I got NPower’d

8pm Thursday evening, relaxing on the sofa with the girlfriend, watching TV, waiting for our Chinese… a knock on the door…

I answered to be greated by an ultra-chirpy NPower sales person, now normally I would just tell them to go away, however on this occasion I was feeling a little bit sporting and I always relish the opportunity to ‘play’ with the B2C end of the sales spectrum.

What I experienced was actually very very frightening… NPower use a combination of clever techniques to get you to sign over the them…

Now I would be the first to admit I am not shy of the odd ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ here and there in my own sales techniques (only asking open questions, etc.), however its business to business sales and you are (generally) sparring with someone on an equal footing.

However Joe average relaxing at home with a beer in the evening probably isn’t so well skilled or experienced to deal with what are some pretty clever techniques.

So how did they do it?

  1. Friendly, polite and apparently harmless – she was very friendly, polite and appeared to represent no threat.
  2. Qualification – she has a list of all the addresses on the road and householders surname (register of electors I guess), the line she used was ‘Your name is on this list and I have been asked to talk you about saving you money on your gas and electricity bills’. Her statement was obviously the truth however a little misleading, using the list to demonstrate authority.
  3. Only ask a closed question if you know what the answer is going to be – ‘You do want to save money on your energy bills, don’t you Mr King?’ Well of course I do, just not necessarily with you!
  4. Reinforcing the benefits – She kept reinforcing the points, if you pay my direct debit with give you £80 cash back, there are no standing charges, only pay for what you use, blah blah blah. This in my opinion is a huge weakness and I hate being sold to like this and won’t personally sell like this. However I am sure it has some kind of hypnotic effect on some people.
  5. Gaining entry to your property – Now this was slick! she is carrying a variety of folders, information, pens and she fumbles and nearly drops the whole lot while trying to show me some information (again adding to the illusion that she is a harmless imbecile). She then pulls a ‘can I just sit there?’ pointing at the stairs. So she is through the door… cunning…
  6. Objection handling – Up until this point I hadn’t bothered objecting (I was enjoying myself too much), however she had some great objection handling spiel and she wasn’t about to miss out on the opportunity to use it… ‘Mr King, you can move to us for trial, if you aren’t happy within 2 weeks you can cancel and I will move you back to your old provider free of charge’ – Wait a minute can’t I move providers FOC anyway?!?! Also I am not going to be unhappy in 14 days as hopefully I won’t need to call your customer services…
  7. Slick materials – When I did ask a question she had a folder full of charts, graphs and headlines to answer the question. My main point was ‘I have heard that NPower have crap customer service, how crap is it?’, her response was ‘No we are number 1 for customer service’ and then flicks to a section of her brochure showing a ‘We a number 1 for customer service’ icon. Who says?!
  8. She was an imbecile after all! – I laboured on with the customer service line of questioning with ‘How quickly do your customer service representatives, on average, answer a call?’ She didn’t understand this and replied ’10 Days’ 🙂 (I think still in response to the trial period).
  9. Closing me – ‘So Mr King, can I put you down for the free trial?, afterall you have nothing to lose.’ I thought I may as carry on the fun, so I let her get her form out and complete it…
  10. Closing her down – When the inevitable ‘Can you just sign here please Mr. King?’ came… I pulled my phone out of my pocket and on speaker phone called my friend Steve who had a terrible customer service experience with NPower, and asked him ‘Steve, who was that energy company who gave you really really shitty customer service’ his response was fast and short… ‘NPower‘. Thanks Steve! Clearly her training did not cover this sort of objection – she went quiet, then stood up said thanks and left.

So it was a bit of fun and I enjoyed it (thanks NPower – you are my favourite energy company – just not for the reasons you want), however the serious point is that these techniques are extremely powerful, work and are potentially very misleading, and in my opinion its not a fair sales technique.

Interestingly a quick Google revealed NPower have been in trouble for this in the past http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1913534.stm.

Author: Ben King

My name is Ben King, I am a director of an Internet solutions company called bit10 ltd. My ultimate responsibility is to bring in the work that bit10 delivers. However I also do a myriad of other things, for example system design, and administration. Outside work I go out, I drink, I socialise, I cook, I have fun, oh and I play a little bit too much World of Warcraft!

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