Who Signs Your Paycheck?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I tend to put off buying things. It’s not because I procrastinate (at least not too much), or because I am adverse to making decisions, or even because it’s a money issue. Sadly, the reason that I often avoid purchasing what I want or need is simply because it is too much of a hassle. More to the point, going without some items is less inconvenient than investing the time and enduring the frustration required to acquire them.

Recently I wanted to change my cell phone package and add a couple of phones. Eventually, I summoned my resolve and committed to overcome my shopping-avoidance issues. My intent was to simply call my existing carrier and place my order. The agent confirmed that my contractual obligation had been fulfilled and would not hinder me in making any changes. “What I want,” I explained, “is to get on your ‘family plan’ and add a couple of phones.”

“That’s not a problem,” the rep assured. “Each additional phone is only 10 dollars a month, and some phones are free if you sign a one-year contract…and,” she added, “we can replace your current phone too.”

This was seemingly too good to be true, but before I could tell her to proceed, my short-lived euphoria was interrupted. “Oh, there’s a problem…”

The problem was that they required me to be on a plan with more minutes – many more. Doing so, and adding only one more phone, would more than double my rate. I’m not adverse to spending money – just to wasting it. This restriction didn’t seem very “family” oriented, and I told her so. I plied every option I could think of: more phones, fewer phones, longer contract, and not replacing my current phone. She was intractable, “No, you still need to move to a bigger plan.”

Then I tried an emotional gambit. “I guess I’ll just need to cancel my service and to go another carrier.”

The rep’s response was one of shocking gall and arrogance, “If you need to, go ahead, but you won’t find a better deal,” she stated matter-of-factly and lacking concern. “We’ve all got basically the same rates.”

Now it was time for plan B: switch carriers. Perhaps I needed to talk to someone face to face, to do business with a local person who would take a personal interest helping me complete my quest. On my next outing, I stopped by the local store of a national carrier that does lots of TV advertising. There were several aspects of their pitch that appealed to me. I was confident that they had a plan for me, and I intended on completing my mission in one stop.

I walked in the door and as my eyes adjusted to the lighting, a stereotypical salesperson charged towards me – he must have been on commission. Brashly, he ushered me into his office and grilled me on what I wanted. With each request, he would nod knowingly and affirm that he could do that. He was typing things in a computer and then gave me a total. His solution was twice the amount of the quote from the first carrier.  I guess the rates are not all the same after all.

I couldn’t help but laugh at his audacity – which seemed to irritate him. “Okay, now let’s get realistic,” I suggested.

“Nope, that’s the best I can do,” he retorted. Thinking we were still pursuing a mutually desired goal, I begin to reply, but he stood up and gestured towards the door. “Sorry, I can’t help you,” he concluded disingenuously.

Not ready to give up, I asked if he had any literature about what we had discussed. “We don’t have any,” he retorted with smug aggravation. “It’s all online; just go to our Website and order your phones there.”

In five short minutes, I went from “ready to buy” to unable to leave quickly enough. I later learned that there was, in fact, a much more attractive package, closely matching what I wanted; I would have bought it from him had he only offered it. Maybe he wasn’t on commission after all.

On to plan C: Consider all remaining options. My daughter did some research online, and together we came up with a plan of attack. I called the most promising carrier on the list and verified my understanding of the details. Everything was confirmed and a sale was imminent.

Lastly, I asked if a specific city was covered. “Yes, it is,” the rep stated a bit too quickly for my liking. I doubted his veracity and prodded some more. He could not be dissuaded, but doubting his honesty, I ended the call without placing an order. It was good that I did, as we later learned that the city in question was annexed from the coverage plan. I have been lied to – imagine that!

We then discussed our remaining options and visited the website of our fourth selection. Thinking I would once more attempt working with a local rep, I called their closest office. After several rings, a recording informed me that no one was available and summarily disconnected me. Next I dialed their toll free number. This rep was actually helpful, the first truly pleasant and knowledgeable person I had talked to during this whole ordeal. She patiently and professionally answered my questions, confirmed the plan’s coverage, and told me about their 14-day, no-obligation trail. I placed an order, and the phones arrived the next day.

If cell phone companies can’t get a handle on decreasing their churn rates, I can help – I have a lot of ideas. However, in the broader perspective and beyond cell phones, it doesn’t matter if you are taking a message for a doctor, answering a medical question, scheduling an appointment, or locating the nearest doctor for a caller. Everyone who works in a call center needs to remember that it is effectively the caller who signs your paycheck. If you don’t treat them well, they will go away – and so might your job!

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From the August/September 2007 issue of AnswerStat magazine]