Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How Not to Use the Telephone

My late father started working for Northwestern Bell Telephone Company (later USWest, currently Qwest) when he was in high school, retiring from it nearly 40 years later. He was quite the stickler for proper phone etiquette, and I guess I must have inherited some of that from him, for I find that instances such as one that occurred a few minutes ago really tick me off.

The phone rings. Being involved in some important TV watching, I ignore it. Four rings, then on to the answering machine. But then it immediately rings again, so I go to see what's so blasted important. The Caller ID box for both calls (spaced one minute apart) says JPMorgan Chase, an outfit that I haven't done business with in some years and am in no hurry to deal with again. But there's a message from the second call, so I dutifully listen to it. A woman who speaks so quickly that I can't catch her name nor the company she claims to be with is calling for someone who doesn't live at this address (same last name, different first name) regarding "this matter that has been brought to my attention." She rattles off a phone number--not the one from which the call originated, which was 713-750-2005, but rather an 800 number--and then hangs up.

Of course my first inclination is to ignore it, but having had tangled dealings with Chase in the past I decide to follow up. I play back the message.

And again.

And again.

And several more times.

I come up with this:

Caller's name: Absolutely impossible to catch. Sort of sounds like "Ess." She has an accent but that's not the issue; the issue is that she talks too rapidly and ignores the first rule of phone etiquette, viz., speak clearly. Also the second rule, which is to repeat and spell out things that are important. Like your name.

Callback number: Well, the 800 part is clear enough. The prefix sounds like 3-8, but that can't be right; I guess it must be 3-8-8. Then maybe 4-2-2-7. Or (on subsequent listens) 4-2-2-4. She disconnects so quickly after rattling off the number once (see second rule, above) that it's next to impossible to say. In fact, it isn't next to impossible, it is impossible.

Company name: Chase something. Chase Auto Client? That doesn't make any sense.

By then my wife has come to see what the hoo-hah is about. She can't catch the woman's name either, and her guess for phone number is 4-2-2-4. I Google both 4-2-2-7 and 4-2-2-4; nothing on the former, and something called GAC International for the latter. I dial it, and get a menu: Press 1 for Imports; press 2 for Exports; press 3 for Accounting... Not too promising. I press * to speak to a person and get voicemail. Clearly not where I want to be.

I then try dialing the 713 number from which the calls originated, but of course that produces only a busy signal. Call centers almost never allow for incoming calls.

Back to Google. I type in Chase Au, and immediately Chase Auto Finance pops up. That seems promising. I go to their website, but there's nothing useful there.

I search Google for the 713 number, and read several irate entries at a couple of caller-complaint sites (my favorite: "These idiots keep calling me at my office phone, when I repeatedly tell them that the person they are looking for hasn't worked here in at least 12 months."), which in addition to being entertaining also unearths a slightly different 800 number, 388-4223. Close enough, I figure, and dial it.


After pushing a few buttons, I'm speaking with a nice woman. I tell her there's this message on my machine, I can't make out the name of the woman who called but she's asking for someone and there's no one here by that name. She asks me how long we've had this number.

"Well, let's see--since 1985, so, what, 24 years?"

And she says they must have misdialed and they'll check their records to make sure they don't call here again, etc. I don't go into the niceties of telephone etiquette with her, since it's probably not her area (based on tonight's evidence, it seems to be nobody's area) and I had no issues with her.

But one does wonder. This is not the first time I've had a call from a creditor or other business entity looking for someone else with the same last name or, on a couple of occasions, another person with the same name as me. Which always amazes me. I don't know about you, but whenever I've taken out a loan, or bought something of substance, or applied for anything, I've been required to give name, rank, serial number, blood sample, letter of reference from my Scoutmaster, etc., etc. And yet when these entities go looking for someone (I assume somebody named Reynolds owes Chase Auto Finance some money), it seems they merely stick a pin in the phone book and call whoever they land on. I mean, presumably you have the guy's SSN, yes? And I'm under the impression that these big business outfits have all sorts of ways to track you down based on SSN. Certainly that's the case on all those television shows such as the one I didn't get to see the end of tonight, thanks to JPMorgan Chase.

So why do they always seem to employ these horse-and-buggy methods to track down their persons of interest?

Too bad I'm not teaching Business Communication this term. I'd use tonight's message as an example. A negative example, naturally.