Thanksgiving Sales and Black Friday Obsession Is Our Fault

We Are Our Own Worst Enemies

Black Friday and specifically shopping during Thanksgiving dinner itself wouldn’t be the obsession it is if it weren’t for you.  If your family time was more important to you than a new flatscreen, less stores would be open during the time.

You selfish thankless bastards wouldn’t know that Thanksgiving was supposed to be special time to give thanks and be grateful with family and friends or go Black Friday shopping and fight with people over electronics at your local Walmart while shirking that family time.

While Black Friday participation was thankfully down this year among thirsty shoppers by about 20%, the consumer culture that it feeds is alive and sucking the wallets and time of the afflicted.   Yes, more stores closed, but still plenty were open.  This doesn’t even include the various warehouses where we stick our seasonal wage slaves.

Everyone – regardless of their ideology – can put their finger on this notion that something is deeply wrong, but most haven’t dug deep enough.  Simply put, we can’t fix ANY of our problems until we fix our people and the culture they create.

We can’t build meaningful relationships that transcend all the difficulties of life if we will spend that time on obsessing over Amazon details or shopping at Walmart instead of with our families over some tasty turkey.

That problem lingering deep down in a shadowy hole is that there are far too many people willing to forget their families in favor of shopping during Thanksgiving Dinner to save a few dollars off crap they really don’t need or have to own.   Do you really need another tablet?

Of course, greedy corporations and businesses looking to churn out profits from already greedy debt-ridden consumers are willing to appeal to the fallen angels of our nature to generate some additional cash for their never satisfied shareholders. We are our own worst enemy and there is plenty of mutual feeding on greed to go around.

It’s an unspoken dirty secret, but if there weren’t a significant amount of consumers willing to abandon precious time with family and friends – which they probably don’t see all that often – for “deals” and gadgets, there wouldn’t this hoard of companies willing to make millions of people work like dogs during Thanksgiving.

Maybe even the desperate deal shoppers themselves might think twice before throwing another article of clothing on the ground with the assumption some poor minimum wage seasonal worker is going to pick it up for the hours and hours of sorting and cleanup that will be happening all week.

The demand for Black Friday and it’s accompanying World Star videos are because enough of us are significantly demanding with pockets deep enough to blow 5 billion dollars in 24 hours on a day that is now stretching into the weekend.

Until that changes not only will most of us not be thankful for what we have – as well as the time we can spend with friends and family – but we will sacrifice the little time we have with them for the pursuit of more stuff.

No, this isn’t as if you are toiling away for a career, rather you are upgrading your 40 inch tv to a 55 inch during the time you should be spending with your family – the ones who actually care about you.

What make us supposedly happy and our primary goals are reflected by what we spend our time doing and investing in.  As Black Friday shows, too many people are still spending that time and money on stuff than on time with their families.   It’s what makes them happy.

That’s a horrid problem itself.  How do you alter the ingrained programming of thousands of hours of media that more stuff will make you happy?

Attitude of Gratitude

Often we forget about being thankful for what we have because so many people think their life is crap because they dont have the newest gadgets, products, or apps.  We end up shackled to these items and unable to experience the freedom found in gratitude.   at the Imaginative Conservative makes this point:

But gratitude remains the only key that unshackles us and lets us breathe free. Life is a peculiar phenomenon. We all unthinkingly use the phrase “the gift of life,” but it is only a gift if we really think of it as such. If we don’t, then life is an unbearable curse. It is Hell itself. No matter how bountiful and varied our good fortune, life has no flavor and is devoid of any joy unless we are grateful for it. As the Dominican mystic Meister Eckhardt succinctly put it: “If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice.””

The newest IPhone and 4k tv wont make you feel any more lively than your previous generation Iphone. Unless you are grateful for what you have, you will never be grateful for the future possessions you so envy after seeing ads for the latest flash sale or Amazon deal.

It’s tragic, but there is one definite way to experience gratitude just as Scrooge did in Charles Dickens parable like story or Jesus’ tale of the prodigal son.

You have to lose everything.  Your health, family, and every last item you so dearly valued.  You have to be brought down to rock bottom to rise back up, riches to rags.

Hopefully, we can learn those lessons Scrooge style from those who have so that we don’t have to go through their pain.

To that grateful end, I will share a tragic story that is a part of my industry.  Remember to look on that sunny brightside.  It could be much, much worse. So be thankful for once, you thankless bastards.

