Black Friday

Just in time for this holiday season comes the latest tale of retail negotiation success.

I’ve been lusting after a new TV for awhile.  Since our move, my old big-screen just hasn’t been right.  Could be the five flights of stairs it traveled in the move.  Could be the two years of storage about a year into its life.  Could be the massive amount of evening TV I watch.  Whatever.  In any event, the TV repair folks told me that the cost to repair substantially outweighs the value.  Lucky (sorta’) for me, the deterioration causes visible problems that are driving Tina batty.  Hence my ability to actually look for a new TV.

The actual TV I’m interested in is irrelevant, so rather than bore you with the specifics, let’s just call it X.  X has been on sale recently, down about 45% from it’s suggested retail price.  I’ve been watching it on Amazon and at Best Buy and Amazon has beat BB by about $200.  So I was still debating the merits of X with Tina when I looked online this morning and saw it for another $150 off – essentially 50% from its MSRP.  Woo hoo!  Time to buy!

But I had to get final approval so I couldn’t click through quite yet.

A few minutes later and I was ready to go.  I clicked ‘Add to Cart’ and just before I clicked Buy, I noticed that we were back to the pre-Black Friday price.  Woah.

So rather than Buy, I called Amazon’s customer service line.  Invariably, I found “Peggy” (a person of obvious foreign persuasion, pretending to be in the US “for my comfort”).  It only took her 10 minutes to verify my account because she couldn’t spell, couldn’t validate my physical address and for whatever reason, would ask me the same question over and over.  But hey, once we got through that, I was confident that I would be able to explain my complicated issue to her and get resolution.

As Wayne Campbell might say “shah – and monkey’s might fly outta’ my butt!”  But hey, I’m nothing if not patient.  So I tried.

Twenty-five minutes later, we were no closer to resolution and nearly half that time had been spent with me on hold while Peggy tried to work things out on her end.  Her eventual response?  That I needed to talk with the folks in the “large items” area.  But, of course, they were closed (it was only 8am ET, so I was agreeable).  Peggy offered to take my phone number and have them call me back in an hour.

Perfect.  No problem.

Five hours later (after we were back in the car, having spent the day at the Zoo), I still hadn’t received a call, so I called back.  [Now, what I didn’t tell you was that I periodically called and after being on hold for 20-30 minutes at a time, decided to simply try later.]  This time, I almost immediately got through.  This support person was a native English speaker so we quickly got to the large item desk.

They explained that Amazon doesn’t guaranty prices until you actually Buy.  They also checked and told me that what I saw earlier in the day was “Sold by Amazon” and the one that was now in my cart was “Sold by” someone else, so Amazon had no power to make any changes.  If I wanted X, I was going to have to pay the higher price.  Grrrrr.  No deal (at least not yet).

I finished driving home and checked my e-mail.  Waiting for me was a “how’d we do” e-mail from Amazon.  Ahhh… revenge.  Only, I didn’t want revenge, I simply wanted to say how things were for me.  And, in my opinion, it wasn’t great.  So I gave the experience a bad grade.  Amazon’s automated process then asked me if I would be willing to let them take another chance to make it right – enter my phone number and let them call me.  So I did.

A few seconds later, I get a call from Mike at Amazon.  I explain the situation and he reiterates the earlier explanation of why they really can’t do anything.  So while he’s considering what he might be able to do, Cameron is yammering in the background.  This gives Mike the ability to be friendly… and for me to connect with Mike on a personal level.  He’s a dad, a grandfather and has been at Amazon for awhile.  He was able to see that I’ve been an Amazon customer for more than a decade (they keep the entire history).  We commiserated over the advances in technology and retail.

In between, however, I hear an opportunity – that if there’s a TV that *Amazon* sells, Amazon can budge on price.  I quickly locate the model of X that Amazon does sell – one model more advanced (this one has 3D, even though I don’t need/want it), let’s call it X+.  Unfortunately, it’s also a little more expensive.  I give Mike the updated model number and he pulls it up on his end.  I ask him if he can “work with me”.

While he’s checking (as he realizes I’ve asked for a pretty significant discount), we keep chatting.  A few minutes elapses.  He tells me that no one has responded to his inquiry, so he’s going to go ahead and do it.  A few seconds later, I get X+ for the earlier advertised price of X.  Schweet.

