Maine humorist Tim Sample tells a story of a man who enjoys a meal in a diner.
The waitress asks if he wants dessert. “Does it go with the meal?” he asks. “Yes,” she responds.
After enjoying his pie, he notes the bill includes a charge for the treat. “I thought you said it goes with the meal,” he questions. “It goes great,” she answers. “It just doesn’t come with it.”
That’s the approach taken by many telemarketers, including one extra aggressive type who pestered a senior Mainer recently. The seller’s won’t-take-no-for-an-answer approach left her confused, frustrated, upset and agreeing to much more in purchases than she’d planned. We’ve advised her to take the matter up with Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, 1-800-332-8529.
For others who might feel as though there’s a bulldozer at the other end of the phone, here are some things to keep in mind:
— Sellers know their products, and they know which of your buttons to push to interest you in buying. They’ll talk confidently about their product line, answer or anticipate questions, engage you in small talk — in short, do whatever it takes to keep you on the phone.
— Sellers want you to buy more, so their goal is the “up-sell.” At those famous Golden Arches, you might hear, “Do you want fries and soda for another 49 cents?” Here, the bigger portion is the “upgrade.”
Telemarketers push the up-sell through other products in their line that may or may not be better for you, but have a higher price tag. Of course, they’ll try to talk you into buying the bigger-ticket item.
— Sellers also know the pairings customers might want. They mimic ads on Web sites: “People who bought product X also bought product Y.” The caller might ask, “Since you’ve bought the pocket gizmo, the deluxe case for it is only another $8.95. May I add that to your order?”
That’s the “cross-sell,” and here the salespeople know the pairings to entice an added sale. They also know the catch phrases that help ease the customer along; these may be little nudges prompting the buyer to give positive responses to “innocent” questions until the seller sets the hook for the next sale.
There are sizable profits at stake for the call centers. Their executives figure that successful cross- and up-selling can increase sales during each call by as much as 40 percent. Small wonder some call center workers are urged to push hard for those extra sales. They already have you on the phone, so there’s no additional cost to them — added sales are clear profit.
Now, the executives of the hard-driving telemarketers will argue that these tactics amount to a service. After all, if there’s a bargain to be had cheaper by the dozen, isn’t it fair to expect the prospective buyer to want to know how to save money?
Telemarketers go further, claiming that failure to cross-sell and up sell will actually cause them to lose customers. Disgruntled by failure to educate consumers about “bargains,” people will not do business with them again, goes the argument.
Whatever their motivation or their means of persuading you, be sure to think for yourself. Buy based on your real needs and wants, not what a salesperson tells you that you need.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.