The Breakup Shop’s Phone Call: 9 Tone Deaf Moments in 2.5 Minutes

An outsourced breakup phone call isn't a sales opportunity

"If only someone else would've made the phone call..." (Photo: Barbara Willi / Creative Commons)

“If only someone else would’ve made the phone call…” (Photo: Barbara Willi / Creative Commons)

The Uber for breakups service, The Breakup Shop, is a solid idea. The company will end whatever relationship you are in for you, via text, letter or phone call. We live in a conflict averse era. Ask yourself the last time someone actually said a clear “no” to you, rather than dancing around whatever question you asked. Or when you delivered a clear negative. It’s rare. I know, because when I do it, my interlocutors act like they’ve been shot.

So if people in the West are too decadent to take responsibility for their decisions to leave people they showed love to, why shouldn’t someone profit off of optimizing rejection after acceptance (that is, breakups)? Anyone who uses this service is, granted, a weakling, but there are more than enough weaklings out there to make someone rich.

So, fine.

But it should be done excellently, and, in this instance, excellence would be shown in the service’s humanity.

But the new story from Motherboard that gave the service a spin revealed an incredibly bad user experience. Smart entrepreneurs focus early on doing one thing really well, and the thing they need to do is deliver excellent breakups. The company should have but one product: the breakup phone call.

Unfortunately, their phone call is really terrible. I’ll break it down for you below. The Observer reached out to The Breakup Shop and asked the team to give us a call to talk it through. “Evan” (the founders refused to let Motherboard, or the Observer, use their full names, which is a junior varsity move for a company taking on such a weighty responsibility) replied via email with the following:

We have made efforts to improve our calls in the future. Specifically with custom messages that we allow our customers to send us, we are taking extra care to ensure they understand what we will be conveying to the breakup recipient. As well, we will soon be introducing a rating system for our team of Heartbreakers to ensure that all calls are high quality and meet the customer’s needs and expectations.

The company has nowhere to go but up. Here’s the 2:25 call, via Soundcloud. After which, you will see my second-by-second analysis.

OK, here we go. Moment by moment:

