Bluff The Listener Our panelists tell three stories about struggling businesses improving customer service.

Bluff The Listener

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BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis, filling in for Carl Kasell. We're playing his week with Luke Burbank, Paula Poundstone and Faith Salie. And, here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago. Bring it on, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill.


SAGAL: Right now, it's time for the WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-Wait-Wait to play our game on the air. Hi, you're on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

BRYAN COOPER: Hi, this is Bryan Cooper, from Barrington, Rhode Island.

SAGAL: Hey, how are things in beautiful Barrington?

COOPER: It's been a beautiful day, just sunny and 80 degrees, picture perfect.

SAGAL: That's why everybody in Rhode Island is always so cheerful.



SAGAL: Well, welcome to the show, Bryan. You're going to play the game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Bill, what is Bryan's topic?

KURTIS: If you'd like a human you can curse at, Press 6.

SAGAL: It takes more than a great product and soul-crushing hold music to run a successful business. You've got to go the extra mile to make your customers happy. Our panelists are going to read you three stories of lagging businesses sprucing up their image and improving their customer service. Guess the real story and you'll win Carl Kasell's voice on your home answering machine or voicemail. Are you ready to play?

COOPER: I'm looking forward to it.

SAGAL: All right, here we go. First, let's hear from Luke Burbank.

LUKE BURBANK: Few things are more annoying than standing in the airport, shoeless, as a TSA person waves a wand over your crotchal regions. Well, the TSA is doing its best to rehab its image with a program it's calling "Trash to Treasures," which sends those oversized colognes, hair gels and butterfly knives to deserving people in impoverished countries.


BURBANK: Through the pilot program being tested at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport, travelers who sign up for emails can see their donated personal items and where they've ended up. A father in Mali who can spruce up his footwear because you tried to bring four ounces of shoe polish on your trip to Denver.


BURBANK: A young woman in Borneo who will finally get her first taste of a Rock Star energy drink, because you stupidly bought it on the wrong side of the security checkpoint. "I'll be honest," said traveler Rich Gazarian, "I was pretty ticked off when they took away my novelty switchblade comb, but then they emailed me that photo of an entire Uzbek family using it to prepare their hair for a traditional wedding ceremony."


BURBANK: "And it really changed my mind." The TSA says the items have been gratefully accepted. Everything, that is, except for that Tom's of Maine natural toothpaste. No one wants that, anywhere, ever.



SAGAL: The TSA sending seized goods to impoverished countries to improve their image. Your next story of a business trying to impress its clientele comes from Faith Salie.

FAITH SALIE: It's hard out there for a pirate. What with all the swashbuckling and stunt-casted marauding on the big screen, the little guys, the real hard working Somali pirates struggle to be taken seriously. Because hijackings are down 32 percent this year, Somali Free Booters have revamped their brand and are now sending polite form letters to their victims. By portraying themselves as solicitists, they hope for an efficient ransom exchange with little arrghument.


SALIE: It's as if their PR firm advised them "it's time to put the buck back in buccaneer." The pirates identify themselves with the catch acronym JPAG, standing for Jamal's Pirate Action Group, an acronym clearly focus grouped for the right combination of terror and reliability.

The letter starts out with the old chestnut "To whom it may concern," demonstrating a nice handle on the objective case. But Jamal's Pirates go downhill from there. "Congratulation to company/owner" it reads, cheerfully. Followed by, quote, "in order to fulfill my suggestion, you have to accept every step I want you to do it because of we have entitled to do everything if you do not obey."


SALIE: The pirates do recognize one tenant of good branding: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Every letter is stamped with a skull and crossed swords. Jamal likes to please his audience.


SAGAL: Somali pirates, sending polite congratulatory form letters to the owners of the ships that they hijack. And lastly a story of a bold attempt to improve customer service from Paula Poundstone.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: When a married client leaves Luanne's Love Loft just outside Reno, Nevada, they receive a gift bag chock full of goodies for the wife and kids at home. "Our goal is to really spread love," says the brothel's owner Becky Thatcher. "People didn't really understand that before, but since we've offered the gift bags, it's not so much slam bam thank you ma'am anymore, it's more like slam bam thank you ma'am, no, thank you, sir and your family."


POUNDSTONE: "I've been coming to Luanne's for years," says client John Smith.


POUNDSTONE: "But the guilt used to be very difficult to deal with. Now, with these high quality drawstring reusable Luanne's Love Loft gift bags, I feel great about coming."


POUNDSTONE: "Last week, not only did I feel satisfied as a man, but I was also able to give my wife a Zen garden and my daughter absolutely loved the plush toy."


POUNDSTONE: "If my son realized that for three visits or more, I could get him a game box, he'd insist I go for a week."



SAGAL: All right. Somebody out there with a poor reputation is trying to improve it by doing one of these things. Is it from Luke Burbank, the story of the TSA trying to show they're not doing such bad things, because they're showing pictures of all the seized goods being sent to needy people?

From Faith Salie, Somali pirates sending out nice form letters on letterhead, congratulating people on getting their ships hijacked?

Or from Paula Poundstone: a brothel in Nevada giving gift bags for the married guys to bring back to their wife and kids? Which of these is a real story of an improvement in customer service?

COOPER: I'm afraid I'm going to have to go with Paula's story.

SAGAL: You're going to pick Paula's story, which is about the brothel in Nevada, which is giving out gift bags, a Madame named Becky Thatcher is giving out gift bags.

COOPER: That's why I was surprised it was John Smith and not Tom Sawyer.

SAGAL: I understand.


SAGAL: All right, you've picked Paula's story. Well, we spoke to someone familiar with the real story.

ADAM MARTIN: My favorite part is that it's signed with the logo of the Pirate Action Group, which is a skull with two crossed swords under it over sort of a little boat.

SAGAL: That was Adam Martin. He's a reporter for the Atlantic's Wire Blog, talking about the memo from the pirates. As you now know, it was in fact Faith who was telling the truth and Paula who, well, came up with a wonderful idea.


SAGAL: And I hope somebody from the brothels in Nevada was listening.

POUNDSTONE: It could have been true.

COOPER: It wouldn't surprise me.

POUNDSTONE: It just happened to not be, but I do thank you for the point.

SAGAL: Yes, thank you for the point for Paula, which she gets for fooling you. And thank you so much for playing.

COOPER: Thank you; it's been a lot of fun.

SAGAL: It's been fun to have you.



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