Where I work, I run into some rather sad unfortunate stories.

It’s made me realize a few things. We often get caught up in our own lives, worlds, bubbles, and in the troubles and trials that we endure.  Its easy to forget about the plights of those in the distance who are faring much worse.  We become our own worst enemy.

No doubt many of us have seen pictures, videos, and stories about the recent hurricane devastation that has been wrought upon Texas, Florida, and now Puerto Rico.  Or the fires that ravaged California. These people lost everything, but their families and friends remained intact who hopefully aren’t too immersed in “stuff” to lend them aid and support.

Talk to each person whose lost something there and you’ll hear some depressing stories about their current living situations as they try to cope. (Most of us take our support networks and families for granted.)

I won’t reveal where I work as we are in the age of self-righteous Internet lynch mobs who go after people’s jobs as I have a wife and two sons to support.

However I can tell you about about a tragic story I ran into.

 

Hotel From Hell


I’m on the phone talking to a man – we will call him George – who is stuck in a hotel of a large hotel chain.  Him, his wife, and his infant son are homeless after the hurricane.  Evacuating, they took with them as many clothes as they could, their son’s pack-in-play, car seat, and baby carrier you strap to your chest.

George – who was a vet and had fought in our recent middle east excursions – described that everything left in the hurricanes wake reminded him of towns he had seen that had been completely ravaged by bombs and artillery fire.  Their home which I believe was in Tallahassee had been utterly destroyed from Hurricane Irma.

Forced to go from one Red Cross makeshift shelter to another – with a rather sick infant,  a tad bit of luck would come their way; George’s brother would pay for them to stay at hotel for a period of time to get them out of the vicious hot humid weather.  All of the “good” hotels were booked through already.

They would begin their stay on Monday and on Tuesday night their already existing suffering would escalate.  Their infant son – about 5 and a half months old – had just been in the hospital three weeks prior.  Apparently he had been in and out of the NICU quite frequently since he was born, adding to the seriousness of their plight.

Their son – we will call him Jonny, had contracted RSV when he was just a few months old, on top of his previous medical issues.  RSV for infants that young can be deadly to the point they have to stay at the hospital for the duration of the infection.

Jonny had just started sleeping through the night in his pack-in-play. Or at least he was till a flea infestation in the room, unknown to them at the time, left the infant with flea bites from head-to-toe. It was so damn bad, he couldn’t sleep anymore and they would stay awake with him as he screamed and cried through the night.  They themselves would suffer from the flea bites.

A further slap in the face was that they couldn’t use chemicals to get rid of the flies off the clothing that was salvageable – almost none of it – because their infant son couldn’t be exposed to said chemicals due to his medical issues.

The fleas would decimate almost ALL of the clothing they brought with, including the car seat, port-a-crib, and infant carrier.  So now they weren’t only almost broke, but they would have to replace all the clothes somehow.  You can bet most of the charitable places in that area that give out clothes were already overwhelmed.

Of course they couldn’t switch rooms. There were no other available rooms. All had been taken by insurance agents and other survivors and refugees of the hurricanes wrath.  They were stuck there.

George would roam the hotel hallways to clear his head and to think of any way to improve their situation. Of course, he would be penalized for this.

While observing construction that was going off in an area of the hotel – that strangely wasn’t taped off, George would step on a piece of metal and puncture his foot – something that looked like a large metal construction staple.  It wasn’t even near the obvious area of construction.

He would be in immense pain from it.

George’s wife mentioned that she had never seen him scream or cry before, but when he pulled this staple out, he cried from the pain. Perhaps the mental and emotional burdens on top of this recent were enough to put him over the edge.  When thrown in the mix of losing everything you have, it must have felt like a release.

Now I don’t know what happened to them after this.  I hope they were able to find a place to stay.  Mail had to be sent to his mother’s house in another state – that’s the closest relatives they had in proximity.

They had lost everything, but at least they had some family.  Their stuff could be replaced, as tragic as their situation was, but family can’t.

——————————————————————————————

Family First

When you are obsessing over the stuff you don’t have, just remember to take a look at those who have nothing – through no fault of their own.

Spend time with your family. You never know how much time you really have with them.  New flatscreens and crazy sales designed to lure you into dishing out for a new one you don’t really need will always be around.  Your family may not.

