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Recent events in my work life got me thinking about how often we have to lie to customers. The ability to calmly and reassuringly lie to a customer is a skill developed over time. As one matures in corporate life, the ability to convincingly tell a lie so smooth that virtually any problem can be covered up without losing business and reputation, is applauded. After years of practice, I have become one of those awesome liars that can assuage any customer problem with a few choice sentences and a calm demeanor. Am I proud of my mad lying skills? Why yes I am. It's why I make the big bucks. Like Harvey Keitel's character as the "Cleaner" in "Point of No Return", it's why the head honchos like to drop the things in my lap that everyone else has fucked up almost beyond repair. It's pretty simple really. The person who is being handled just needs to feel that everything is under control. The buck stops here. Most people don't really care why something went wrong. They don't need to know that the new person working in the production lab doesn't know how to use the pH meter. "Yes, sorry you lost 1000 rare orchid samples from the Amazon because the new guy calibrated the pH meter with orange juice and made everything pH 2. We are going to train him on how to read instructions later today." They don't need to know that the product is on backorder because the person who knew how to make it was fired last week and no one can find the protocol. "We're sorry your project is now at a stand still and your grant deadline is rapidly approaching while the product you so carefully validated for your study is still on backorder. The person we fired won't return our calls and no one else can seem to get the protocol to work." People don't really need to know these details. They just want to be heard and then want you to agree that this is outrageous and unacceptable, and then they want you to perform a miracle- such as tell them how they can miraculously rescue 1000 ruined irreplaceable samples after soaking them at pH 2. Well, most of the lies told in biotech are not as serious as the examples mentioned above. Usually they are more of the little white variety, more like a variation of the truth that is a little easier to swallow. What kind of doublespeak are we using with customers in biotech? I came up with a short list of some of the more common ones below. Any of these sound familiar? This: Sorry I didn't get back to you yesterday. I was out of the office and am just catching up on my emails. Really means: We are scrambling internally to figure out our story and I needed to stall. This: This product is on backorder. We'll have a fresh lot coming any day, as soon as it's ready we'll let you know. Really means: It won't pass QC and no one can figure out why. We're trying to find a Ph.D. from R&D who might have a clue. This: This product is so popular, that it is on backorder again. Really means: The product manager is a moron who couldn't forecast the weather if they were standing in a rainstorm. or Someone in marketing had the idiotic idea for a promo that gives away free kits so now people who want to actually buy them can't. This: We're not really sure what's wrong so we'll just send you a new one. Really means: We know damn well what is wrong and if you hadn't called us, we wouldn't have figured it out before the entire lot shipped out to more customers. Thanks for being our back up QC. This: You should place an order now because these are selling fast and we'll run out. Really means: We were afraid no one would buy it so we built a very small lot so it wouldn't expire sitting on the shelf. This: We haven't tried it for that sample type but I'll give you a free product to try it if you let us know how it works. Really means: R&D doesn't want to do the experiment for marketing so we have to beg customers to do it. We'll give you a free product (that cost us $40) in exchange for a $2000 experiment. Thanks. This: It should work very well for that sample type. Really means: I have no idea if it works for that sample type. This: I need to get approval from my manager to give you more discount. Really means: We are checking your order history to see if you actually spend enough money to justify the time being spent on you. If not, then we are checking to see if your lab's reputation is of value for future PR or endorsing products. This: I'm sorry but we can't offer discounts on this line of products. Really means: We know you'll buy it anyway. You have no choice because you validated it in your protocol, so why should we take less money now? This: If you will increase your order by the end of the month, we can extend your discount to x. Really means: I'm not going to make quota this month, my manager is breathing down my neck, and you are my only hope for getting any commission this quarter. ******** These are just some examples I came up with but, by all means, not an exhaustive list. If I think of any more, I'll add it on later. What about you? Any smooth talkers out there want to share their doublespeak? What are some of your favorite cover-ups?
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Wow, I am amazed that you take pride in misleading people. I am a VP of Sales at a small biotech supplier, MIDSCI. If I found out one of my reps was lying they would be gone and have been in the past. We depend on that relationship to be an open, honest, and mutually beneficial one.
Do things go wrong? Yes, but dishonesty will ultimately make things worse. What is true in personal relationship is true in business ones as well. We can't be everything to everyone; no one can. To admit that frees me to do what I can, when I can, and for whom I can.
Remember what goes around comes around. You treat people is how you will be treated as a consumer.
VP of Sales
Scott the game changes when you run with big boys of biotech (ABI, Bio-Rad, Invitrogen, Thermo, etc.). They are selling so much that cultivating relationships takes a backseat to maintaining marketshare and profits. I mean Invitrogen will not shit themselves if they lose our lab's business, they have an ample amount of clients. However, I will say that there exists people in those large businesses that do care. For instance I purchased a bottle of hygromycin for antibiotic selection from one of the big name dudes. The stuff was trash and couldn't even kill cells without the selection marker. I phoned them up to bitch, I got a new bottle for free and they told me they would trash the lot and replace others who had gotten bottles from that lot. And you know how I know they did it, I bitched to my buddy at another uni about the issue a few months later and the company had sent them a notice and replaced his bottle for free.
People lie. I lie when I tell you look nice when it looks like you just woke up on a cold bathroom floor after a coed softball team ran a train on you. I lie at seminars when nod my head at your point when I think its utter and complete bullshit. Everybody lies. Do I care if they say something is backordered to give them time to work out QC conditions? No. The end result is I can't get my hands on the stuff and that is all that matters to me.
Or to not be so shameless in trying to plug your company.
Recently I quit working for biotech. Among other things, I became sick of lying to customers. Its a sad thought to know that salespeople are out there "stealing" tax dollars (as most labs are funded by our taxes), wasting researcher's time (students wonder why they graduate in 6-7 years), and slowing the progress of science.
You're right, most of those lies make no difference. The incompetencies of any company can be expected and researchers don't need to know WHY a product is backordered, just that it is. One lie has always annoyed me though. This is unjustified and the worst on your list:
This: It should work very well for that sample type.
Really means: I have no idea if it works for that sample type
When their experiment fails, time, money and morale are all wasted. How are you proud of this?
I didn't say all of these "white lies" were mine. Save your judgemental self-righteous attitude for someone else, thank you.
I would give the product free to a person who wanted to try it out first on a non-critical sample. Most grad students like to try things for themselves and don't take the word of marketing without data. And many grad students are bright enough to figure out applications with a product that a company had never thought of or didn't know they could do.
Having been in the position of grad student and postdoc and having struggled to get homebrew methods to work and commercial kits to work, I go far out of my way to ensure everyone has success now.
And I never blamed sales people for my struggles in the lab. I take responsibility for myself.
Congrats on changing your image for 2011.
It is not just about the customers, that is mostly happening in other occasions too.