The Second Most Immoral Job I Ever Had

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    says:

    Not that this is a good solution, or one that can always be used or will always work, but I would advise people to not call, but write a letter, via certified mail, canceling the subscription.

    I suspect many businesses cancel such accounts as a matter of course when they receive the request via snail mail. Maybe I’m wrong, however, and maybe they’re required to make a number of “courtesy calls” to make sure the person really wants to cancel. Or maybe they put the cancellation on such low priority that it doesn’t get done and the customer incurs late fees.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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      says:

      When I had to cancel my service, I was armed with a bit of knowledge, so it was less an issue. Though they did throw me a curveball. I told them that I was moving (which was true) and that I couldn’t install a dish at my new place (I hadn’t asked). They informed me that there are laws to force landlords to let you put up a dish, which was a new one on me. I told them that there was no view of the southern sky, though, and that was that.

      Not a bad idea doing it by mail, though I’d be concerned that there might be a lag.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        “They informed me that there are laws to force landlords to let you put up a dish…”

        on your own property. And there are many parts of a shared building which aren’t actually the tenant’s property. The outside walls, exterior window frames, and roof are shared space and not eligible for dish installation. You can set the dish up on a tripod on your own porch or patio (assuming it has the needed sky view) but some landlords are so sticky as to declare that no part of the dish is permitted to extend past the porch rail.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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      says:

      @gabriel-conroy

      An interesting idea. I wonder if it is binding though. On Tod’s post, I relayed a story about a customer retention specialist for a credit card who kept me on the horn for 7 minutes refusing to accept that I just wanted to cancel. I wonder what would have happened if I had just hung up. Would she have been bound by explicitly expressed desire to cancel? Or could she have said, “Well, he never confirmed the cancellation order so he’s still enrolled.” Per the language in the contract, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to allow a company to set the terms of cancellation. While I would like to be able to cancel via the LiveChat just as easily as I can add services, I accept why the company wants me on the horn. But when I call to cancel — when I follow their rules for cancellation — they shouldn’t be allowed to rebuff that.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        @kazzy

        When it comes to credit cards and bank accounts, my understanding (which could be wrong) is that usually written notice of cancellation is sufficient and even baked into the fine print. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t mean the company will act on it. And that doesn’t mean cable companies do the same thing.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        @gabriel-conroy

        Yea, I made a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison.

        The discrepancy between how easy it is to sign up for a service and how difficult it is to cancel a service is an issue. And especially so when a customer plays by the company’s rules and is still unable to cancel.Report

  2. Avatar Vikram Bath
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    says:

    If they lost their job, I should explain that with all of that new time on their hands they need satellite more now than ever.

    Oh, dear. That one hits hard on the awfulness scale.

    I think one of the things that could actually come out of the repeated Comcast beatings is some regulations on providing a reasonably convenient way to discontinue subscription products. I would be surprised if someone at the FTC weren’t already working on new guidelines.

    Interestingly, it seems to be the old-age companies that give the most grief. I’ve canceled Audible online easily multiple times. Same thing with Amazon Prime and my remote data backup service. Maybe these companies simply don’t have the call center capacity to hassle people trying to quit in the first place.

    Audible in particular, I think provides a nice balance. When you try to cancel, they offer options to try to retain you, but they ultimately do let you go if that’s what you indicate you want.Report

  3. Avatar Wagon
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    says:

    I recently cancelled DirecTV. Not only do you have to call to cancel, you have to call to just decrease your services. And there is a big disincentive to not reduce services insofar as if you eliminate HD or DVR, you have to return the HD/DVR box at your own expense and pay a fee to get them to send another set top unit. So they hook you with the free HD and DVR for several months and then you have to keep it and pay for it or pay to not have it.

    After I cancelled, which was surprisingly easy once I made it clear to the person that it didn’t matter what they offered me or said, that I was going to cancel regardless and they might as well save our time. But then they called me every day for several days. I figured that’s who it was and ignored the calls, as I typically do with numbers I don’t recognize. Finally, after several days, I answered it and after the guy said who he was, I told him I assume he’s a retention specialist, and reiterated that it didn’t matter what they offer. He let me go and they haven’t called since.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Wagon
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      says:

      Thanks for reminding me! I need to make sure I have my homebake DVR system running before I get satellite again.