Effective savings:  >$300 off retail.  >$1000 off MSRP.
Cost:  3 phone calls and some schmoozing.
Totally worth it.

My kingdom for a seat

I’m flying a lot these days for work. I actually love to travel – and even love the “airport experience”. So it’s not the huge inconvenience that others find it to be. When I started traveling more, I purposefully chose Delta to be my air carrier of choice. I wanted to rack up frequent flyer miles and eventually achieve “status” – that little thing that helps get you upgrades and other perks for being seen as a truly “frequent” flyer.

Sho’ nuff, it only took a few months before I’d reached Gold Medallion status. This is the second of four tiers in the Delta Medallion program. I’ve got nothing on the folks who have Platinum or Diamond status, but getting a first-class upgrade every now and again is pretty nice. But it doesn’t always happen, and it surely doesn’t happen on planes where there is no first class, such as my flight the other day returning from St. Louis.
The plane was a CRJ-50. If you’ve ever been on one, you’d know. People over 6′ tall have to stoop to walk the aisle. People more than 2′ wide have to virtually walk sideways. The seats are all leather, which I suppose is alright… but they’re not exactly made for large individuals, either. It was with extreme fear that I saw a large gentleman moving towards my row and a confirmation of that fear as he pointed to the window seat next to me.
These days, that’s the indicator that you (the person in the aisle seat) has to move to make way. No “hey, I’m sitting there, can you please move?” or “Hi – looks like I have the seat next to you.” Rather – it’s just a point and a grunt. But ok. Whatever. I can understand traveler sign language (TSL).
As I stood up, I dropped the armrest between the seats. This is also TSL – it means: you stay on your side of the row and I’ll stay on mine. Or, in other words: DON’T TOUCH ME. I knew we were going to have a problem as he lifted it out of the way as he moved into his seat.
Actually, he didn’t have a choice. He was now using 100% of his seat… and 25% of mine. Ugh. This was going to suck. 2.25 hours from St. Louis to Raleigh. I wanted to move – and I thought about going up to the flight attendant and suggesting that I should get 100% of my seat for the price I paid for it. But remember those small aisles? Well, between the other passengers boarding and my desire to get home quickly, I simply didn’t want to make a stink. God knows that the person who complains is more likely to find themselves a guest of the TSA for a little while.
So I kept my seat – leaning into the aisle the whole trip home. I was getting more and more pissed off at each passing moment. Upon arrival at RDU, I found the gate agent and asked for the Station Manager. This is the person who has ultimate control of all things airline-related at your particular terminal. The gate agent informed me that the Station Manager wasn’t present (it was, after all, 9:30pm), but that they were a red-vest and could handle whatever issue I threw at them.
I said “ok” fine – I wanted compensation for the trip as a result of not getting the full seat that I’d paid for. I was forceful, but calm. Direct but not demanding. I simply indicated that I didn’t believe that I should have to pay for a full seat when I didn’t get one.
RedVest’s first response was that I should’ve let someone know before leaving STL.
“Wait. It’s MY responsibility to tell you when I clearly don’t have my seat to myself?”, I asked.
Well, he said… sorta’. He explained that I should’ve asked the flight attendant to reseat me and that had they been unable to do so, that they would’ve asked the other passenger to get off the plane or buy a second seat.
I was nonplussed. I again suggested compensation. RedVest offered a $50 travel voucher. I demurred and suggested that there was a) more that he could do for me; and, b) that I wasn’t going to leave until he was able to do something more – as I knew that while he suggested I call Delta Customer Service when I got home, that leaving the airport was giving up leverage. So I stayed put and started talking with him in a more collegial tone. Commiserating about the crowds, stupid travelers, “real” problems, etcetera.
Finally, he asked to look up my account to see what he could offer. I was a little shocked (though I shouldn’t have been) at the amount of data he had access to about me. He asked if I was going to be taking any more flights in the near future and I said I was, but I hadn’t booked them yet. So he pondered his navel for a little while and then suggested that he could offer me some frequent flyer miles.
In the Delta system, there are two types of miles. Miles you can use to redeem for future stuff… and miles that count towards your Medallion status level. I, as you can imagine, am not really interested in redeeming miles for more time on airplanes. So I asked him in a good natured way whether they were Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM’s) – their official term for the “good” miles. He gently laughed in commiseration with my assessment of the situation as he indicated that they weren’t. Bummer.
Again, he went back to contemplating the nature of the universe and suggested that well, perhaps he could do miles plus something else. “Like what?”, I asked. He then told me that he could do a one-way class upgrade that I could redeem for any future flight – guarantying a first-class seat when my normal status didn’t/can’t get it for me (such as on virtually any flight from Atlanta). OK, now we’re getting somewhere.
So I said, ok… let’s do a package. Make it work for me. And he proceeded to print out the materials granting me the one-way upgrade.
Then we turned back to the miles. He offered 5,000. I said come on… how many miles does it take, at minimum, to get somewhere? 25,000. Right… so 5,000 gets me what? Nothing. He responded, ok… how about 7,500. I paused and said, point blank “We need to hit 5 digits. You can do 10,000.”
It was his turn to pause. “OK… 10,000. But I can’t do anymore.” He printed out the card granting me the 10,000 miles (which I think we’re going to use to go to London… but that’s a story for another day).
Right as he handed it to me, I said, “OK… now we can do that $50 travel voucher.”
He was taken aback. “What? I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can… we were talking about a package. I just spent 2.25 hours leaning into the aisle, getting hit by the flight attendant EVERY SINGLE TIME SHE WALKED BY. You can do the voucher. Give me the package.”, I said, almost invoking the Jerry Maguire “Show me the money.” tone.
And as it was printing, RedVest lamented that he was going to get a call about it in the morning. As I walked away, thanking him for his help, I just told him to tell his boss that he was dealing with a professional negotiator.
What I think I really need is a tagline I can say after I’ve gotten my way. “You’ve been negotiated…” just sounds too cheesy.

