Look Out… Ruthless People About!

Technically, that should have read “Ruthless Sales Person”, but who’s checking?

Oh… alright then.

Okay, hands up if you’ve ever have you come across one of those ruthless sales persons, who simply won’t leave you alone and is a right royal pain in the neck?  Keep your hands up if he or she is suddenly struck with verbal diarrhoea (what a messy word to spell, whether you’re from the UK or US, but I digress) and is apparently deaf and void of any compassion or feeling too?

Beware the cold caller, for he or she will be heartlessly grilled as to exactly how he or she managed to acquire my personal contact details.

But I would have to say that the one that really gets my goat more than anything – and this one must have a truck-load of bad karma coming his or her way – is the ruthless telesales person who tries to play on my insecurities… tries to make me feel inadequate by telling me that he or she can help my child succeed in school only by buying into their ‘hard sell’ Personal Tuition.

Before any Personal Tutors take arms and hurl rocks at me, hold your weapons: I am a former Lecturer too.  And if you recall, I did say ‘hard sell’, not genuinely qualified teachers.  I am referring to the ones who give our honest livelihood a bad name.  A livelihood that we have studied and trained hard for and spent many hours perfecting our practice in the classroom.  The ones I refer to are the ones who actually have no qualifications – unless you can call taking a five-day crash course with one teacher observation thrown in, from an unqualified ‘Teacher Training School’, proper training – then that opens a whole new can of worms.

No.

I am talking about the personal tuition academies who embellish on their ‘strengths’ by claiming to do such incredibly miraculous things as ‘ace your child through their GCSEs’ by identifying any ‘weaknesses’ in your child’s education (or your gullibility), seeking ‘opportunity’ by getting to the root of the issue quickly and eliminating ‘threats’ – mainly competing companies – but for them, hopefully also, your intelligence, when you realise this is all just a big fat con and promptly hang up.

Well, if this is starting to look like a SWOT Analysis, it’s no accident.  One company in particular, who shall remain nameless – not because I don’t want to be sued for libel, nor because in truth, I am a really kind and considerate person (which I’d like to think I am, but that’s beside the point), but for the simple fact that I really don’t want to advertise them – is taking unsuspecting parents for one heck of a ride in this way.

Not only does this company claim to perform miracles with little photocopied colour picture books, which ‘teachers’ use to make up their lesson plans, but the said teachers and telesales staff alike will follow a script over the telephone targeting the poor parents, offloading a lot of spiel about how ‘your child will really benefit fully only when they take all four subjects for a very reasonable price of just £470 per ten-week session’; that ‘should you fail to cancel your account after the six-week deadline, our ‘system’ will automatically enrol your child on to the next ten weeks (another £470)’ and – wait for it – that ‘most of the parents here have been so happy with our programme, that they have stayed on for twelve to twenty-four months’!  

Quick.  Get me a bucket.

No, it’s okay. I think I’ll be okay.

To rub more salt in the wound, this company tells its telesales people to tell parents that ‘90% of their teachers are Oxbridge (for those out of the UK, that means either/or Oxford or Cambridge) or ‘Russell Group’ (which is supposed to be the top 24 British public research universities) qualified, when in reality, the majority of telesales people there are all still doing their Bachelors in unrelated subjects.

I actually overheard one telesales person on the phone say to a parent, “… and which year did you say your child is in…? Nursery?”

The poor child is not even in school yet!

At the helm of this operation, sits a man, whose LinkedIn account I decided to check out.  Of all the groups he was a member of, 98% were related to finance and wealth management companies, whilst a mere 2% were mildly related to education.  That in itself speaks volumes.  But the biggest alarm bell of all was the fact that the man clearly came from an ethnic-specific part of the world, a part of the globe where nobody born there has either a western first or surname, yet both the first and surnames he operates under are western.  I wonder how many people around him have actually noticed this anomaly and are choosing to ignore it, or if they ever noticed at all.  The telesales people were told to tell the parents over the telephone that the company was founded a decade ago by a Cambridge-qualified English Professor, with the exact same surname.  There also happened to be a ‘teacher’ in their cohort with – you guessed it – the very same name.

As soon as the telesales person felt he or she might be losing the customer, he or she went for the ‘hard sell’, or passed the phone on to the line manager, to help the telesales person get closer to hit his or her £1000 pound daily target figure.

This is all being observed through a massive glass pane, by ‘Mister Said-Western-Name’, whose ‘Head Office’ tuns out to be no more than a drab two-room unit in a grubby old industrial estate.  The office environment is so old and dated, the dirty blue carpet squares are threadbare or covered with unsightly gaffer tape and the equipment is heaving under the strain from the volume of work it has to perform 24/7.  The photocopier is on its last legs, the computers take half an hour to fire up (if at all) and the clocking in/out wall terminal keeps repeating in a bitter, sarcastic tone, “Identification not recognised, please try again”.

So if all the sales people have to hit a target of £1000 a day, then where is all the money going?

Your guess is as good as mine.

But I’d like to leave you with a few final thoughts to consider, should you ever find yourself ear to ear, on the end of the telephone with such a telesales person:

  1. Think first whether you’d be better off asking your child’s school exactly which books they would recommend – books in line with National Standards, that follow the entire curriculum – not books that feed you tiny morsels of information, or instalments that look like they’re were created twenty years ago.  Also if you have to pay for every single little instalment, someone is seriously on the make.  You’ll find your school-recommended books will be far cheaper;
  2. Check if the academy is Ofsted inspected, or government-regulated by a main educational body in your country.  If they say they are Ofsted Registered, all is not as it seems.  (When I asked what that even meant, I was met with a really long pause).  This is not the fault of Ofsted, but if the company has to hide behind the name, then pay closer attention.
  3. Be wary when the company starts verbally putting down their competitors and says things like, “Our company is far more superior in quality than ‘XXXXX’, because they only offer little black and white photocopies of their booklets and they charge three times more for the books than we do”.
  4. Ask for stats, evidence – in writing about the company, or ask to talk to other parents whose children have taken the course. If they were genuine (and good, for that matter), they wouldn’t feel bad about having a forum on their website.
  5. Check they’re not reading from a script – ask a totally random question and see if they quickly divert you back to their line of reason (which is really their script).  Keep singling out points they make and ask them “What does that mean exactly?  I don’t understand, can you go into some more detail?  Can you repeat that, please?”  You can actually tell when someone is reading from a script.
  6. If they strongly recommend that you take all of their subjects, ask why you can’t just do one.  If they say it’s not possible, press them as to why.  Is your money not good enough?
  7. If they ask you why you think they should allow your child on to their (apparently) last place on the course, ask why they think you should pay them so much money, especially for only part of a complete programme your kid is already getting for free at school.
  8. Ask to come into the office, or meet in person.  If they say that they don’t conduct their sales meetings in the office, ask them why not, what are they hiding?
  9. Finally, check them out on the web and look for any news stories, forums or pages for any negative comments or feedback about this business.  If you sense that all is not right and you can feel it in your waters, then trust your instincts before parting unnecessarily with your hard earned cash.

Or you’ll find that you are funding an extremely ruthless and unscrupulous conman’s very lavish lifestyle.

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