Are You Being Served? Are You Free?

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Many of you may recognize the phrases in the title from the hilarious British sitcom about Grace Brothers Department Store in London in the 1970s and 1980s. When a customer came onto the floor needing attention, Captain Peacock would ask the customer, “Are you being served?” If the customer needed attention, he would address one of the staff with “Are you free?”

I have several friends who always ask if I am free when they call. Of course, they are being polite and hoping I can help them. They realize that I will take their call, even if it may not be convenient for me at the moment to do so. I rarely ignore the phone. After all, I am a consultant, always hoping for a client. I am also an engineer/psychologist, hoping for a problem to solve (whether I am paid to solve it or not!).

What is puzzling to me is how many people act like Wally in the Dilbert cartoon above. As a market researcher, I am often calling business people to conduct interviews for my clients. Of course, the business people have been contacted by email or telephone by my client, telling them that I would call, what the reason was and perhaps even offering them an honorarium for completing the interview with me. So, why don’t business people answer the telephone?

I realize that they may be busy, on vacation or otherwise unable to talk at the moment. They may not share my anticipation about answering the telephone. But what should I think when they never answer their phone or email? …even after repeated calls and emails asking for a time and date to speak with them? At times, I ask if someone else may be able to answer my questions, or I ask them to give some basic answers via email. If the sales staff or marketing staff of my client have properly prepared the respondent, what could the issue be? At times I feel like the fellow who is trying to trap Wally in the cartoon above. (I have a couple of friends who have just written Slaying the Email Monster, learn their techniques to never let an email languish without response or action).

The business people often are surprised at how easy it is to complete the call, once we are talking, and how often they find the interview enjoyable, not a pain. They often learn quite a bit by going through the process of being interviewed.

What do you think? Are one-on-one telephone interviews going the way of the dinosaur? Is this type of market research, with the personal connection, out of date in the era of social media?

I don’t think so. The research process, as described in Pain Killer Marketing, is actually working quite well with customers, especially when they are well prepared as to what to expect and what the questions may be. The customers want to share their thoughts and feelings about the product or service, not just cold cryptic responses to an online survey. There may be a lot going on behind a rating on a survey. Will this fact change as the generations change? Will Gen X and Gen Y customers be tougher to get to talk on the telephone for 20 minutes?

What is your perception? For how long will the one-on-one interviewing techniques described in Pain Killer Marketing work? How should they be adapted for social media?

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