Business people tell it like it is

Julie Fong, controller at Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op, has become such a celebrity about town, her co-workers jokingly put a silver star on her office door.Fong and two other real-life small business operators are being featured in a risky and innovative...

Julie Fong, controller at Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op, has become such a celebrity about town, her co-workers jokingly put a silver star on her office door.

Fong and two other real-life small business operators are being featured in a risky and innovative tv campaign for BC Tel, which pledges to air the good, the bad and the ugly of customer evaluation.

In the first part of the campaign, launched in January, Fong and the others were asked for their honest, unrehearsed, unscripted feedback on the kind of service and price-point advantage the telephone company was offering its small- and medium-sized business clients.

As well, the commercials, by BC Tel ad agency McKim Baker Lovick/BBDO, hope to win back former business customers and woo new ones with the introduction of its package of long-distance savings and 1-800 numbers called Team Advantage.

The next part of the campaign presents follow-up spots, beginning in April and May, with the three business customers in which they rate service since signing on with Team Advantage.

The challenge for BC Tel is to meet the concerns of the subjects well enough to win a favorable review in those subsequent commercials.

BC Tel Advertising Manager Pam Goossen says the company wanted to put ‘a public face’ on the changes it has gone through in the past year to satisfy customer demands.

‘What’s fundamentally different about this kind of advertising is that we don’t control the outcome, the customers do,’ Goossen says.

‘We’re not aware of any industry, period, that has done this,’ she says.

In fact, BC Tel signed contracts with the subjects stating that it would not alter the tone of on-camera interviews.

Goossen says Team Advantage is the kind of service the business sector has demanded for a long time, and was initiated to stem the flow of lost business to competitors such as Unitel Communications and myriad smaller discount long-distance resellers.

She says response to the campaign has been ‘overwhelming,’ adding, viewers were clamoring to find out what Fong would say in her next spot about BC Tel service.

In the first spot, Fong says she shifted to a BC Tel competitor for long-distance service because of cost.

In the commercial, Fong says that for her to be happy with BC Tel, ‘the numbers have to be there.’

In the second spot, that debuted April 5, Fong says she has seen some improvement in the bills, savings of 50% off regular long-distance rates.

But, cheekily, she wonders whether she can get even more value from BC Tel in other kinds of service. Stay tuned.

The second customer featured is Ken Murdock, principal of a company called System Directions, who feels ignored by BC Tel and dares the telco to ‘thrill’ him with his phone system.

The third is Sean Regan, an existing BC Tel customer, who wants to be shown just how much can be done for him.

Follow-up spots for Murdock and Regan will air this month.

The testimonials by the three touch on different areas of concern about BC Tel service, reflecting the disparate concerns within the small business market.

‘Part of the whole success of the campaign is that it’s credible,’ says Angela Kiehlbauch, an advertising specialist with BC Tel.

Market research shows the trio come across as compelling and honest in the spots.

‘Tracking feedback shows us that our customers are hearing the message, and [the campaign] is making the rounds [as a conversation piece] on the cocktail circuit, which pleases us,’ Kiehlbauch says.

The trick is to maintain the objectivity and arms-length relationship.

Goossen is adamant that if, for example, Fong trashes BC Tel in the next commercial, the spot will remain in rotation, the company will fix the problem, and shoot another spot to get another evaluation.

As the campaign goes on, BC Tel says it may feature other customers.