Wednesday 24 June 2009

Cold Calling

People burn, I have mentioned; It's something that is unpleasant and bad for business if you can't keep it under wraps. Living "over the shop" and having several live in staff on site makes personal space hard to come by. After spending 9 hours or more in the kitchen, by 6:30pm I often try to get a short break before service starts at 7pm. It's not worth going up to the flat, and besides I'd have to deal with the kids2 if I went there, so I mooch around the bar; often this is a very bad idea.

The first booking for dinner is 7pm, there are a group of residents that have been out on a mammoth fell walk, got back later than expected and really want to get a bath before settling down for dinner. Perfectly reasonable. However, I have a kitchen full of staff waiting to do something and all the appliances up to temperature burning money. I have a full restaurant diary and I know what's going to happen later when everybody wants to be fed together.

"Yeh, fine, if you could be down as soon as you can and we'll try to fit you in." as I try to explain, as nicely as I can, the predicament I'm in; trying to fit everybody in later on. Of course the later booking will get upset if they are delayed because an earlier booking is late. I'm starting to feel stressed. The KP comes and asks what he should do now. "I haven't got an effing clue, the ba### customers are keeping us bloody waiting, go and effing clean something!" is the normal reply. Bless him, imagine Manuel and you'll not be far wrong.

But, you see, customers may drink all my beer, so I have to make more. They might well eat up our stocks of food and I have to prep up more. They sleep in the beds, tear up beer mats, drop mud off their walking boots on the carpets and generally make work for us and the staff, but most are really nice people and they do spend money. At certain times of the day I should really be kept away from customers.

The staff, between them, are capable of generating several, what I call "Manuel Moments" every day. It's perhaps not that each individual issue is a big deal. Everybody makes mistakes. But they are the same mistakes soandso made last year, and whatshisname did the year before. Constant retraining wears you down. But without staff, with all their own little foibles, we wouldn't be able to deliver the service we do. They are a good bunch really.

This post didn't start out as a whinge. It seems it might have turned that way. The preamble is really to set a standard of normal stress and irritation of our job. The above is all part of the territory and most of the time we are able to treat it as just a job. A difficult one, but a job none the less. It's down to us to mitigate the problems and try to get it right.

But, when it comes to cold callers, now that moves into a new dimension altogether. Imagine I'm serving some nice customers. "Can we try a pint of Hardknott beer?" They say "It would be rude not to" I might try to explain that really the economies of scale, or rather my lack of them, makes it cheaper to buy in beer and I would not be offended if they tried another brewery's beer. I might also point out that Hardknott beer is crap and the brewer is a complete nutter, but invariably that fails to put them off. "No, we'd really like to try a pint of your crap beer".

I'm halfway through pulling their pints when the phone rings. It might be a booking for a room, or for the restaurant, so I finish up serving, giving the good people rather less graces than they deserve, and rush to the phone.

It normally starts with "Can I speak to the person who deals with xxxxxx" or simply "Can I speak to the manager or owner" you know straight away you have a cold caller. Having guiltily given the aforementioned customers short shrift the temptation to say "No, piss off" is immense. The problem is cold callers don't take a polite "no, were not interested" as sufficient answer. Some even have the cheek to phone back if you simply hang up on them. They are often persistent and irritating and I find that blunt rudeness is the only answer.

It would seem that the hospitality business is a good target for cold callers. Up until recently we had been getting several a day. It really doesn't matter if I've got my arm down a drain, crawling around the void, boning birds in the kitchen2 or blogging, unwanted phone calls are a distraction that are most unwelcome3 in my already busy day .

We found the Telephone Preference Service. It's great, not only because it reduces significantly the number of cold callers but moreover, when I get one and point out they shouldn't be calling because we're subscribed to the service, we get an apology and they hang up.

So, that's one less irritation to deal with. Now, where is Manuel?

1Actually, they are not kids anymore. They are now young adults. There is some evidence of them being useful, one day perhaps. But before service I'm in a bad mood and stressed, their hair, music and nail varnish would just tip the balance. Oh, and the smell of burnt microwave popcorn.

2Boning out chickens, ducks or pigeon, you know, like removing the breast meat and taking off the legs. What did you think I meant?

3Calls from our many great suppliers are not unwelcome. In fact, without them calling we'd forget to order many things that we really need. Sometimes we forget to order things we really need anyway, which is really stupid, but happens.


Tandleman said...

"boning birds in the kitchen"

You beat me to that one. I was going to say "it isn't ALL work then?".

Dave Cunningham said...

Hi Dave, love the blog.
I understand what you're saying about cold callers and I just wondered what the best way would be to get a landlord's attention.