      After cancelling my service (with Dish), I think I was called once or twice, but fortunately it wasn’t persistent. This may be an argument to go with Dish again instead of DirecTV.

      So maybe easy cancellation can cost them sales!

      (I’m sorry about your bad experiences.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        When I had DirecTV, I was bothered by how dishonest they were in their marketing materials. I get that “dishonest” and “marketing” are essentially synonyms at this point, but they seemed to take it to a new level. The way that the rates elevate after 3, 6, and 12 months all while requiring a 24 month contract with exorbitant early cancellation fees is absurd. Their customer service was great whenever I had a technical issue or anything of that sort (and it sort of has to be since they don’t have a near-monopoly like most cable companies) but as soon as it came time to move and cancel, I got the same song and dance about how I should just put a giant satellite dish in the corner of my bedroom because if I didn’t I’d have to pay them $50 a month for every month remaining on my contract (which we ultimately did since we only had a few months left but still…).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Wagon
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      says:

      My experience canceling was similar to this. Customer service representative offered me some consents to stay and made some persuasive statements to stay, but I needed to save on money and the satellite-TV was a luxury. I was in transferred retention specialist, a man who was full of personality, likable, funny, and who offered a really good deal to stay. If the reason for my choice to discontinue service or other than financial, I would have been persuaded by this man to change my mind. I will say and DirecTV’s credit that they retention offer that they put on the table will be left open until such time as I am able to resume service. This seems like a very good idea, because it increases the chance that in future I will look to them for service.

      The downside was that I received a lengthy talk about how much money they were going to charge me if I did not return their equipment on time. I could not have to send the equipment to them at my own expense, but rather had to use the box that they were going to mail to me. Appropriately frightened of the astronomical charges, I packed up the equipment the day I got the box, and left the box with my front office staff to mail for me. Sadly, putting a postage-prepaid box in the mail within a seven-day period proved to be too much of a challenge for the staff, so now I need to negotiate with DirecTV. My previous experience, however, leads me to be optimistic that I will reach a reasonable solution with a minimum of fuss.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    Once upon a time, I spent a day hassling people on the street trying to get them to sign up to sponsor children overseas. This was inarguably a highly laudable goal (though I cannot speak to the efficiency of the particular charity in achieving this goal). Yet, still, as I learned the “tactics” I was supposed to employ — essentially an escalating pantheon of emotionally manipulative ploys coupled with physically inconveniencing the person (i.e., blocking their path) — it felt dirty.

    I remember asking: Why don’t we just set up a table that is super duper clear about what we’re doing and stand next to it and loudly cheerlead our cause and hope people naturally inclined to partake in such a program make their interests known and then we pounce? Why hassle and attempt to manipulate people?

    I was laughed at. “That would never work. We have to get in their face. We have to show them the pictures. We have to make them feel!”

    Whether your end game is noble (sponsoring starving children), neutral (keeping satellite service), or evil (pushing drugs), there is something inherently unseemly about trying to convince people to do something they know they don’t want to do.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      I got a call once–in the 90s–from an organization that claimed to be raising money for a firemen’s benevolent fund or some such thing, trying to sell me tickets to a dinner. When I said no, the person on the phone immediately responded with “Don’t you care about injured firemen?” I was both infuriated at the emotional manipulation, and amused that the first response that popped into my head was “let the motherfucker burn.:Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I got a call from a policeman’s association asking for a donation to their brotherhood group. It was fairly manipulative as well, and I ended up donating after initially saying no. I’m not sure why they don’t all do that more often. It hast to be pretty easy money.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @james-hanley

        Whenever I pass the charity muggers on the street who say stuff like “Do you have a minute for the environment?” or “Do you have a minute for civil liberties?” or “Do you have a minute to save the trees, whales, whatever?” I always want to do something similar and say “No, I am a member of an apocalyptic death cult that believes in the end of the world.”

        Common sense and decency prevent me from doing this though and I just mumble something about being late for an appointment.

