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Who answers the phone?

The new rules mean that the most valuable marketing event is almost always an inbound phone call.

An inbound phone call is the ultimate in short-term permission. The customer or prospect is taking the time to call you. She's focused, interested, paying attention and willing to trust you.

Think for a minute about how much you spend (and how high up in the organization the discussions go) when it's time for a new logo or a new Super Bowl ad.

And yet, even though the rules have changed, the lowest-paid, least-respected, highest-turnover jobs in the organization now do the most important marketing work.

Scharffen-Berger Chocolate (which I've featured in some of my books) was bought by Hershey three years ago. They bought it because of me (and people like me). People who will go out of their way to find high quality dark chocolate and then pay a huge premium to buy it.

I've been really disappointed with the quality of their product for a few months. It seems to me that in order to ramp up production, they've smoothed out some edges and the product is becoming boring. Fewer high notes, less interesting. So, I called.

The operator, who couldn't have been nicer, offered me a coupon for a free replacement bar.

A replacement of what? More of the same mediocre product I was calling to complain about?

Of course, she was just doing her job, but who's fault is that? Who decided to give her nothing but a script, who decided not to take the inbound calls seriously, who decided that it made sense to put up a wall instead of opening a door? I guess the short version is, "why isn't the brand manager answering the phone?"

"Your call is very important to us,"

does not jibe with,

"Due to unusually heavy call volume."

And the phrase, "I'm sorry, I'm just doing my job," does not match up with the marketing event of a person taking the time to call (or to email).

No, of course Sumner Redstone can't answer every single letter sent to Viacom. But...

Shouldn't every single inbound call be answered in one ring? Shouldn't there be as much spent on self-service customer support as is spent on the design of the selling part of your website? Shouldn't you be tracking in the finest detail what people have to say when they call in? Shouldn't you be rewarding call center operators by how long they keep people on the phone, not how many calls they can handle a minute? Shouldn't there be an easy, fast and happy way for an operator to instantly upgrade a call to management (not a supervisor, I hate supervisors) who can actually learn something from the caller, not just make them go away?

And I guess that's my biggest point: the goal of every single interaction should be to upgrade the brand's value in the eye of the caller and to learn something about how to do better, not to get the caller to just go away.

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Seth Godin is a bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change. Godin is author of six books that have been bestsellers around the world and changed the way people think about marketing, change and work. Permission Marketing was an Top 100 bestseller for a year, a Fortune Best Business Book and it spent four months on the Business Week bestseller list. It also appeared on the New York Times business book bestseller list.
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