I'm a self-employed sausage maker (in Rotterdam, so don't worry, I won't be bothering you), and as such I need to flog my wares around different outlets including pubs and bars. It's not always an effective use of my time to go round and visit the pubs individually without making an appointment - most towns here have only a couple of outlets that would be interested in my product, and often I turn up and the "decision maker" isn't there.
Spamming them with email is impersonal, very probably ineffective, and isn't my style anyway.

Apart from not being so stupid as to ring during service, any other advice on not pissing people off when trying to reach potential customers would be welcome.


Unknown said...


An interesting question. It sounds like you have the right attitude to make it work. Be personal and don't sound like a call centre. Targeting your audience is effective. Look for the places that are keen to show some interest in local produce. The best pubs are doing so.

I think some sort of mail shot first works well. Get your name into the minds of the decision makers first. When you call say straight away who you are and what you want. Hopefully if you have any chance your mailshot will already have been read and an interest taken in what you are doing.

Getting your mailshot right is the thing you have to get right. Choose your USP (Unique Selling Point/Proposition) - perhaps "local hand made quality sausage". Make sure this USP is very clearly understood and visible as soon as posible to the person who might be interested. Perhaps putting this on the envelope.

Don't be too pushy. I have warmed very quickly to people who have seemed prepared to hang up without giving too much of a sales spiel. Sounding slightly apologetic works and pointing out that you are just a one man band also helps.

This of course is just my perspective. I like dealing with the little guy. It's our style anyway. You might find other places have a completely different attitude.

But most of all, you are right, DON'T PHONE DURING SERVICE!!

Anybody else any thoughts?

Unknown said...

OK Dave, I've just looked at your WEB site. British Bangers in Netherlands. There's your USP. Presumably there are not many people making them out there.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Errmmmm... and then there are American pillocks at the beginning of their brew day calling for recipes at 19:00 GMT.

I notice that I get the most distractions, such as phone or distributors or upset employees, right during mash-in time. That's also when the DSL modem fails or the roof leaks during a snowstorm.

Dave Cunningham said...

Thanks for your time and tips, Dave. You make it sound like I'm pretty much on the right track, that's always a boost to a new business.

The USP isn't a problem. British, hand made, personal service, flexibilty (banana and anchovies sausage? Fine, Friday OK?), are all areas that are underrepresented in Holland. And as far as I can tell you're right - I'm the only one making British sausage here.

The mailing is a good idea, don't know why I didn't come up with that one, maybe too web minded.

I'll give that a bash next week, and keep calls quick, to the point, not too flash and sell on personality and empathy. And ring outside service.

Anybody else's ideas are of course always welcome.


Jeff Pickthall said...

For three years, I was plagued by calls from "the Till Roll -Company". They work by hoping to speak to bar staff or cleaner: their schpiel suggests to the employee the boss has already placed an order, the employee only has to say "yes" that someone can take delivery and that "confirms" the order - you get some crappy tills rolls of the wrong size that you didn't want and a hefty bill. I didn't sus that this was a scam for a long time; I just happened to have a large stock of till rolls and be the person who answered the phone. I often thought they just had a wrong number. When it dawned on me what was going on I turned the table on them by saying "give me your contact details and I'll place an order when I'm ready" hoping to get a name and address to complain to TS or whoever - they hung up and never called again.

The other classic I had tried on my several times was the fake charity sponsorship: caller gives heart-rending tale of little Timmy's illness and that the local fire-station is doing a charity stunt: would we like to be a sponsor - "ooh, I've just realised I'm just round the corner from you, it would be easy if you could pay cash." Yeah Right.

And (it's all coming back to me now) ... how to spot someone trying to use a stolen card. Criminal "wisdom", perhaps the sort of the you can learn in prison, is that you engage the retailer in conversation; for us it was always "what's your best champagne?", in an effort to suggest to us that a big purchase was about to take place; so far so good; the crim would then look at his watch and say "my girlfriend should have been here by now, tell you what, give me a pint while I wait and can you do £50 cashback?" hoping that our defences were lowered by the prospect of a big sale to come. Several times we went through the motions but claimed the card machine had gone dead so they'd have to pay cash for their pint of Anchor Liberty Ale, "£3.80 please" - the looks of mortification were a delight to behold!

Dave A said...

Dave, I get a LOT of those types of calls being a buyer as my profession! Try what I do sometimes, tell them "yes tell me all about it". Let them start talking and then just set the phone down and walk away. Check it later to see if they finally hung up. Does tie up the line, but it's easy. I just normally say "no thank you not interested" and hang up period whether they decide to talk more or not. That way I figure I was polite. 99% of the time, if you let them go through their spiel, then say no thank you, they hang up on you anyway.

Or just tell them they need to call corporate headquarters at 1-800-biteme