    • 0:03 This is the only good moment. The caller introduces himself right away and says the name of the business. This is an essential piece of transparency. They have to do this. This will be the last positive thing I write.
    • 0:10 The ‘can you hear me all right’ preliminaries. The sound quality on his voice is not fantastic, but that could be the way the reporter recorded it. I’m worried The Breakup Shop is using mobile phones. That would be too bad. Landlines really are better, and if you’re going to start a business wrecking other people’s lives, you at least owe them the best possible connection while you do it. I can’t say for sure, but this sure sounds like a mobile-to-mobile call. Please, use landlines.
    • 0:16 Caller. “So, uh, Angela, I’m calling on behalf of Emanuel.” There is a distinct quality of hesitant upspeak here. The company needs to be strong and confident in this moment. You are doing a job. Do it. Communicate certainty to the person your client hired you to communicate with.
    • 0:22 Caller. “Emanuel has actually ordered a breakup through us, [unintelligible] the purpose of our call today.” Here’s where it irretrievably falls apart. The company fails to credentialize itself at this moment as being clients of the writer of the story. They need something in their script here that would communicate some level of intimate knowledge. Otherwise, how can the person getting dumped know this is for real? They need to offer some piece of information that shows they got this request from the person’s partner. They should say something like, “I’m calling you because Emanuel got to thinking after the two of you went to Olive Garden on Saturday, and he hired us to tell you what he thought.” It doesn’t have to be a lot, but they need something here to make it indisputably real. Without that, the company could be turned into emotional SWATters. Furthermore, this point also captures why the “breakup text” service should be dropped. Again, it lacks credibility.
    • 0:39 Recipient. “I’m sorry, what do you mean? … Hello?” The funny thing here is that the woman being dumped knew this call was coming. She also knew that she wasn’t being dumped, but the whole conversation is being handled with such emotional flaccidity by the company that—even though she knows what’s going on—she loses confidence. You can tell she’s not really sure what to say, and that’s because the caller, the person who is supposed to be leading this dance, isn’t leading with confidence.
    • 0:45 Caller. Three second pause, then “He wanted us to call you and, and let you know that he’s … ending his relationship.” Are you guys sure that’s what Emanuel asked you to do? Because you sure don’t sound like it.
    • 0:55 Caller. “He also wanted me, umm, he told us that…” Based on the Motherboard account, he didn’t specifically request that the company say anything about why. They asked him for reasons, so he gave them a few things he and his girlfriend joke about as issues. (Honestly, I thought he was a little crazy for doing this. If I had done this fake trial with a real significant other, I would have given ridiculous reasons, like “your pet gorilla” and “the way you use eye shadow on your belly button” and “the way you keep talking as if you seriously expect me to listen.” Funny stuff.) Yet, she didn’t ask. She didn’t even get a chance to. They simply volunteered it.
    • 1:00 Caller. “He told us that you’ve been pressuring him into marriage…” Honestly, forget what I wrote at 0:55, because here’s the larger point: a moment for compassion is critically needed at this part of the call. Following the breakup line, the caller should say something like: “So he wants you to know this is it. I’m really sorry to deliver this news to you. Are you OK?” The recipient needs a moment here. The caller should be ready to take a long pause. Ready to listen. Ready to offer therapist speak that indicates pure listening and compassion. It won’t take long. Then, critically, the caller should ask, “He offered us some reasons for the breakup. Would you like to hear them?” Full stop. Pause. Wait for an answer. It might take a second. If the answer is “No,” then thank the person for their time.
    • 1:22 Recipient. “Uh-huh… OK, do you have any…” And then the caller interrupts her, pointlessly telling her that he thinks the points he just rattled off from Emanuel were issues she could work on for next time. Are you kidding me? There is no place for judgment. If the recipient says they want to hear the issues, the caller should read them off with compassion, and then wrap it up, with some finalizing statement like, “That’s what he told us. I’m afraid that’s all I know. Again, we’re sorry to be the ones to bring you this news.”
    • 1:42 Recipient. “Great… thank you so much for your advice.” Translation: “Hey, fuck you. A lot. Also, go to hell.” She’s rightfully offended here. The caller just told her ways she could improve herself, in the middle of a breakup, when he’s never met her. Let’s be clear, this anger isn’t because of the breakup. The recipient isn’t actually being dumped, and she knows it; she is angry because he is being inappropriate.
    • 1:48 Caller. “You’re probably a little bit upset, umm, so I do want to let you know that the Breakup Shop does have a gift shop.” They just told this woman that her boyfriend left her, and now they are selling her stuff? Are you kidding. Not only is this the worst possible moment for upselling, the company has forgotten who its client is. Its client is the boyfriend, the one leaving. They need to deliver him excellent service by breaking up with his girlfriend on his behalf in a humane way. There is very little chance that the person getting dumped is ever going to view The Breakup Shop as a service to use in the future, based on this experience. If she were, though, it would only because she was impressed at how well the company handled the call. Offering to sell her a Netflix gift card at the moment her world has fallen apart is not going to make her feel that way.
    • 1:54 Caller. “…for anyone that has been recently dumped.” Yes, that’s right: the caller just used the most negative euphemism for getting left in a breakup call, ‘dumped.’ It’s so emotionally tone deaf that at this point the caller would be right to assume it was a prank phone call.
    • 2:08 Caller. “So you can find us online, we’re at” Recipient. “Great, that sounds obviously like not something I’m going to be doing.” You go, girl.
    • 2:15 Recipient. “Have a wonderful day.” Translation: “Did I say fuck you? ‘Cuz fuck you.”

A part of me wants to report this company to The Hague, just to see if they had anything to say about this phone call. Is it a human rights violation? I don’t have time to call Amnesty International this afternoon, but I could make that argument.

If I were going to offer add-on services here, they would be to the client, the one leaving. I’d offer breakup consulting, for people who are pretty sure that he or she should leave their partner, but don’t have the nerve to do it yet; when you just need a little push. My service would strictly advise leaving, under any circumstances. If you called us and paid our fee, I’d assume you were almost there. For example, I might say:

Listen, grandma, it doesn’t matter that you’ve been with grandpa 37 years. Whether or not you can find someone else, that’s the wrong question. The right question is: can you finally have a chance to be you?

Breakups are one of the most emotionally rich times in a person’s life. Rejections are a Ford Fiesta. Breakups are a Rolls-Royce. You aren’t open when you’re in love. You’re closed. You aren’t asking questions; you think you’ve found the answer. When you get left, your whole soul opens. Every pore of you is a looking for a good reason why, for closure. The nerve endings most attuned to that hunting are the ones in your ears. That’s why, in the ears of someone that’s been left, Top 40 music turns from empty sounding background muzak to ballads rich with insight, as if those songs were akin to Aristotle’s voice as he walks with his students outside the Lyceum.

In fact, that’s what I always tell people after a breakup. I say, “I’m sorry, but on the bright side, your music collection is going to sound amazing for a while.” It almost always brightens them up for a moment, because they identify, because I’ve been there, because it does.

And that moment begins, explosively, when the other person hears the words of a breakup spoken. A breakup is the closest a person gets to feeling what it’s like to die without actually dying; it’s a near-life experience.  If the person doing the leaving doesn’t have the guts to do it, the person getting left still deserves to hear it done well.

The Breakup Shop’s Phone Call: 9 Tone Deaf Moments in 2.5 Minutes