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Monday, May 4, 2009

No cheese in your cheeseburger? That’ll be 10 cents

MANIC MUMMY

ON UNNECESSARY FRILLS

CLARA CHOW

I AM three months pregnant with my second child, which means that food cravings can hit me suddenly and hard.

Home alone and cashless late one night recently, I found myself hankering for a hamburger.

So I attempted to order one – with extra pickles, yums! – through a fast-food chain's delivery hotline. But as I was almost done, the nice young man who had taken my call informed me that they couldn't process my credit-card payment. Owing to a technical glitch, they were temporarily unable to take MasterCard and could accept only Visa, was the explanation.

Since I didn't have any other credit card, the hotline operator politely advised me to order online instead, as the company's website could and did accept MasterCard.

But there was another problem. Having learnt from previous hamburger cravings, I knew that the menu on the website did not offer the humble hamburger as an option, so it was not possible to order what I wanted online.

Any sane person would have given up and gone to bed hungry, but not me. I persisted and was finally told that if I really wanted a hamburger, I could order a cheeseburger online instead. And – most baffling – I could pay an extra 10 cents to have the cheese removed to transform it into (drum roll) a hamburger.

By then, friends were following my hamburger saga in real time through my Facebook status updates. What did a pregnant, nauseous, tired, hungry and grumpy woman have to do to get a simple hamburger in this town? Why did I have to pay more for something I didn't want and then be charged further for the "service" of having it removed?

In the end, I solved the problem by beseeching my brother to trudge over at midnight from his home in the next block to pay for my hamburger in cash.

The experience, however, got me thinking about how frilly our world has become. Even as the economy shrinks, companies are still urging us to buy things we don't need and then charging us more if we try to opt out.

"Want it!" screamed some sale banners in Saks, the venerable New York City department store, not long ago. But what if we don't?

I recently read in The New Paper about the situation of another frilled-out customer. He had signed up for a discounted package of channels from a cable-TV provider, only to find out after a few months that the company had scrapped the package.

Nevertheless, he was still obliged to ride out his two-year contract or risk paying a penalty for cancelling his account.

I put down the newspaper and went to check my cable-TV bill: I was in the same boat.

Marketing gurus and number-crunching bankers may snigger at my naivety, but I am desperately wondering what has happened to the good, honest, tried-and-proven business model of giving customers what they want.

In this recession, it might be more useful to cultivate customer loyalty with this strategy, rather than to rely on tactics like adding nonsensical frills to bump up profits. Push them hard enough and some customers – like me – would rather do without the product.

When it comes to that hamburger saga, it didn't matter in the end. Made capricious and crabby by pregnancy, I've lost my taste for hamburgers.

myp@sph.com.sg

From myPaper, My Lifestyle– Monday, 04-May-2009