Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How can we settle our political differences, when almost everyone spends their time lying about everything?

      One of the hazards of being social organisms is that we come to accept certain behaviors as normal and natural, without thinking about the consequences of such behavior.  Today I’d like to consider to the pervasive dishonesty of modern times.

      In the past two weeks, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the phone dealing with “customer support” of various organizations.  All of them had messages assuring me that “your call is very important to us.”

      Now, in any society with even a middling regard for the truth, none of those companies would survive a week.  When someone’s call is very important, you have a human being answer it.  When someone’s phone call is not important, you have a recording answer it, and put the caller on hold, as a matter of routine.   And when someone’s call is something you wish to avoid, you have the recording offer a phone tree; require the caller to press buttons or enter information that doesn’t help the caller a bit; persistently urge the caller waiting to talk to a person to hang up; and finally, if they do stick it out and get to a person, require them to give the same information again (because the system is set up not to pass it on).  As a special insult, the organization will frequently attempt to sell you something while you’re on hold.

      By contrast, here’s an example of how a phone call from a customer is handled when it is important.  Back in the fifties, iirc, a woman who worked as a secretary in New York was called into a room where he boss was meeting some people, and told to look through her purse and find any Revlon cosmetic.  She had a Revlon lipstick.  The boss then told her to call Revlon and complain the lipstick was defective (smeared, or something).  Her call was very quickly routed to a man who apologized, and asked for her name and address, so that he could send her a replacement lipstick.  He then asked her to read the batch number off of the tube, so that they could check for other problems with that production run.  After that, he asked if she’d like to sign up to be a product tester—Revlon would send her new cosmetics they were considering selling, and postage-paid envelopes, and she’d test the stuff out and send the company her honest opinion of it.  (She said yes, and the sample soon started arriving.) Finally, the man on the phone closed it out by asking the secretary what she was wearing.  He then gave her advice on what shade of lipstick would go best with that outfit.

      Who was this helpful chap?  Charles Revson, the founder and CEO of Revlon, already fairly rich, with a reputation for rudeness and bad temper.  The secretary’s boss had been talking to some businessmen, bankers iirc, who complained it was hard to get Revson on the phone.  The boss had her make the call to demonstrate that it was easy to get hold of Revson, when Revson thought your call was important.

      Closely related to the routine lies about customer service over the phone are the web pages that promise ‘help.’ There’s always a bunch of “frequently asked questions”, links to various pages where you could handle various things on your own (cheaply for the company, in other words), and usually, but not always, a link to some way of getting in touch with a person.  That link is invariably small and hard to find, if it's there.  If you’re real lucky, it will take you directly to the means of contact, phone or e-mail or live chat.  (Personally, I prefer live chat; I can’t give in to the temptation to scream at the person I’m dealing with.  Having done customer service over the phone, I know they’re usually trying their best, within the limits their company will allow.) More usually, it will start you on a quest through to or three more web pages

      An honest phone answering message from one of our modern organizations would begin with something like.  “Hello.  You’ve reached this recording because your call is not important to us, and we don’t want to pay someone to talk to you.” An honest web page would be headed “Information we hope will keep us from having to deal with you.” It would be interesting to see the public’s reaction to such a message (I’d find it a relief), but consider our reaction to the way we’re treated now.  Is your routine reaction ‘These people are liars.  I’d better be careful, they will try to cheat me’?  More likely, you don't even notice.

      But perhaps the most important thing about these whoppers is the fact that the organizations that lie so routinely don’t think of themselves as liars, at least as far as I can tell.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I get the opinion they think they’re trying to provide good service, as they do their best to avoid providing any at all.  The culture of dishonesty has so affected them that the liars don’t know when they’re lying.

      I believe this has profound consequences for society.  I’ll write more about this in future posts.

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