The first time he asked for my number, I was flustered. The second time, I was flattered. The third time, mildly annoyed. “C’mon pal, I’m just trying to buy a Barbie car here, do you really need my telephone number, area code first? Does your manager know you talk like that baby? You’re seventeen and I’m clearly not. It would never work darling.”
Wait? What? “Valued Customer” list?
Imagine my embarrassment. There I was, just minding my own business, buying Barbie a pink plastic convertible to haul Ken and Skipper around in, and the salesclerk wouldn’t even begin to ring my sale until he had my number. And here I thought he was just wildly attracted to my mom-style and flair for wearing used tissues tucked into my sleeve.
Take my number. I remember when “take a number” meant the customer took one. Now it means, to retailers anyway, “we’ll take yours, thanks.”
What gives? After all, service being what it is these days, the chances they’d be ringing me up in the coming weeks to find out how Barbie’s new ride was working out seemed remote, as was the possibility they’d need to reach me in a hurry in the event of a pink plastic convertible recall.
Nonetheless, corporate America has gotten terribly nosy of late. Information that we once shared only with our spouses, mothers and possibly doctors is now routinely required for even the simplest transactions. Call me cranky but I think that if my best friend since third grade doesn’t know how much money I make (or don’t) and my social security number then Circuit City doesn’t need to know either.
Identity theft. Despite the dire warnings that identity theft is running rampant and repeated advice that we guard our Social Security numbers with our lives, we are increasingly asked to divulge everything short of our underwear size (I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you) to make even the simplest purchase. They have even encoded our identities on plastic cards for our “advantage.”
Now we lucky stiffs save 6 cents on lima beans and in return corporate America tracks every aspect of our purchasing whims and desires. Yes Virginia, that “embarrassing itchy rash” cream goes on your permanent record.
Before they’ll even accept our payment for goods the first question asked is often “telephone number?” Then, as if that isn’t enough they often want our zip code as well. Why? Are they planning to swing by the house later? Add us to their holiday card list? I keep waiting by the mailbox. You would think that with my being such a “valued customer” I would at least rate a “wish you were here” card but so far, nothing. So what are they doing with my numbers? Other than slipping them to people who keep calling during dinner to sell me vinyl siding of course.
Blow dryer blow up. Even my blow dryer came with a registration form that warned of severe consequences if I failed to return the card. Fine, I’m down with the need to notify consumers of serious blow drying emergencies that may arise. What I can’t fathom is why the manufacturer needs to know my household income, age and leisure time activities in order to honor my warranty?
Is it somehow common knowledge that persons aged 55-63, earning $74,999-$100,000 who enjoy photography and kayaking are more deserving of blower protection than those aged 29-34, earning $34,999-$45,999 who enjoy reading, long walks, and bowling? How do my regular subscriptions, number of prescriptions (held by those in household ages 12 and up), and whether I own / rent (circle one) a home factor in to my warranty anyway? Will they refuse to repair my $12 appliance if it turns out I’m one of those middle-aged knitters their technicians warned them about?
Customer service. Calling customer service with a question on my credit card, cable or utility bill requires me to confirm my home mailing address, telephone number and work number before they will even proceed with the call. The better to serve me, of course.
Yet somehow, I’m not feeling the love. Rather, I suspect that first and foremost they want me to know they’ve got my number. Figuratively and literally – so I better not pull any funny stuff. If I do, they just might call my mother. Heaven knows they’ve got the power. They’ve taken down her maiden name too.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt hopes VISA will just leave her mother out of it. She welcomes comments c/o email@example.com or P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460.)