Sunday, September 03, 2006

Permission Slips For "Silver Surfers"?

Sorry, Grandma: No Internet for you without a whippersnapper's OK.
After walking the Great Wall of China and making plans for a trip to Russia, Shirley Greening-Jackson thought signing up for a new internet service would be a doddle.

But the young man behind the counter had other ideas. He said she was barred - because she was too old.

The 75-year-old would only be allowed to sign the forms for the Carphone Warehouse's TalkTalk phone and broadband package if she was accompanied by a younger member of her family who could explain the small print to her.

Mrs Greening-Jackson, who sits on the board of several charities, said: "I was absolutely furious. The young man said, 'Sorry, you're over 70. It's company policy. We don't sign anyone up who is over 70.'

"Later a young lady said company policy is that anyone over 70 might not understand the contract. She said, 'If you would be prepared to go to the shop in town and take a younger member of your family we might give you a contract.'

Gosh, whatever happened to 70 being the new 50, or 60, or whatever? More to the point, whatever happened to the simple notion of dignity?

Sure, there are some older people who are vulnerable and therefore need to be protected. In fact, the article makes reference to the fact that the policy was the result of "complaints that staff had mis-sold products last year."*** But this approach seems a bit extreme and a lot broad-brush, not to mention insulting in its implementation: I mean, go get a younger member of your family and we "might" issue a contract? For one thing, that assumes that younger family members are necessarily more sensible or trustworthy than their elders, and that they themselves never take advantage [of their elder relatives or would be appropriate representatives of those interests].

(By the way: Interesting phrasing in the quote snippet that I followed with asterisks. What kind of complaints, and from whom? The customers themselves, or others? Were the--obviously--older customers independently verified as confused or incapable of reading "small print," or were second thoughts involved [on the part of the older customers, about wanting the service or the the terms of the contract, and thus a desire to get out of the latter]? Were the staff's selling tactics underhanded or misleading, in fact, and also only with respect to older people? And does "complaint" equate to threatened lawsuits, or something? [Above all, if workers were consistently exploiting seniors--which certainly could be possible--why not change training, revamp sales incentives, or simply fire the offenders? Not doing so certainly isn't worth the risk--as the story and threat of legislation demonstrates. Perhaps the profits were--in which case, details please.] Lots of holes in that there story. And a touch of cynicism here.)

Well, I don't know if legislation is really the answer, as the article suggests. That strikes me as being as much a blanket approach as the policy itself, and one that potentially can lead to a host of other problems. For example, the one that supposedly led to the policy itself: exploitation of vulnerable seniors who actually need protection.

What's wrong with--as my late grandmother would have said--a little common sense and some respect? A bit of the personal touch, based on individual situations?

Or are those concepts just a little too quaint, time-consuming and old-fangled?

Update: Please note: This post has been updated for clarity, which changes are enclosed in [] brackets, in this post's case.