Operators Are Standing By
"...and if lines are busy, call again."
Yet another phrase heard in direct sale advertisements. If they're flashing a phone number on the screen, then you can bet you will be told that the operators are standing by, waiting for you to give their drab, dull lives meaning.
It implies (without ever actually saying it) that the offer is only for a limited time, and that those operators may stop
standing by at any moment, so you'd better get your order in right now
. In fact, some of these advertisements actually include a ticking clock, suggesting that once the ad or paid program is over, nobody will be there to take your call. There will be, of course; since commercials can be seen these days at any time of the day or night, order desks are generally staffed continuously.
Actual research determined that the phrase had the opposite effect. If operators are "standing by", that must be because they don't spend very much time actually answering the phones and taking orders, because not many people are ordering the product. The phrase "If lines are busy, please keep trying" was found to work much better. If lines are busy, then the company must be swamped with orders because the product is so great. (This allows the vendor to theoretically hire fewer agents, which not only reduces the seller's overhead costs, but also their apparent "supply", which — when coupled with the lack of contradictions at the customer's end of the phone line
— make the product seem more valuable
Technically these commercials are usually incorrectly phrased. In telephone terms, an "operator" is a person who takes a call to redirect it to someone else. A person who actually takes a call to process it themselves is an "agent," and thus, they should be saying that "agents are standing by" rather than operators. However, the term "agent" is relatively modern, at least in this definition, and the average infomercial customer is over forty and is more likely to associate the word "agent" with "KGB" or "Maxwell Smart
" than with "order clerk".