Monday, November 11, 2013
They Want to Help You...
I must have under-priced it at $50 because I received several emails (and, unfortunately, a bunch of no-shows, too). One of the potential buyers said that I wouldn't actually be able to sell it, but after calling DirecTV a second time they confirmed that, yes, I could...just take out the card first. Finally, on Saturday, a guy named Erin texted and, after we worked out the details, actually said he was on his way over. I packed up the receiver and when Erin arrived he complimented the neighborhood, asked a few questions, and paid full price without any negotiation. (Side tip to readers: as a buyer, negotiate price on the phone ahead of time. Once you're at the point of sale, your leverage is lessened. The seller knows you're less likely to walk away from the deal after having driven all the way there. An alternative, though harder to pull off, is to have the seller bring the item to you or to some location that is closer to you than them. Both tactics play off the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Though it's illogical, no one wants to waste the sunk cost of time or gasoline involved in the trip, and will take a sub-optimal deal to avoid that waste.)
Unfortunately, I got a text later in the day from Erin. DirecTV told him he couldn't activate the receiver since it was leased. And it couldn't be transferred, no exceptions. He asked to meet up again, and since he'd driven all the way from the other side of town, could we meet up somewhere closer to him? I texted him that I was sorry that DirecTV was giving me bad information, and I would be happy to refund his money. But, if he could wait for just a bit while I called DirecTV to confirm, I'd appreciate it.
So I called the company and the first person I talked to said, no, Erin was wrong, I should be fine to sell it. I asked, "Are you sure? Because the guy I sold it is on the phone with DirecTV and is being told it can't be transferred to him." At that point the rep said, "Oh, you're right, it's leased so it actually can't be sold. Sorry."
"But you don't want it back?" I asked.
"No, it's an older model and you can keep it."
"So I can keep it, but cannot sell it. And you don't want it. Since I only have one television and I already have a working receiver, I should just throw it away?"
"Hmm. Yes, I guess you should probably just throw it away."
"But I cannot not sell it? Or give it back to you?"
"I know it doesn't make sense, but, no."
They Want to Help You
At this point I went back to one of my old negotiating saws, which is maybe my favorite insight into collaborative negotiations: the other party wants to help you. I don't know where this phrase came from. But, when it's looking like I am going to get a "No," I come back to a simple truth that applies to collaborative negotiations with current service providers: they do actually want to help me. I am their customer. These negotiations aren't combative, unless I make them that way. The person on the other end of the phone or other side of the counter does want to solve my problem. It is likely their mission to help me, as the customer. I just have to frame the conversation around that truth.
So I tried to describe the situation as a problem that DirecTV could help me solve. Because of the information I received earlier in the week (and then again today), this guy Erin had driven over 40 miles to pick up the receiver. Now I wanted to help him avoid making the trip again, wasting more time and gas, and to help him avoid thinking I was scamming him. I wasn't, after all...I was just doing what the company had told me to do. Since DirecTV had told me to sell it, and there were notes in the system confirming this, was there any way they could make an exception with this receiver and let me sell it?
"It's unfortunately against our policy," the rep said.
"I understand, I do. But I'd really love to help avoid this guy having to drive another 40 miles just to get his money back. I think he's pretty angry and I'd want to do something to make him feel whole. I know it's against policy, but is there any way we might be able to change this receiver's status?"
"I can't, but my supervisor might be able to. I can ask her if you'd like."
Be Nice, Be Thankful
The key when getting transferred is to get the initial representative on your side first. Remember, they want to help you, so this shouldn't be entirely difficult. My "tactic" is simple: be overly nice, and preposterously thankful. For any attempt at assistance they provide, I say "Thank you," and mean it. I ask the person on the other end of the line how her day is going. I make small talk. I ask what part of the country I am calling to. When she puts me on hold to see what she can do, I say, "Thank you so much for looking into that," and I do so sincerely. My hope is that the initial rep sees me as a good customer whom she is advocating for with her supervisor, rather than some angry jerk she just wants to punt to her boss.
Be Patient - Finding the Right Person Takes Time
After explaining the situation again, and using the magic tactic of being nice, the supervisor actually agreed to change the receiver's status from leased to purchased. Unfortunately, her computer system wouldn't allow her to make the change, either. But she knew of a Card Activation Team who might be able to help. I asked if she could stay on the line and explain the problem to her colleague. While she couldn't stay on the line, she was willing to make notes in the account that would hopefully persuade her colleague.
Trying to turn a long story short, Amy, the final person I spoke to on the Card Activation Team, after hearing my side of the story, finally said she'd "Do me a solid, even though we never do this," and changed the leased receiver to a purchased unit. Erin would be able to activate the receiver once he got a new card. I again thanked her about a half dozen times, told her I was going to write a blog post about how she and her colleagues went above and beyond, and called Erin to give him the good news. The excellent people at DirecTV made two customers happy, Erin had a working receiver, and I had fifty dollars for something that, apparently, belonged in the trash. Everyone walked away happy, everyone got what they wanted.
This is a lot of nonsense to go through for only $50 and to avoid just throwing a perfectly good DVR in the trash. But I tell the story because I often forget how much easier it is to negotiate from a perspective of helpful collaboration. Half the time I'd have fallen into a victim mentality, harping on the fact that DirecTV gave me bad information, and they were to blame for this situation in the first place. I could whine about how they owed me, that I was in the right, and it might even be reasonable. But here's the problem: no one wants to help that guy. Each one of the women I spoke to would probably just like to end the conversation as quickly as possible. Why help a jerk? But the nice guy, the one that's actually somewhere inside me even when I'm having a bad day or dealing with a frustrating situation, everyone wants to help that guy.
*Photo is from Redrock Junction at Flickr Creative Commons.