When me and my wife lived 8 hours away from most of our family – specifically mine, it made me realize how much I miss them.  With so many families with members scattered across the states, Thanksgiving may be one of the few days where everyone will be gathered there together.

Make the most of it.  You can go shopping later, which you probably don’t need to.

 

How Mass Data Creates Scripted Social Interactions In Daily Life

Ever wonder why half the people you talk to when you want to buy something sound like they are reading off a script? It’s because we are.  When I answer yet another mind-numbing phone call at the call center I work at, I have SCRIPTED responses to people regardless of their questions or what they want.

Often, most of these agents have no idea actually solve your problems because all customer service cubicle clones are half-assed sales agents per company orders. They’ll read some scripted utterances off the call flow, and if they are doing their job description, pitch all the products the company has to offer. Forget the actual customer service part.  Usually it’s done poorly because it’s hard to sell to people when they are flipping out that their bill is wrong or that their internet doesn’t work. Still if you don’t pitch, you’ll see the back door of shame peons.

Remember hearing that word “Recommend”? 

It’s the most powerful word in sales, and 80% of the time that you’ll hear it, the buffoonish liars using it don’t know their head from their ass about what they are recommending.

Yet consumer sheeple fall for it all the time. Why is that?

Must follow script.

Because Experts recommend, and people who “Recommend” must be experts. In Weimerica, experts are the modern priests to always be trusted. They whisper directly to the American gods of pills, shitty products, terrible parenting advice, and diagnosing curious kids full of energy with ADHD.  The equivalent skepticism showed toward those religious Sky god believers has yet to be applied to our priestly expert class. Hypocrites, the lot of  you.

We ask mandatory “discovery questions”, and regardless if you have TV or want a landline phone – most people don’t – we will be sure to “Recommend” and “suggest” that people get that triple play package, even if all they wanted was internet.  My favorite rebuttal that they use is that if you call 911, they will know where you are right away.

Sounds like a great reason to pay 30$ + whatever phone tax there is.  That’s assuming we get past the numerous amount of customers who are set on cutting the cord and replacing cable with Sling, prime, Netflix, or a host of online options.   I can only appeal to a customer’s inner escapism so much to overcome the, “I’m not at home enough to watch TV.”

But back to that call flow, because if we don’t, we aren’t following the call flow – and that’s a diabolical naughty.

In a shocking twist, even if our sales numbers are insane, the company doesn’t care if we aren’t following that magical flow they invested time and money in perfecting. 

Saying that call center scripts are harming your company would be like saying that smoking is bad for your health.

This call flow that must be followed because millions were spent by the company I work for paying data analysts to examine how to trick that extra 5% of people into getting a landline.  Even our attempts to “connect” with our customers are superficial, bordering on soul sucking.  The interaction starts with the following drudgery literally anyone can do and that’s the damn point. For instance:

Thank you for calling **********!  My name is __________.  How can I help you set up your services today?

Assume the sale.  The first lesson in sales.

Once again my name is  ______________. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

I’m reveling in pleasure over here. I don’t know you, but I’m thrilled to talk to you. I’m your friend, not some random sales person. Feel at ease.  You can buy products from me. You know you want to.

May I have a phone number that we can use to reach with information about your ********** services?

Notice that last word? Services. If you give it, we can spam you with calls later – assuming an order is placed.  It’s dressed up in perfect legal speak.  Like everything else. We are a litigious cursed society filled with lawyers looking to make a buck either on the lawsuit or consulting basis to avoid said lawsuit. Brilliant.  My personal favorite that I have to read off  EVERY DAMN order is:

Can I use the phone number you provided for marketing related information and messages including updates about your installation appointment?

95% of the time this works. If I thrown in a “In case we get disconnected”, its basically 100%. Then again, my vendor’s client doesn’t like that because it gives a bad implication about our service.  What a joke.

We are speaking in riddles and people only solve the part of that riddle that we allow them.  Purposeful misdirect. We are magicians of the illusion. A handful of times people don’t want to give out their numbers because they are only shopping and ruining my numbers – pun intended.  Besides that, this statistical manipulation of the human psyche works wonders. It’s disturbing if you think about it deeply.

That last part of the statement is perfect. It gets you  to focus on the upcoming service you are about to get and not the fact we are going to send you lots of mail. It’s again perfect from a legal stand point, and I’m sure whatever part of the budget they blew on that precise wording has to be followed to the letter.  Can’t have that money go to waste with all the job slashing these days.

