“Knock, knock, who’s there?” Your local utility!

Social media and the use of new technology get plenty of coverage in both print and on-line media.  It may come as a surprise that utility companies in New Zealand revert to old-fashioned door-to-door selling. The fact that they do it very badly should not!  “Knock, knock, who’s there?” was the hallmark of musical hall comedians and I recall this type of joke from my childhood. The way these utilities try and win new customers is also a joke, but not with same meaning.

I gather that the utilities engage the services of “marketing” companies, who in turn hire students to go door knocking.  There is a common pattern, which I find disturbing:

  • The caller invariably comes at an inconvenient time, often in the early evening.
  • The caller has no information about current or past contact with the utility.
  • There is a set sales pitch, with the expectation the householder will agree to sign up then and there.
  • In many cases, there is no information leaflet.  The young man who knocked on our door kindly scribbled the prices and data caps.
  • There may also be undue pressure to buy as in “we are making a special offer and it is only available this evening”.  More about this in another post.

I do make an effort to be polite, partly because of my kind nature.  My main interest though is that of a marketing professional wanting to observe.

This type of interaction is more likely to lead to a negative rather than a positive reaction from me. At best I would respond “this sounds interesting, send me some information”.

There are lessons for utilities and other companies engaging in this form of direct marketing:

  • How do you react when someone knocks on your door when you are least expecting it?
  • Don’t expect consumers to be open to making significant decisions to switch phone or power companies at the drop of a hat.  Price is generally not the only factor and customer service may also be important.  Some utilities may only have a feeble grasp of what “good customer service” means, but I live in hope.
  • Make sure the person knocking on the door has been briefed and knows about previous interaction with the consumer.
  • Ensure you know what will be said on your behalf.  There is a real risk of damage to your reputation.
  • Any contact with a consumer should be part of an overall marketing campaign.

With Vodafone there are some additional complications.  According to someone in the industry, the fixed line and mobile businesses are totally separate.  This means that someone trying to sell phone and internet has no information about your mobile account.   Vodafone is also both a wholesaler and a retailer.

I will be doing my homework before I consider switching. I encourage others to do likewise!

Simon Fawkes
Businesss to Markets Ltd


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