As this just happened, I thought I’d come right home and write about it. I just had one of those customer service incidents that sends me over the moon.
I walked into a store to find something. I was in a frame of mind to buy. I found the something and asked the sales person “How much is that?” Back at her desk, she sat down, I sat down, and I expected her to punch up the price on her computer and tell me.
Instead: “What’s your name?”
“Private individual,” I replied, a bit nonplussed.
“I need a name for the quote,” she said.
“You have to have it?”
“Have a nice day.”
And I walked out.
Now, this was perhaps petty of me. What, after all, is the big deal? She needed to punch a name into her computer to open the dialogue box to ask for the price.
Here’s the big deal: IT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS WHO I AM UNTIL I DECIDE TO BUY FROM YOU!
This is a persistent and infuriating condition in our present society that causes me no end of irritation because so few people think it is a problem that I end up looking like a weirdo because I choose not to hand out private information for free.
It has crept up on us. Decades ago, when chain stores began compiling mailing lists by which they could send updates and sale notices to their client base. Then they discovered they could sell those lists to other concerns for marketing. Now we have a plague of telemarketers, junk mail, spam, and cold calls and a new social category with which to look askance at people who would prefer not to play. Like me.
In itself, it is an innocent enough thing. But it is offensive, and what offends me the most is my fellow citizens failing to see how it is offensive and how it on a deep level adds to our current crisis.
Look: if telemarketing didn’t work, no one would do it. A certain percentage of those unwanted calls actually hook somebody into buying something. Direct mail campaigns have an expected positive return rate of two percent. That is considered normal response and constitutes grounds to continue the practice. Economies of scale work that way. So if only two to five percent of the public respond favorably to the intrusions of these uninvited pests, they have reason to persist.
I think it might be fair to say that people with money and education don’t respond as readily as poorer, less educated folks who are always on the lookout for bargains—and often find bargains they don’t understand and probably end up costing them too much, like sub prime mortgages.
We are too free with our personal information. Maybe you or you or you find nothing wrong with always giving out your phone number or your zip code or even your name and address when asked, in Pavlovian response to the ringing bell behind the counter, but what has happened is that we have made available a vast pool of data that makes it easy to be imposed upon and that has aided and abetted a consumer culture that has gotten out of hand.
And made those of us who choose not to participate in this look like some form of misanthropic libertarian goofballs.
How hard is this? If I choose to buy from someone, then I have agreed to have a relationship, however tenuous, with them. Unless I pay cash, they are entitled to know with whom they are dealing. But if I’m not buying, they have no right to know who I am. And I can’t know if I’m going to buy if I don’t know how much the object in question is. Trying to establish the buying relationship in advance of MY decision to buy is…rude.
I have walked out of many stores when confronted with a request for personal information. I’ve had a few shouting matches with managers over it. In some instances, the unfortunate salesperson is as much a victim, because some software programs these days have as a necessary rerequisite for accessing the system the entry of all this data. The corporation won’t even let the employee make the call whether it’s worth irritating someone over collecting all this information.
Concerns and worries over Big Brother have a certain validity, but it is largely unremarked that the foundation of such a system will not be imposed on us—rather we will hand the powers that be what they ask for because we can’t muster up enough sense of ourselves to say, consistently, “None of your damn business!”
There. I feel better. I needed to get that out. This rant has been brought to you by Consumer Culture LTD.