Thursday, July 7, 2016

NO SOLICITATIONS



Our current NO SOLICITATIONS sign



About two weeks ago, a millennial Cablevision salesman decided to ring our doorbell after reading the sign above. It's posted right next to our doorbell, so we all know that he saw it and decided to ring anyway.

The sign says: We charge $20 for sales pitches, political introductions, petition requests and bible readings. Have your money ready when you knock or ring the bell (and don't pretend you didn't see this. We will ask you for the money up front). When we began charging for solicitations ten years ago, our rate was only $10. We charge $20 now because, you know, inflation. The original sign was fancier than the current one, with scalloped edges, because scrap-booking scissors were the only ones within reach when I created it. Nowadays I can’t be bothered. These annoying cold-calls have been going on for far too long.

My NO SOLICITATIONS sign is sarcastic, so it may be difficult for some to grasp. I’ve thought about simplifying to NOT INTERESTED; GO AWAY. We do make an exception for Girl Scouts, however, because aside from Gordon Ramsay, who doesn’t love their cookies? They’re SO good. I don’t want to scare off Girl Scouts, just everyone else who wants to sell something—tech packages, politics, religion or products—that we really don't want.

The reason I first posted it was an incredible uptick in unscheduled doorstep pitches. First, it was underprivileged youth selling candles. Then came the magazine subscriptions pedaled by church groups. Next, the petition hawkers—Save the environment!—showed up, followed by Keep the kids off the streets! donation requests for local sports initiatives. 

Omnipresent were visits from salespeople from whatever company competed with our current television/internet/phone company. When we said we were under contract, they cheerfully promised to “buy the contract out.” Wait—what? I’m less than two months in, and they’re going to buy the contract out? One can't help but think that they must seriously be overcharging current customers if they can afford that.

The final straw came on a late spring day when I answered the door four times within two hours. The last visitor was a twenty-something with long hair and just a hint of beard, who claimed he was “working on a communications project at school” and needed my help. I can’t recall exactly what I replied, but it was something along the lines of “GET THE HELL OFF MY FRONT STOOP.” With an eye roll and a running jump, he complied. (To this day, I believe he was actually casing the place, although I acknowledge that some educators are still flaky enough to ask students to bother complete strangers for homework assistance.)

The point is, these doorstep solicitations happened daily and had become an unfettered nuisance. Thus, the first sign was crafted and posted next to the doorbell. I'm happy to report that most unscheduled visitors now see the latest version of the sign and don't ring or knock. In fact, one salesperson read it and burst out laughing, startling me because I hadn’t even realized anyone was standing outside. 

There are some, though, who pretend not to have seen it and ring anyway. These people are the problem.

Image courtesy of Pinterest
A Google search reveals that I’m not the only one who has posted a witty sign.  My all-time favorite is the one pictured to the right. The woman who crafted it is clearly a runaway genius. I’d like to point out, however, that it’s never Publishers Clearing House and it’s never Channing Tatum, because we live in a cruel, cruel world, my friends. 

But back to the aforementioned Cablevision salesman. My husband answers the door when he rings and, as the sign promises, immediately asks him for twenty bucks. The salesman compliments my husband on how clever and funny the sign is (adding, “Hey, twenty bucks is cheap, man!”) before launching his memorized pitch. 

My husband stops him and insists on being paid. The salesman is inexplicably stunned. “I don’t have $20,” he exclaims. “Okay,” my husband says, “then I can’t help you. Thanks and have a nice day.” As he’s closing the door, the salesman shouts, "Seriously, Dude?" and then adds, loudly, “I can’t f*cking believe it. What the f*ck?” as he departs. My kids overhear this because he's still close, on our walkway.

First, some thoughts on the unprofessional reaction: On what planet is it okay to call a potential client “Dude” and then swear off because he wasn’t receptive to your sales pitch? It isn’t on this planet, although I admittedly received my business training in the 1990s, when a professional standard was still in place. Why would I ever want to do business with Cablevision again when they’re sending this rude, angry salesman to my home?

Don’t misunderstand me; I get that any job requiring one to cold-call on customers is crap. Years ago my friend Lisa, who worked briefly in the early ‘90s as a telemarketer, shared that people who answered hung up on her, swore at her, or guilted her (“I’m eighty-six years old and have arthritis. I only struggled off my couch because I hoped you might be my daughter, who never calls anymore. Instead, I get you, who wants to sell me stuff…”) She apologized to such folks, because she has class, and quit three weeks later, despite the job paying three times the minimum wage. She assured me that working at Mid-Island Department Store was better. 

Chew on that concept, folks—crappy retail jobs paying $5.00 an hour were preferable—for just a moment, if you have any doubts at all about how soul-destroying a telemarketing career in the early ‘90s must have been.

The bottom line, however, is this: The crap job isn’t anyone’s problem except for the person who chooses to work it. More importantly, NO SOLICITATIONS signs are non-negotiable. This isn’t the 1950s, when companies had to go door-to-door to let folks know that they existed. Cablevision sends postcards and letters weekly, pops up in online shopping ads, and advertises on FiOS, the service I have now. Why must they also send someone to my door to aggravate me? 

(Best Answer: Face-to-face yields sales because people have a harder time saying "no" to a live person than a postcard or online ad. It’s a high-pressure tactic with a smile. Companies don’t care that it's loathed; sales are made!)

Based on the visceral reaction of friends to a Facebook post regarding the above incident, I now know that many such signs are disregarded, many bells rung despite their presence. I wonder if Cablevision and other companies advise their door-to-door sales forces to ignore the signs. Could their rationale be that people are even more receptive to sales when their clearly-stated wishes are ignored? If so, some truly stupid people are in charge. Time to restructure.

Cablevision and other companies that insist on cold-calling need to train staff to recognize and respect NO SOLICITATIONS signs. Moreover, company representatives must be professional, even when told NO. Sending profane clowns to front doors will lose customers for good. 

In the meantime, readers, feel free to duplicate my sign. You’re most welcome to it. Until the outdated practice of cold-calling ends, you’re going to need one. Remember to insist on being paid up front, however. That’s the key.

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