The BBC reports that energy prices “could fall soon” – I just received an unsolicited telephone call from British Gas offering to save me money. Was the call to tell me the company was reversing the horrendous 35% increase introduced this Summer? Of course not, the telesales chap simply wanted me to sign over my electricity supply too.
Boris Johnson reports a similar call – seems British Gas think the answer to customer satisfaction is to annoy us with the heavy sell. I told the caller that I was happy with my electricity supplier and that I didn’t want to receive calls from British Gas selling me things (I am registered with the telephone preference service, but apparently that doesn’t protect me against sales calls from companies I buy from!).
The guy then started into a sales pitch to counter my response – so I told him that at 4.30pm, I was working and didn’t want to take his call. He seemed confused that someone could be working from home – does he think everyone who answers the phone during the day is unemployed or a housewife?
Last week, I received a package from British Gas containing some low energy light bulbs, with a patronising remark about energy efficiency. I didn’t ask for these and don’t need them as I already use such bulbs. Indeed, they cost pennies in the supermarkets and they generally last for years. How dare British Gas lecture me about saving the planet when it has used resources to send me something I don’t need using marketing money from the extortionate bills it charges.
Do I sound like I like British Gas, let alone trust it?
If I visit the British Gas website, the green messages keep on coming – all one way regarding how it can help us to save energy, blah, blah, blah.
Its caring nature is evident in partnerships with Help the Aged, through which it criticises government policy. But any demands for the energy companies to be socially responsible by passing on the reduction in cost of oil are met with obfuscating comments about long-term world market wholesale prices, etc.
Anyway, to get back to the question about PR and trust – I don’t care about British Gas, my bank, my mobile phone or internet provider, my supermarket or any other business that I have the misfortune to deal with. It is simply an exchange relationship and one where I think I come off worse.
None of these organisations – or the zillions of others I could mention, including the public and not-for-profit sector – care about me. I don’t want to have a social relationship with them just an honest business transaction. They just want my money – and as much of it as they can take.
At PR Conversations, Toni Muzi Falconi claims the future of PR is in managing stakeholder relationships. But doesn’t the current global uncertainty present us with a much more fundamental issue.
Yes times are tough for businesses – but annoying your customers with a heavy sales approach is not the answer. Using PR to make excuses to the media about business practices, engaging in pointless CSR and making employees redundant a few at a time so no-one will notice is not going to gain anyone’s trust.
Frankly, you cannot have useful relationships with people who don’t trust you. And organisations have to earn our trust first by doing things right and understanding our concerns as much as their own. And they’d better not call me until they can do that.