        The kids who do this are so sincere, I don’t understand how they don’t get this is a scam by now. Article after article has been written about how this is a scam.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Now would saying that violate Kant’s categorical imperative is the question?Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        When I’m on the street and spot the charity muggers, I pull out my cell phone and pretend to talk on it. So far, it’s worked like a charm.

        I once got a call from someone wanting me to donate to something about “preventing sexual predators” or whatever. I pulled the “I can’t give now, but do you have a website I can look at where I can contribute later.” The caller didn’t want to give it to me (probably because he was on commission or whatever), but he did. I found out it was a police officers’ legal defense fund, which made me angry.

        I actually emailed the executive director or whatever because I had thought the call misleading. He claimed the caller was probably not following protocol and if I told him (the executive director) more information, he could have the caller fired. I wasn’t about to give him more info because I suspected that the caller was just doing what he was required to. That whole exchange left me upset, probably because even if the “charity” was legit, I wouldn’t want to be tricked into paying to defend police officers because their department doesn’t know how to police its own employees.

        (My normal m.o. is just not to answer the phone or to hang up. But that call, I just got sucked in.)Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        @saul-degraw

        One question I have about Kant’s categorical imperative is that could it be categorical only for a certain type of situation? He makes a big deal about his example of keeping a promise being something universal, but maybe it ought to be more a question of keeping a promise under x and y situations, but not z situations.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I used to get these types of calls as well.

        When I found out that 50% of the donation went to fund raising, I starting asking “how much of my contribution goes to the charity?” That usually put an end to the call quickly.

        On the subject of cancellations, I once tried to cancel a credit card. After 15 minutes, I told they guy to look at my recent charges, which was zero. He finally gave up. Cancelling shouldn’t be so hard.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I got a call from a policeman’s association asking for a donation to their brotherhood group.

        There’s a song for that one, too.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Saul,
        I do know someone who does the hail Satan thing (after explaining I will not donate), when Catholic charities call and the caller is not allowed to hang up.Report

      • Avatar ` in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I like the ones on the store checkout machines. “Do you want to donate $1 so children won’t die?” The fact that they make you physically push a “No” button always makes me feel like I’m literally pushing the “kill” button for some kid somewhere.

        On the other hand, when I go to pay my utility bill online, there is a little checkbox that simply says, “Donate $1 to the neighbor fund?” There is one of those little question-mark icons next to it that you can click on and it explains that the neighbor fund helps people with uncertain finances maintain heat and hot water until they settle things through. For whatever reason, I’m very inclined to and generally do click that box.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        ‘,
        You’re still probably better giving to UNICEF directly.
        I know the law in my state, and it’s really pretty generous about not cutting off power/water/heat when you will die without it. Rather put my money somewhere else, truly.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      A donation to a veterans find turned out to be one of the most inconvenient decisions I’ve made in the last few years. Two calls a day every day for weeks at a time.

      I participated in a couple of polls, too. Never do that.

      Between the two I more or less turned our land line off.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        I donated to our local pbs station a while back, and they have been very aggressive in following up and asking me if I want to donate more. Granted, I initiated the donation–I like pbs and thought I should contribute, and they offered a “free gift”*–but I must’ve forgotten to click the box that said “don’t contact me with more requests,” because they have given me loads of junk mail and called at least a few times, all of which might have cost them more than the $20 or $40 I gave them.

        *The gift was a subscription to Newsweek. I simply didn’t realize how horrible that magazine was. Maybe it was always that bad, or maybe it got even worse in recent years. When my subscription expired early because they were going to an all online format, I didn’t complain.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        part of their income stream, like many, many nonprofit, is selling your (verified) contact data. it’s a secondary source of income from people who may very well be one and done donors.

        it’s annoying. i’m always amused that my wife’s donation to maximum baracknroll back in 2008 landed her on just about every email appeal list on the planet, some of which has been sold several times over. more accurately, i’m amused at her lack of amusement, i guess.

        i tell her the the throne of blood don’t run on goodwill alone but she doesn’t find it as funny as i do.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        I figure that the USO has spent more money trying to get a donation from me than they got the one time I actually did donate.Report

    • Avatar kenB in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      My daughter spent a month in a 3rd-world country putting together a brochure for an organization that provided housing and educational services there. Her job involved getting pictures that emphasized hunger and deprivation over contentment and optimism, and providing write-ups along the same lines, even though many of the people being served weren’t especially miserable.