Flashpoint TV Show

There’s a new show on CBS called Flashpoint. It’s about hostage negotiators and snipers.

Now… I’m into negotiation, so you’d think that I’d love this show. I mean sure, the technology is cool – I wouldn’t mind having someone assist every now and again with a voice in my ear while I’m in the middle of a negotiation… but the rest of the show just drags on.

To be honest, I was hoping for a little less talky-talky and a little more shooty-shooty.

Comparisons are tricky

When people don’t understand what I’m trying to tell them in a negotiation, I often resort to the use of an analogy. The idea is that if I can’t gain understanding on the actual words, let’s shoot for understanding on the concepts. Once we get to that point, we’ll go back to the language and work out the details.

These types of comparisons can become quite difficult and quite involved, especially when you’re dealing with discussions on technologies that are new or not fully realized yet. But yesterday, I realized that comparisons, even at a very fundamental level, can be just as sticky.

Guy Kawasaki, the original Mac Evangelist, has become an incredible business person. He’s well known, well respected, and like many others, writes a blog where he usually discusses various business topics. The other day, he linked to the TED conference presentations that are available for online viewing. Admitedly, these are some of the world’s brightest people talking about many of the world’s most pressing problems.

Guy’s post, however, was specifically about one of the presenters, whom he compared to Steve Jobs in terms of presentation abilities. Now, I don’t know Steve. Guy, however, does. Personally. So, when I read that headline and the article, I went back to the TED page to view this presenter (whom I hadn’t gotten to quite yet), because Steve’s pretty good.

And to be fair, I was impressed by her passion and said so in a comment on Guy’s blog – but her presentation style left much to be desired. The other commentors also were split about how they felt. Some had similar feelings as I did, some agreed with Guy. I finally realized the danger of comparison (and was reminded of the danger of having serious conversations in an online format) while reading the comments again this morning to see what had been posted overnight.

One person, Splashman, stated: “I must again point out that Guy’s comparison of Majora to Steve is unqualified. That means he didn’t say, “Majora is better in a couple of areas.” He didn’t say, “Majora would be better than Steve if she had the same support and 20 years’ practice.” The title of his post is “As good as Steve Jobs.” And nothing in the body of the post gives the impression that he is qualifying the comparison.”

