By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Last year my local phone company changed. There was much to-do surrounding this news, arriving in the form of frequent mailed communications and email messages and spanning several months. Throughout this, the phone company repeatedly promised that there would be no rate increases — all that would change was their name. I’m still not sure if this was the result of new ownership or merely a rebranding effort. Of course, these missives also made hazy hints of new services, but withheld helpful details.
My first indication that something was amiss came with my first bill. Contrary to their repeated promises, their charges went up, almost doubling. When I called to complain, evoking their pledge, I was informed that my past bills had been incorrect. Therefore, they were not bound by their aforementioned assurances and were actually under legal compulsion to correct the errors. Fortunately, it would not be adjusted retroactively.
This should have been sufficient warning to be wary of what they said, but I was bit slow to master that lesson. When they called me a few months later—a new marketing tactic—to “lower my monthly rate,” I was quite excited. With this new plan, I could recover much of what I had lost when they had previously “corrected” my bill. The rep’s mastery of English was questionable, so at each step I repeated back to her everything I understood her to say.
“You are going to lower my monthly base rate for local service to $17.95,” I concluded.
“Yes!” she confirmed and then transferred me for third party verification.
Giddy with excitement, I listened to a recapitulation of my order. “You’re signing up for our unlimited long distance calling package at $17.95 a month; this requires…”
“No,” I quickly interrupted. “That’s not what I want at all.” Fortunately, the verification rep’s communication was clear and effective, saving me from something that I did not want.
So began an all-too-frequent barrage of solicitation calls from my “new” local phone company. Realizing that I could not rely on what they told me, I would extricate myself from each intrusion as quickly as possible and return to work. When my irritation over their incessant interruptions became intolerable, I began begging them to stop calling me. This proved unsuccessful, so I resorted to hanging up as soon as I heard mention of their name. That hasn’t stopped the calls, but it has provided a small degree of vindication.
When their most recent incursion breached my normally idyllic workspace, I listened to their spiel with a more critical ear. To recap: they called a business line about residential service, they did not know my name, and they did not have access to what services they were providing me. At that point, I wondered if the call was even from my phone company. Was it a scam?
When telemarketing is so poorly executed that it is indistinguishable from a scam, things have gone terribly awry. Intervention is clearly in order.