Divine Guidance for Unknowing Consumers
You’ve probably seen the movie "Angels in the Outfield." There’s the original 1951 release, which took place at Forbes Field and starred Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh. Then there’s the 1994 release, set in California and starring Danny Glover and Christopher Lloyd.
Written by: Dr. Michael Weiss
Both versions of the movie involve baseball players and the angels who look out for them.
Since it’s been eight years since the movie was last released, I think it’s time for a remake. To keep the movie fresh, however, I think we should modify the story line, move it back to Pittsburgh, bag the ball players and call the 2002 re-re-make "Angels in the Shopping Mall."
Here’s the plot: Anyone who ever spends money on anything will be assigned his or her own personal angel. The angel’s job will be to follow the consumer around and divinely engineer circumstances so that he or she gets the best possible deal.
It will work like this: At the car dealership, the angel will help the consumer hold his own against the sales manager on prices, options and warranties. At the grocery store, the angel will intervene at the register by changing the bar codes on corn flakes and other over-priced items. At the automated teller machine, the angel will make the computer forget all about those pesky out-of-network fees.
In this version of the movie, everybody wins. The angels get great P.R. Consumers never get taken for a ride. Even businesses are happy because they get a fair price for their goods and services, while their customers go away feeling as if they’ve gotten a decent value for their hard-earned cash.
Alas, no one in Hollywood will return my e-mails. So it looks like "Angels in the Shopping Mall" is destined to remain a product of my own wistful imagination - which means that my creative fires will have to keep on burning.
But just for the record, I wasn’t always steamed.
That changed when my daughter went to Italy to study. A month later, we got the phone bill. At $2.50 a minute, the charges had compounded exponentially. Since life doesn’t imitate art, my angel was busy, so I contacted the phone company myself to ask about an international calling plan.
I spoke with a woman who couldn’t have been nicer as she enrolled us in a special Italy program — 19 cents a minute peak and 11 cents a minute off-peak.
You would think I would have been thrilled. Instead, I was annoyed. It occurred to me that, had I not followed up with the phone company, we’d still be paying $2.50 a minute, and the phone company would have been content to let us.
That is, no one would have ever looked at my bill and said, "Mr. Weiss, we noticed you’ve been calling Italy a lot. We have the perfect plan for you %85."
It’s the same way that car dealers gladly let you pay the sticker price if you’re not quite sure how to negotiate. Or the way credit card companies keep interest rates high until you threaten to close your account, at which point they’ll begrudgingly shave off a point or two. Or the way department stores offer 20 percent discounts to people who sign up for new charge accounts but won’t give the same discount to their longstanding customers.
In the latter case, what do longstanding customers do?
Well, if they’re like my wife, they sign up for a new account, get the discount, then cut up the new credit card when it comes in the mail. For people who aren’t my wife, there’s little chance that some companies will ever voluntarily clue you in.
They just don’t get the "Miracle on 34th Street" concept, whereby they build customer loyalty by actively helping customers find the best possible deals.
I have a hard time understanding this because I work in health care, where our whole lives are spent trying to do what is best for out patients while delivering the highest possible value for the lowest possible cost.
But I also have a hard time understanding this because I’m a consumer. Like most other consumers, I form opinions of companies not just on the quality of their output, but also on the way they treat me: Do they share my best interests? Or are they glad my angel has better things to do?
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