By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. Have you heard of a citrus company called Hale Groves of Vero Beach, Florida? If not, you must be living in a cave. Their marketing is everywhere and in all places, online and off. They’re spending the ransoms of two or three kings on it.
But the poobahs who run the place have made at least one crucial mistake: they haven’t tried to order their product…. and as I am here to tell you, the order takers they’ve got are most assuredly NOT in sync with the hot-shots in the marketing department. In other words, if it is not actually impossible to order some of their tasty product, it is very close to it.
That’s why I’m using as today’s incidental music The Supreme’s great tune “You keep me hanging on” because that’s what the folks at Hale Groves have done to me… each and every time I’ve ordered. You’ll find this1966 hit in any search engine. You can play it while you’re on hold…
Still, let’s get into the right mood for this situation… and what Hale Groves and every other dysfunctional marketing machine needs to do before they irritate too many more of the most important people on earth — good paying customers like me!
My family has been buying from Hale Groves for decades… and no wonder. I grew up in the snow belt they call Illinois… I went to college in the snow belt they call Massachusetts… and when I graduated… having had insufficient punishment from snow, sleet, ice and attendant miseries, I stayed on in the very same snow belt that snuffed the Pilgrims.
One of the things that made it all bearable was Hale Groves and the utterly delectable citrus… and, of course, I love getting the free citrus spoons, too. I have a drawer full of them.
The Hale Groves shuffle.
I like to place my citrus orders, indeed all orders, by telephone. Like a good citizen, I have my credit card out… and the special offer I want; the offer I am sure the order taker will want to make sure I get. Like most Americans I order when deals are good and pass when deals are not. But the great thing about Hale Groves is that they always have an offer… and I am always pleased to consider it. I am a citrus freak…. and pink grapefruit are guaranteed to brighten any day or palate, especially when the temperature is below zero and I curse the day I heard of Harvard and a frigid place named Cambridge.
Order I would, if order I could.
The citrus season begins November 1, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Hale Groves will have a special offer in your hand, an offer so good you wouldn’t think of missing it. I want to see that offer… I want to take advantage of that offer IF Hale Groves will let me… for that is by no means a sure thing.
Because memory is imperfect, as I dial the number I find my last run-in with them is not the first thing in mind; instead I am tasting in my imagination their citrus perfection… but first I must pay my dues by holding. It is a rule.
Like all good Americans I hate holding…. not just hate it but despise and disdain it. I’d like a choice… hold forever or allow them to call me back in (so many minutes); techies can easily tell them how many: “Your call will be returned in 7.5 minutes sharp.”
Okay, I’m on hold… and second by second I am working up a good head of steam, the better to craft a snide comment that they well and truly deserve. I mean, I don’t begin to have the available time I have to wait for a competent order taker to emerge and assist me. Who does?
But my torments have not even begun…
Codes. Colors. Confusion. Choler.
“I’d like to place an order from a mailing I just received.” These are the words I am hoping I don’t soon regret.
“Do you have the offer there in front of you?”
I do… and I say so proudly, even defiantly because I am hopeful history is not about to repeat itself.
But we are, the order taker and I, about to enter the twilight zone in which the order I want to place… is the order the order taker cannot seem to take. And so The Rigmarole of ordering from Hale Groves well and truly begins, to the growing irritation of both parties.
“Sir, please give me the special order code.”
Code, code, find the code.
I have an envelope full of Hale Groves propaganda… colorful brochures… a special letter from their president extolling their many virtues… I do not see and cannot find a code… and what’s worse the order taker cannot direct me by uttering such reassuring words as “you’ll find the code in big red letters at the top of page 1.” Such essential words, calming to both parties, neither of us can find… and this is what that means.
It means some bright folks in the marketing department have not tried to order the product themselves… and have certainly never bothered to train the hapless order takers who are about to feel the sharp lash of my tongue because no one knows who’s on first and where to find that flippin’ code.
And so we sink into muddle, mayhem, a disordered morass. If this were a dance it would be a tango… and that for an order process is completely unacceptable.
Finally, I say what I should have said at the first sign of trouble. “Why don’t you take down my telephone number and call me when you’ve discovered where the code is?’ But my tenacious order taker won’t let go, won’t do the sensible thing and will not proceed with the matter of doing what we both want: placing the order. In other words getting that code, no matter that neither she nor I could find it, had become more important than satisfying the customer. And that’s why this order “process” is such a mess.
But it got even worse…
The order taker, unable to direct me to the code, put me on extended hold while she quizzed her colleagues about the location of that code. No one knew, which meant no one had thought it useful to instruct them on this matter… and so while I smoldered they, with every passing minute, proved that the one hand in marketing didn’t know and hadn’t bothered to advise the other in the order department, thereby generating bad feelings instead of the satisfied customer both parties wanted.
Again, I advised the clueless order taker to take my number and call me back when she was organized and ready. But the poor woman had been instructed, perhaps with severity, to get the code upon pain of death. And she could not, would not get beyond this trifling matter… and so the matter ended in stand-off, no order, no business, and no future.
Hale Groves will now bombard me for years with sales messages and tempting offers, too, too little, too late. For I have now discovered an excellent product from Del Monte, Red Grapefruit, SunFresh. No hassle. No waiting. Already peeled. And no need to deal with the misnamed order takers at Hale who, when needed, could not have been less ready. Which is why I suggest you try to order what you sell. It could well be your weakest link. Oh, yes, and call me to finish my order.
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