This is a story about lying. It is also a story about the lengths people will go to when they can’t get the information they need.
It was time for me to purchase a new set of cordless phones for my home office. My needs were simple: I needed a handset that had both a headset jack and a mute button. This was not easy. The ones with the mute buttons had no headset jack. The ones with the headset jack had no mute button. The Panasonic website claimed that a couple of their new models had both, but there was a problem: no mute button in the product photos.
So I called Panasonic sales. The rep I spoke with confirmed what I already knew: mute feature with no visible button. She could not confirm anything else.
Meanwhile, I didn’t want to order the phone and then return it in disappointment. I wanted some pre-purchase reassurance. But she could not give me any. She had no access to detailed information about the product. So here’s what she told me: “Call the toll-free number and ask for tech support. Tell them you have owned the phone for two weeks — no, two months — no, two weeks. And then ask them about the mute button.”
“You want me to lie?” I asked.
“Why can’t you just call them and ask them?”
“Oh, I’m not allowed to call tech support. They wouldn’t even take my call.”
So I did it. I called and lied. And it still didn’t work.
“Of course, sir. I just need the serial number of the product.”
“Serial number? I don’t have that. I lost it.”
“You just need to look at the bottom of the phone and read me that number.”
“Oh, I can’t do that right now. The phone is…. In the other room. And I can’t go in there right now.”
What kind of fictional image was I conjuring? A sleeping child? And angry spouse? A ailing parent?
“We’ll, sir, I’m not permitted to provide you with support until I have confirmed your warrantee. To do that I will need your serial number.”
“I understand, ” I said, weakly. “But really, all I need to know is how or find the mute button. It says in the manual there is a mute button, but I can’t find it on the phone.”
“Sir, as I said I can’t help you until I’ve verified your warrantee… But I can tell you that the answer to your question is on page 18 in your manual.”
One more lie: “I think I lost the manual.”
“Have a nice day, sir.”