Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dishonest business...

You know the "Yellow Pages"? I am sorely tempted to report them to the Better Business Bureau (the BBB) for having dishonest business practices. I just got a call from their obviously Indian outsourced division and got some of the slickest advertising thrown at me. If I had not been paying attention to what I was doing and it had been at 8 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., I would have likely stepped into some very difficult to opt-out of program. As it was, I was deeply in thought about how to optimize cubic bezier curves when the phone rang.

Basically, the conversation went like this:

Me (groggily - I don't do mornings): Hello?
Woman: Hello, I am......and I am verifying your current Yellow Pages listing.
Me: Okay.
Woman: You are..., your business is..., your business location is...
Me: Yes, yes, yes.
Woman: Your free listing in the Yellow Pages has been updated with the latest information and you are getting a free 14 day advertisement on our website. Please wait while I transfer you to my operations manager who will "double-check my work" (not quite what she said, but close).
(Warning bells go off. Why do I need to be transferred to an "operations manager"? What is this free junk they are selling to me?)
Me (unsure sounding): Okay.
Man: Hello Thomas, I am......and I am checking the details of this call for quality assurance.
(Answers my "operations manager" question and I'm impressed he knows my first name. I'm thinking, well, isn't that nice - some companies really do have QA for their sales department - and we know Indian outsourced calls are desperately short of them, so I'll be a kind soul and help out. Warning bell: How does he know my first name in the first second of the conversation when there was only a 2 second delay for the "transfer"?).
Me: Okay.
Man: You are...
Me: Mm, hmm
Man: Was that a yes?
Me: Yes.
(This guy's pretty good at his QA job - I'll stick to "yes" and "no" to make his life easier).
Man: Your business is..., your business location is...
Me: Yes, yes.
Man: You are the authorized bill payer at this phone number?
Me: Huh?
Man (either ignoring me or thought I said "uh huh"): What is your birth month and year?
Me: (Shells out that information like an idiot).
(Impending bells of doom go off everywhere in my head. The thought crosses my mind: Why would they need my birth month and year for a simple listing in the Yellow Pages?)
Man: In a few days you will receive a packet containing information about your 14 day free trial. If you decide to continue after the 14 days, you will be charged $39.95. If you don't, give us a call and your service will be cancelled...

At this point, the light dawns as to what they are doing. They are offering the usual free listing service and suckering people into an opt-out service that they implicitly opt into. I promptly chewed the service rep. out and ordered them to remove me from that 14 day "free" trial immediately. If I see anything come in the mail from them, I will report the Yellow Pages to the BBB for participating in dishonest business practices.

What was really slick about the conversation is that the Man addressed me by first name. As the conversation lingered on (and in 20/20 hindsight), I got the picture of how the operation is pieced together: The man and woman are in the same cube or office space. Their call "transfers" are simply handing the phone off to the other person. That's a pretty slick racket. Most customers will be caught off-guard because most call transfers usually involve repeating your personal information again.

Developers running your own businesses - take heed. You have to be very observant as to how other businesses operate. Outsourced businesses are generally pretty desperate to gain customers, so they will use below-the-belt approaches like this one. Do not ever do this to people. It is a great way to lose existing business and will only get you people who are a couple filaments short of a lightbulb. If you are a small business, you can't afford to lose business.

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