed by Scenario 2, followed by Scenario 1


This is not funny. It is real. The credit card companies are not the only ones who suffer from reluctant customers. We do too. Why is that?

Look as a customer, I like great service (good is okay, but great is better), I like value (but if that is not possible, at least a fair deal), and I love relationships. Why should my customers expect any different. Granted there are always some customers that we would rather get rid off but in general, in reasonable times and markets, there is more to any deal that just selling.

Standard chartered bank and their call center is a great example. I think if Standard Chartered could just kill their entire call center team and use regular employees with decision making ability to answer their phone calls like normal people, their sales, profits and customer satisfaction index would sky rocket. Their service as represented by their primary touch point (you guessed it, the call center) sucks, there is no value, let alone a fair deal in any of their offers and they have done more to piss me off in the last 12 months than help build a relationship. I am picking on Standard Chartered but given the experiences within my social circle, I am guessing that this is true with the card holders of most banks.

When you actually, physically end up dealing with one of their regular team members, the bank isn’t that bad. I had issues with credit fraud, they were very professional. I had issues with payment being credited to an incorrect account, once again the regular team was half way decent. But the product pricing (rates on cards and affiliate products) and the call center structure are the key reason why they have lost me as a customer.

I am not perfect. My customers have horror stories too. There is at least one that goes into anaphylactic shock at my sight. But here is my two cents on what does it take for a customer to buy from you again and again and not hang up on you as soon as you call.

  1. When you first meet a customer you need to create value. More value than the other guys in the room. If you can fulfill a business need in smarter, better, graceful and more cost effective manner then the customer will talk to you. They may not buy from you, but they will return your phone calls.
  2. In order for the customer to buy from you, you need to make sure that value is being created where it is needed. Banks in the Middle East do not buy on price. They buy on the basis of how well known your brand is, your accessibility and service quality and how good will you make them look (bragging rights). So creating value on the price side for a Middle Eastern customer is not going to get you anywhere. This doesn’t mean that you can quote 5 times the nearest competitor, but it certainly means that bidding 5 times lower will not get you the deal.
  3. After value comes credibility and track record. No one wants to be the first one to give you a trial. If you turn out to be as good as you have promised, the upside would be phenomenal. But if you don’t your sponsor will be branded as a sucker. Much worse, if this happens on the cherished project of the Board or the CEO, you, sir, would have single handedly destroyed a rising star and a promising career. So you can write off that high profile, visible project. What you can hope and aim for are the inconsequential pilots and concepts. The little invisible projects that no one notices or cares about or wants to do, but they still need to get done.
  4. Pick one, deliver. Pick another, deliver. Keep on doing this long enough and one day you will end up with the one deal that can help save the bank and make your name.
  5. That can only happen, if at each delivery you deliver more value than you receive and strengthen your relationship and your credibility.
  6. On most projects and contracts everyone wants to win. Your team would like a closed engagement, a “we shipped version 1.0” plaque, a reference site and a satisfied customer. Your customer would like to address the business need that led to the project, a budget to do a version two and a track record that show ability to execute and deliver. No one actually cares about money in the long run. Consistently deliver value and great customers will ultimately compensate you with opportunities and engagements that your competition can only dream of.

This is execution. Before execution comes selection and focus.

I am an actuary by profession. I know where to get cheap travel insurance as well as accidental coverage. I also know what is the fair price for this coverage and how off the market are the rates offered by card companies for products like credit cover. My card is a business card, used for business expenses. I lead a simple life; I don’t want a personal loan. ALL OF THIS IS ON MY CREDIT PROFILE. What pisses me off as a customer is that when the call center guy/gal calls, he or she doesn’t even bother to look up who am I and what would I need. Please don’t do that, it is rude, offensive and insulting.

Compare this with a call from my relationship manager at a competing bank. He knows who I am, what I need, when I should be called with what offers. So when Khawar calls, I am open. I know it is not a blind sales call. He has done his R&D and has something to offer that I should listen to. That is all there is to it.

So if you want a customer to say yes, or come back to you again and again, listen to his needs. Understand his drivers. If you close your eyes, you should be able to see who he is as an individual and what defines him – his aspirations, his dreams, his values. What is it that he wants out of life? Why would he say yes, why would he say no. Why he should say yes? How does your product create value for him? Can you quantify that in numbers? You must understand the business context that is driving his current demand and why you can fulfill it better than anyone else. Till you have successfully driven each of your target segments to this level of detail, till you can see them inside your mind, bright, visible, crisp and clear; your customers will keep on saying no; some more rudely and offensive than others.

This has nothing to do with technology. A customer doesn’t care if you build an application in Borland Delphi or DotNet if it creates value, on time, all the time. When you understand who he is, what he needs and why, you have just made the competition and all of their technological marvels, irrelevant.


(A big thanks to Ken Morse and Bill Aulet at MIT E-labs and the Pakistan Entrepreneurship forum for the insights and the inspiration for this piece.)