The irony is that sales is one of the few jobs you can’t automate away.  If your products sucks in comparison to the competition, silver tongued devils will be needed to ease your worries and present it in just the right way to overcome your objections.

 

Robots can’t rebuttal based on the customers needs – yet.  Corporate still tries to tell to pitch on “Value” which translated without bullshit = “Our products sucks compared to competitiion and is more expensive.”  Again, you might be able to put the right spin on shit, but its still often shit.

Everything and everyone is a damned statistic when it comes to that shit.

People automatically assume manipulation is a bad thing.  If it is, everyone is doing it all the time – specifically all those corporations and governments no one really likes. Every sales agent is being slowly converted into a PR spokesperson, complete with stripping your personality away.

Anytime you buy anything off the phone, a script must be followed to provide the barely legal spin on what the product is supposed to do.  Phrases like Up to“,as much as“, and “enjoy” grab your attention away from the rest of the underhanded mind trickery that is occurring.

Imagine doing this everyday for at least 8 hours.

Your sanity starts to degrade. I don’t even necessarily dread going to work, but answering the next call and saying the same thing – again. Humans weren’t meant to be robotic automatons, but we are a liability for corporations in that finely tuned machine.  You just  never know what we might tweet next, let alone say in confidence. Hell, we don’t even know where all this data gathering itself is gonna lead!

I received a reject from our esteemed quality department where call center agents who are rejects go to feel good about themselves and trip on a limited power high.  Apparently me joking with a customer about their internet speeds being so fast they should rent some to their neighbors for a monthly fee was “unprofessional”.

So much for connecting with your customer.

Humor must be eliminated, as should actual human connection. That call shouldn’t last over 15 minutes, regardless of what has to be covered in disclosures for quality purposes.  What I find fascinating is that so many of the big wigs and head honcho managers haven’t been agents, let alone spent time on the sales floor taking floods of calls.

Despite this they still dictate what should be said and what we can say.  Half the sales techniques I used to use were essentially banned because my vendor’s employers thought that it gave off the wrong implications.  Placing a pending order – a sales floor staple – gone because some number crunching high up types want to tweak those percentages.

Big data cant analyze those variables. Neither cant the scripts we are supposed to ramble in accordance with. But hey, as long as we cover those legal bases and do some pseudo connections with our customers?

Well, this ended up being a rant.

The Public Relations game and the illusion of Customer Service

If you’ve ever worked in retail, you are used to hearing the phrase, “Give great customer service!”   None of us really know what it means, but we nod our heads to reassure the store manager that we are indeed all about the famed customer services that corporate demands.  Oh, and bringing in those sales.

Does anyone actually know what it means to give great customer service?  Usually when it comes to retail, I automatically assume that the phrase “customer service” is more of a company mandated hands-on PR stunt conducted by each employee on a daily basis: Act like you care and hopefully they’ll give you their money and come back to give us even more of their money. For the lowly retail employee this simply boils down to a kind of daily fake display of “caring” about the customer in the way you try to pick up a random girl at the bar who’s alcohol intake has sparked possibilities of a “sale.”

It becomes fairly obvious that sales and not  people and real customer service is the priority.  The two concepts should ideally go hand-in-hand, but for the most part, it seems that they don’t.   One reason for this is because of the worldview and dare I say – purpose – of each company. What is the company’s ultimate purpose as long as it exists? Philosophy might bore those of us who slept through it, but its importance and impact is in direct correlation to what customer service is today.  

To find the truth, one must sift through the countless pandering  of online corporate twitter and facebook accounts that brag about their involvement in their local communities and come to an incredible conclusion; these businesses only care about anyone that gives them money,  harms or promotes their reputation, and returns to spend more money.  The reward they give their consumers is highly advertised “give backs” to the local communities.  Well, it is at least something, I suppose.

So why do these big business in the area give “back” to the community? Do they truly and genuinely care about their communities or their pocket books? The great Ron Burgundy from Anchorman summed it up in one sentence , “Hey everyone, come see how good I look.”   Public Relations (PR) is the name of the game. Doing good isn’t nearly as important as actually doing good in the local community.  But as the sang goes, “Image is everything.”   Would some of these large companies like Target, Walmart, ect do anything for their local community if there wasn’t enough profit that could be made and positive PR generated from doing so?  I’d venture to suggest that they probably wouldn’t.  Why? Because their priority isn’t to live as if people matter – it’s to make money.  Now there is nothing wrong with making money and generating a profit.