So, it wasn’t so much that the comparison was made, but the weight given to the comparison by the original author as well as by the reader of the comparison. Had it been me making the comparison, would readers have reacted in the same way? I don’t think so. Since I don’t know Steve. Since I wasn’t at TED. Since I’m not Guy.

I personally went to listen to the presentation because Guy said it was good. In my opinion, it wasn’t, regardless of whether the topic was relevant, important and the speaker was passionate. My opinion of Guy’s opinion won’t be tarnished because of this difference. But I can see where it could happen that some people would decrease the level of credence they give to Guy based on this difference.

The lesson here is that while analogies or other comparisons are good, negative weighted opinions can block understanding at best, and at worst, sway things in an opposite direction than what was desired. I gave Guy’s opinion the benefit of the doubt I had about the presenter because I trusted his opinion. The fact that I now disagree with his opinion could have caused me to discount other opinions he holds or shares. If this was a negotiation, this becomes a trust issue – which is never a good problem to have.

So I’ll continue to read Guy’s blog. If for no other reason than the fact that my respect for Guy isn’t based on his opinions, it’s based on his actions… and the fact that someone says something that I personally disagree with doesn’t mean that I discount their opinion (even if I think it’s wrong ).

long hours at work

When I was a teenager, my folks didn’t want me working. They thought that my attention should be spent on homework and they did a really good job of always providing me with whatever I needed from a material perspective.

But when I was 16, I finally got a job working for the local Burger King. My parents were NOT happy with me – they even refused to TAKE me to work – even when the weather was incredibly bad… and I remember one particularly nasty day of walking through the snow, slush and blowing wind just to get to work.

Of course, the job was not exactly easy – food service isn’t a cakewalk (don’t let anyone tell you any different). I didn’t like touching raw food (still don’t), especially condiments that I would NEVER even eat. And the pay is even worse.

Federal Minimum Wage when I first got a job had just been raised to $3.15. I remember this clearly from the big poster that was required to be placed in the BK breakroom. Even if I worked EVERY available hour between when I got out of school at 3pm, until I went to bed around 11pm (8 hours), I would still only be able to make $25.20/day.

Flash forward to now. I make well more per hour than I did per day back then. This is a good thing (and would be even better if inflation didn’t exist). But now that I’m no longer an hourly employee, I have to work until the job is done. I don’t get to stop when the clock strikes 5pm every day. And on most days, I have several hours of work to do each evening.

And it appears that these days, it’s even longer. With one negotiation, I’ve been working until 7-8pm every night for months. Which dilutes my “per hour” equivalent rate.

So these are the days where I long to be an hourly employee again…. and let’s not even start the conversation if I feel like all my time is well spent. 😉

I’m a negotiator. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.

Most people would argue that what you do isn’t who you are… but such is not true for me.

I seek out things to negotiate, arguments that need settling, prices that need shaving. I’ll negotiate with you, with your boss or your mom. It’s sort of like arguing for sport. Only I get paid for it. Yep, I’m a professional.

But that’s not the point of this. I, like every other blogger, am a frustrated writer. I would love to write a novel, a short story, a screenplay, a poem. Something that would get published somewhere and by someone who would send me a check for doing it. Since that’s not happening for a career, I can resort to Blogspot.

So let’s start with today. I woke up at 10:30am today – realized that I didn’t have much to do and headed down to the couch to check e-mail and flip on the TV. I’m trying to sell my house and my realtor likes to e-mail me the comments she receives from people who view my house.

The comments today are “Price is great. Backyard is great. Will keep it on our list”. She then
asked about the train set.”

For those of you not in the know, my house has a train. And not just any old train, this is a lego train. It runs on a lego track which sits on glass shelves that are installed around the edge of my kitchen at ceiling height. Pretty useless, but cool. A great conversation starter.

As you might imagine, however, the train isn’t really popular with people who want to buy my house. So there’s been an ongoing discussion on how to market the house with the train. Long story short, we have said that the train is “negotiable” – loosely translated it means “we know you won’t want it, but we’re too lazy to remove it now.”

But this new realtor of mine thinks it’s time for it to go. So I spent the better part of three hours removing the train and patching the holes in the ceiling… all while watching “Bands Reunited” on VH1.

Now my ceiling looks empty. Barren, even. Oh well… perhaps I should increase the price of the house to compensate.