A cautionary tale, part II: When good training goes bad
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A cautionary tale, part II: When good training goes bad

In last week’s post, I related the unfortunate tale of an organization that was really good at transferring bad information into the heads of salespeople. This week, I’d like to share a particularly glaring example that’s making the rounds on the Internet.

A hapless Comcast customer called in to cancel his service. The customer service rep asked why he was canceling, and the customer declined to answer.

From there, the conversation went downhill fast.

After ten minutes of back and forth, the customer started recording the call, and we’re treated to an Orwellian exchange. Here are a few choice excerpts:

Rep: Help me understand why you don’t want faster Internet.

When the customer declines to explain his decision, the rep protests:

It sounds like you don’t want to go over this information with me…

Customer: I don’t owe you an explanation…

Rep: Why is it that you’re not wanting to have the number one rated internet service? …

Customer: [Because] that’s what I want…

Rep: Why is that what you want?… There has to be some sort of reason behind it. That’s what I’m trying to find out.

The conversation continues:

What is it that’s making you want to change that?

Because that’s what we want to do.

Okay, why is that what you want to do?

That’s none of your business.

…That is our business, to know why our customers are leaving. If we don’t know why our customers are leaving, how are we supposed to make it a better experience for you next time?


Can you disconnect our service, yes or no?…

What I’m trying to find out is why don’t you want … faster Internet than anyone can provide you…why don’t you want those services?

Because I’m not interested in your services any longer…

So you’re not interested in the fastest Internet in the country…

Nope. Not interested.

Okay. Why is that?

It goes on and on.

(Ironically, I remember having an eerily similar conversation with AOL many years ago when I was canceling my dial-up account to go with — you guessed it — Comcast.)

Sure, we can all have a good laugh at the ineptness of this rep, but as I listened, there was something hauntingly familiar about his endless litany of “why”s. In our sales training platform, we have a module about the “Five Whys”–a well-regarded technique, first developed by Toyota, to get at root causes. The basic idea is that you have to ask “why” at least five times before you get to the truth. For example: “Why did the part fail?” “Because it was the wrong part.” “Why was the wrong part installed?” “Because the bin was mislabeled.” “Why was the bin mislabeled?” “Because the software wasn’t updated.”

And I wondered, had somebody taught this customer service guy this great technique called the Five Whys, but in a way that left him thinking his job was simply to keep beating the customer over the head with whys until he surrenders? That’s not how it’s supposed to work, but maybe somebody explained it to him wrong.

I’m reminded of a brief conversation I had last year with a sales manager at a major manufacturer of cell phones. His company had embraced the idea of the “Challenger Sale” (a topic we also teach in our sales platform). It’s based on compelling research showing that successful salesepeople “challenge” their customers with new ideas and new insights. But in this sales manager’s organization, somehow the ideas and insights part had gotten lost, and they were sending out young and relatively inexperienced salespeople with orders to “challenge” their knowledgeable and battle-hardened customers. (Maybe the Comcast rep heard that one too). The results, predictably, were disastrous.

All of this points out the need not only for good content, but also for coaching and follow-up when you’re introducing new ideas to the sales force. Done right, The Five Whys and Challenger Sales are powerful concepts. But turning them over to salespeople without hands-on coaching is like giving a student driver keys to a Ferrari and telling them to have fun. They won’t get very far before they end up in a ditch.

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