Here’s a blunt thought; Do retail companies actually legitimately care about any customer?  When I worked at Tiger Direct they insisted that they did indeed care about the customer above all else.  Well here is a story from inside the brutal world of retail. Prepare yourself for horror, shock, and appalling dismay.

I worked at Tiger Direct as a cashier during the Holiday season, I recall one customer had bought a TV the previous night.  He had to come back and get a replacement because the TV was actually defective. He didn’t know this till he drove all the way back home into Wisconsin and discovered this when he tried to set the TV up. So, he made rather simple request for the next TV he was about to buy: He wanted to have the TV tested to see if it worked before he drove all the way back again. I told him without a second thought or hesitation that this should be no problem and that we would be happy to do it.

Well I apparently didn’t know my store’s concept of customer service as well as I thought I did.  Relieved to take my lunch, sit down,  and munch on food that was bad for me, I was surprised by my store manager who just kind of seethed into the room. I proceeded to get an adult version of one’s principle glaring them down and scolding them for doing things in the classroom they shouldn’t.  The mini yell-down and scolding from the store manager – yes, the store manager –  only lasted for a mere minute, but it etched itself in my memory.

He informed that I had wasted the time of the sales personnel that would have to take the TV out and test it. In fact,  I was impeding on their chance to make more sales on the floor and that with certain employees in his day that would have come down to fisticuffs. He said something along the lines of that if I was going to tell a customer that a TV could be taken out, set up, and tested, I should have done it myself. I however couldn’t do this because I was a cashier and the store that day was quite busy and I was only 1 of 3 cashiers there at the time.

I recall thinking to myself, “Are you ******* kidding me?” I thought I had just performed this great simple feat of great customer service, and not because of some fake company PR customer service policy, but because I legitimately didn’t want the guy to have to waste any more time by having to come back if this TV was defective as well.  This was my newly discovered inconvenient truth of the year.

Most people who have worked retail with me hate their jobs.  In fact, quite a few of them hated customers with a passion. No, I’m serious. My daily routine at a previous job involved me hearing co-workers tell horror stories about the customer who knew and demanded too much.  Affectionate  nick-names like Medusa, Hitler, and many other expletive laced names were what those customers became known as.  In one case, the Medusa one was actually somewhat disturbingly accurate; the woman looked like Medusa with the exception of being quite overweight. 

Retail employees after just a few months into it seem almost burnt out and it may not be completely for the primary reasons we usually think of.  What am I talking about?   I too dislike retail, but its not because of dealing with unpleasant customers.  I dislike retail because of companies that require me to be fake and to deliberately mislead PEOPLE as to what they may need for any given situation.  Notice how I didn’t use the word customer and I used the word, “people.” Customers are actual in-the-flesh people who should be told the truth, not treated like unnamed and faceless piggy banks whose mere existence is  to feed the companies pockets.  Let’s be honest instead of trying to put a PR spin on everything;  attempting to sell people something they don’t need – like useless warranties – is dishonest. It might be business, but it is the mark of dishonest business conduct.  It is greed at the cost of honesty and possibly encouraging people to spend money frivolously instead of saving it for emergencies that happen way more than we like to admit.

Can business still make a profit and help the community around them?   Yes, they can, but their priority must be the ultimate customer service; genuine care for the community around them.   Some of made the mistake of vilifying profit as some kind of nasty evil in the world.  Profit itself isn’t evil, but people’ whose ultimate goal is money and not helping their fellow man can make the concept of “profit” into just that.  A question that  should be asked, “What is my purpose with which to use the money that I make?” From a Christian worldview – oh how horrible, ignorant, bigoted, and mistaken certain people will insist-  all our time and the money we make is God’s. Our obligation is to use that money to advance his Kingdom and to help the desolate, poor, downtrodden, and needy in our community for His glory. (It’s commanded, not requested.)   This communal obligation is of particular importance. Why?  Those particular sinful people in our communities  is exactly who the Kingdom is for.

Helping those who are down, distraught, and left with very little from the recession doesn’t just make sense from a compassionate point-of-view, but from a business sense as well.  If people’s lives and well-beings are restored, usually their financial situations are as well. That equates to financial return and investment into the stores in their local communities. All it takes is the most important investment – time,  which leads to making money.