      A friend of hers doing similar work in another country told her that one guy would throw coins into a public trashcan when kids were around and then take pictures of the kids fishing around for the money — in the marketing materials it was strongly suggested that the kids were digging in the trashcans for scraps of food.

      I guess you can rationalize this sort of thing when it’s for a good cause (I’m sure it’s effective), but it sure does feel slimy.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to kenB
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        says:

        Damn, that trash can thing is scummy on every level.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to kenB
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        says:

        kenb,
        Frankly, I can’t rationalize a damn thing. I fund charities that make money without having to resort to being deceitful. Charities are often self-perpetuating, and aren’t exactly trying to Solve problems, so much as they are trying to “make people better in the short term” — while continuing to need the same amount of money to help folks.

        Those are bad charities.Report

      • Avatar ` in reply to kenB
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        says:

        @kenb

        It is an interesting though experiment. Let’s assume these charities are super efficient and effective of what they do. Their work is undoubtedly and objectively good. Does that justify this sort of emotional manipulation? How much does it justify? I suppose this is an ends/means question.

        Of course, there remains the possibility that these tactics are penny wise and pound foolish. Maybe they get a few people signed up on the street but if they gain a negative reputation because of their approach, they risk losing donors they might otherwise have gotten through less shady means.Report

      • Avatar kenB in reply to kenB
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        says:

        I suppose it’s the same as sales in general — no one really expects you to be 100% candid about the “product” you’re selling, but there’s a range from Acceptable to Tolerable to Scummy to Illegal. Maybe for charities we push the lines to the right somewhat, but overall the range is still there. I’m sure when you’re doing that sort of work, there’s a huge temptation to push the envelope though.

        As for reputational consequences, I suppose that’s possible but it would require someone actually being in country and seeing the gap between the pitch and the real situation — could happen (whistleblower? competing charity?) but not a very high probability. As opposed to selling a tangible product that purchasers will be able to compare to what they were sold, these folks probably have good reason to believe that no one will ever be the wiser.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      Drug dealers are, in my experience, the most courteous salespeople around. Which makes sense – they know they have a product that will sell, and they really don’t want to annoy anyone enough to complain even a little bit.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      there is something inherently unseemly about trying to convince people to do something they know they don’t want to do

      There is no need to convince people of doing things that they know they want to do. There is also no use trying to convince people of things they know they do not want to do. but few people actually know that they do not want to do the thing you are trying to convince them to do. They may believe that to be the case, but they may be mistaken.

      When you try to convince someone to do things you try to show that the thing you are offering lines up with stuff they may ultimately want. That’s what advertising is all about (at least the honest kind)Report

      • Avatar ` in reply to Murali
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        says:

        @murali

        That is a fair point. I wouldn’t object to a customer service/retention specialist spending 30 seconds trying to convince you to stay. But multiple minutes?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Murali
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        says:

        The commenter formerly known as Kazzy?Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Murali
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        says:

        It seems like what ‘retention’ departments should be about is trying to get you to express why you want to cancel, to make sure that your reason is not just that you wanted something that they offer but you didn’t know about, or that what you perceive as a lack of features isn’t actually a technical problem and you hadn’t realized you could get tech support to help you with it.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      @kazzy

      In my pre-neo-liberal days, I was briefly (for about 5 months) a part-time volunteer activist for a local pro-union group. We were at one point urging people to boycott a bank, and we were told not just to simply stand outside and pass out flyers to interested people. Rather, we were supposed to get in front of people and say “we’re asking you to boycott [redacted] bank.” I can’t believe that changed many minds, although perhaps it alerted people to something going on they weren’t aware of.Report

  5. Avatar Murali
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    says:

    I have mentioned before that I used to work as a professional beggar/salesperson soliciting long term donations for the Singapore heart foundation*. One of the things we learned was to accept if people cancelled their donations and not try to resell it to them after they told us that they changed their mind. Not making it a hassle for them to quit often made many of them come back and donate when times were better.

