Don’t cross the streams

Bethany J. Royer

March 20, 2014

I discovered multiple occasions of personal info-requesting and customer profiling that I hadn’t realized was so prevalent before reading Julia Angwin’s Dragnet Nation: A quest for privacy, security and freedom in a world of relentless surveillance a weekend ago.

The adventure begins with the attempt-to-sell magazine subscriptions by a cashier, something I dislike particularly in customer service and what I liken to as the “crossing of streams.” I will elaborate but first let me say thank you, Egon, may you rest in peace.

Anyway, in not so much a burning of bridges as the bridge no longer exists, a company I once knew attempted to transform a twice removed, red-headed step-child that is an in-bound customer service call center into a cash cow by selling magazine subscriptions. A bad idea when the majority of calls were on missing or broken orders from unhappy customers. Not that I blamed them for being angry though the time I was ripped two ways to Sunday by a priest still makes my head spin.

Now, imagine you have spent a fair amount of time soothing an entirely within their right angry customer and feel you’ve done a stellar job for both enduser and company — not to mention keeping the call from escalating to a supervisor which is generally frowned upon — when you reach the end of the script. The part where — before you can say goodbye, have a nice day — you must ask this formerly upset customer if they’d like to purchase a subscription to Time, People, or Woman’s Day magazine.

If you just cringed, our sentiments exactly, but this selling did not last long thank goodness as lessons were learned the hard way that customer service should never be part sales department. There should never be a crossing of the streams. Now, a cashier selling magazine subscriptions at a brick and mortar book store is not so bad, however, it does reek of desperation on the company’s part and is one of several methods of customer profiling.

So imagine yours truly book shopping with the munchkins when a cashier pulled out the tell-tale magazine subscription pamphlet after ringing up our purchases. I bit my tongue cause it wasn’t the first attempt, won’t be the last, and was not the cashier’s fault. I said thanks, but no thanks as quickly and politely as possible and he took this as an opportunity to solicit me for a store credit card.

“No, thank you,” I repeated.

“But you can save 15 percent today!”

“No, thank you,” I replied, yet again, picturing my information being ferreted out to data brokers across the country faster than it would take to fill out the paperwork for the credit card.

“We offer bonus points towards future purchases when you sign up.”

“Uh, no. ”

While I commiserated with the cashier, I also wondered at what point one of us would be in a headlock as he proceeded to take the sales ticket and circle a web link for a survey. One that would put me in the running for a gift card, he said, but more likely would have my personal information available to every Tom, Dick, Sherry and Co. If they didn’t have it, already.

Oh, who am I kidding, they already have it.

Before I thank Angwin for this new level of paranoia in my life, let me include being confounded over the Internet. Where a wood floor ad followed me for reasons I’ve yet to determine cause at no time had I searched for hardwood flooring. Then a slew of wrinkle creams and household cleaning product ads on a web weather page.

Welcome to your personal demographic hell, Beth!

Course, as stated in a previous column, my privacy concerns began a long time ago, way before Angwin’s book. I recall feeling uncomfortable on matters related to policing and privacy as a librarian, but that’s another story, another day. I’m just glad we were never forced to sell magazine subscriptions.

Bethany J. Royer is the mother of two munchkins and has a serious case of psychology student senior-itis. She can be reached at bethanyroyer@yahoo.com.