The Trader: Tense times with a telltale tape

In our game, the customer is right only if they can prove they are

MY PALMS are clammy and it's hard to breathe properly. I'm not usually given to attacks of nerves, hardly a useful trait in a trader. But this is a nightmare, and I'm prepared to make an exception.

Anyway, who wouldn't be apprehensive if they were in a small room with no windows and only one feeble light, listening to a recording of their own voice. It sounds like a scene straight out of a television drama, except that I'm not being held prisoner here by some deranged man.

"I thought Rory was with you," Laura says when I tell her all about it later. "I mean, he's pretty deranged. And he certainly took you there against your will."

To be fair to Rory, we've no choice. I closed a deal, and now the customer is saying we agreed one thing and I'm saying we agreed another. If I'm wrong and the customer's right, I've dropped a sizeable sum of money. In our game the customer is right only if there's proof they're right. That's why every one of our phone calls is recorded, Big-Brother style. If something happens, you go back and listen to the tapes. I've had to do it twice, and both times I've been in the clear. But will I be lucky the third time?

It takes a while to find the right place in the tape, which leaves me plenty of time to fret. It would be bad enough if all we had to hear was the call in question. But I know that we're in danger of dropping in on some of the ones before it. That means a reprise of my rather sad message to Oliver's answering machine asking whether he's back from Peru yet, a quick chat with my mother to thank her for sending clean tea-towels, and an embarrassing call to the florist to order a bouquet for myself, because no one else sends them to me.

I'm so busy sweating I don't even notice we've found the right place on the tape. Ninety seconds later, I'm vindicated. The customer said yes when they should have said: "No, I may be being daft here, but I think I've given you the wrong information for pricing the deal." Total cost to customer for being unwilling to admit to daftness: $53,000.

For a second I'm glad to be right. Sadly, being right isn't always good for business. The customer will go away to lick their wounds, and may never return. If we could only say: "Oh forget about it, it's only $53,000", we'd have a friend for years.

But as far as the shareholders are concerned, it's jam today and bugger the long term.

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