    *Strictly speaking I worked for a third party organisation which the foundation hired to do its fund raising.Report

  6. Avatar Road Scholar
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    says:

    Retail is a rough business. I remember a district sales meeting when I was managing a Radio Shack that was focused on customer retention. You would be surprised at how much money the typical retailer spends on just getting each customer in the door for the first visit vs the amount spent for repeat business. The bottom line, of course, was that keeping existing customers was very cost-effective.

    During the course of the meeting a rep from SNET (Southern New England Telephone, undoubtedly snarfed up by Verizon many years ago) gave us a presentation on customer acquisition and churn in the cellular business. Their basic problem was trying to keep subscribers paying a bill once the contract had expired when all the competition were offering a free new phone to switch. Their only real leverage was the hassle of changing numbers. (This was before the number portability rules.) Now companies will let you upgrade your phone at expiry but they resisted that move since they were only barely making a profit on the deal as it was.

    Anyway I totally understand the business logic behind retention specialists. Quite often a customer may be deciding to leave for some fixable reason and it would be foolish not to suss that out. But none of that excuses the heavy-handed tactics and scummy pitches. And there’s no excuse for setting up a compensation scheme that incentivizes the last person in your company that that customer is likely to speak to, the one person who will leave the final impression and should be as sweet as honey, to instead be the biggest pain in the ass you’ve ever met. It’s just boneheaded stupid but I guess that’s what you get from a M.B.A.Report

  7. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    says:

    I do think aggressive tactics like Will describes in the OP, Tod describes in his post, and others describe here unfortunately work on at least some people. I’m better now that I’m older, but for a long time (and even now) I was able to be “suckered” into doing things I didn’t want to do or into buying things I knew I didn’t want.

    “Suckered” is the wrong word, because I was aware I was being had. Sometimes it’s just really hard to say no when the salesperson is aggressive enough. I almost signed up for a year-long gym membership that I knew I didn’t want and couldn’t afford. I won’t mention the gym’s name, but I’ll call it “23-Hour Fitness.” I walked in on my lunch hour just to see how much things would cost, and instead of just telling me the rate, they went over all these confusing plans, each of which would have required a very large commitment of money. I felt like I couldn’t even leave (I was late from my lunch break by the time I did leave) and the only thing that kept me from signing is that they couldn’t find an “account specialist” or whatever to seal the deal.

    I don’t know what to make of that. If I had signed, it wouldn’t have been fraud. If the law provided a 3-day buyers’ remorse period (and for all I know, it does/did), I can imagine the pressure and tricks they would have tried to prevent me from exercising that right. I can’t even think of a workable way to outlaw that type of behavior.Report

  8. Avatar Kim
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    says:

    First World Problems.

    If your customer retention policies didn’t end in gunfire, you’re doing a lot better than /some/ business models.

    Seriously, there are a lot of evil jobs out there — this kind of pales in comparison. I can even talk white collar, don’t need to get into the whole breaking knees game.Report

  9. Avatar DavidTC
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    says:

    As I commented in the first post on this issue, the way to fix a lot of problems is to allow people to discontinue any service, at any time, without any interaction with the company.(1) A government website printed on the bottom of every bill, you select the company, put in your account number and a code from your last bill code, the government sends that to the right people, and, tada, they’re required to disconnect your service and not provide you anything else they could bill you for. You might,of course, owe money for services rendered and cancellation fees and whatever, but they’d at least have to immediately stop any new services they’re going to provide you and charge you for.

    But the entire point of that isn’t to stop this nonsense. It’s to stop what’s *causing* this nonsense: Incredibly crappy customer support that causes the customer to have no recourse other than to cancel the service, so that companies have found it worthwhile to a) only provide customer service to people pissed off enough they’re going to cancel, and/or b) make it extremely hard to cancel.

    If customers could just walk out, without interacting with the company at all and without giving them a chance to fix the problem or bribe then, than the company would have to offer better service *before that point*, or risk customers doing just that.

    1) For large enough companies, that is. A local exterminator, probably not. But any telecommunication company, certainly.Report

  10. Avatar Jim Heffman
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    says:

    We have successfully created a society that’s so conflict-averse, so terrified of fighting or strong emotion, that people can be bullied into giving you money just so you’ll go away.Report

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