.. Communications Breakdown

“Is this the party to whom I am speaking . . .”

Long distance telephone providers are responsible for the death of common courtesy in this country. I was raised to answer the telephone by identifying myself. But telephone solicitors have browbeaten me into the most crass of telephone manners out of self defense. I no longer offer callers any information when I pick up the receiver. My "hello" is vague enough to allow me to become almost anyone, from a ditzy spouse of the "decision maker" to hostile hired help. But most often it’s the prelude to a firm “no” followed by a hang-up.

A hang-up! I never imagined myself hanging up on anyone. What would my mother say?

Actually, she would appreciate the theatrics of my occasional role playing: “no, I can’t possibly subscribe to your video series, I’m about to declare bankruptcy.” Actually, the sympathy I’ve gotten from that one has almost made me feel guilty.

But the frequency of phone solicitation has become so frenzied that around here even the practice of yanking their chain has gone the way of the courteous answer. These days, if the caller ID doesn’t identify them I don’t pick up. If I’m near a phone with no ID display (rare since I have three displays) and find myself being asked if I’m "Susan Me ... Ma ... korskie?" I feel completely justified in answering “no” and hanging up.

During December, Time Life Books sales people called me twice a week. They kept telling me how I was enjoying something called Ancient Civilizations. They repeatedly called back to check up on my reading progress, until I angrily declared that I had not bought the book from them (which was true) and did not want to buy it or any other book from them. When I want a book I order it from Anazon.com. Amazingly, they haven’t called back. If only Gevalia would take the same hint.

To be fair, Gevalia is a little more justified in their persistance. I did, afterall, subscribe to their service a few years ago to get the free drip coffeemaker (a $49 value), then cancelled after a few months, having stockpiled two year’s worth of gourmet decaf coffee beans. I think I used the bankruptcy excuse. A year or so later I broke the carafe and couldn’t find one the same size at kitchen supply stores. So I called Gevalia to order a replacement, fully intending to pay for it. They didn’t have it in my color, and after a couple phone calls back and forth said sent me a whole new coffeemaker. I still haven’t resubscribed.

But the worst by far are the phone companies. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d be willing to listen to long distance plan options and pick one over the phone. Once years ago I asked a salesperson to fax me their plans. She explained that she was an independent contractor working from home and couldn’t fax me. That’s not my problem . Click

More recently an AT&T saleswoman rattled off a whole list of benefits before I could stop her. “Do you offer airline miles?” I asked. “Our market research has shown that airline miles is not the best way to serve our customers.” She replied. Not this customer, baby. Click.

I interrupted the most recent salesgirl (I use the term intentionally) who got through to me: “I’m not interested in switching my voice service, but to you offer DSL?” "I dunno, what’s that?" she countered. “It’s a high-speed connection for Internet access, and if you don’t know what it is then I’m wasting my time talking to you.” Click. I’m sure Mom would approve of that.

“One Ringy-Dingy, . . .”

My local phone company, Nynex which is now Bell Atlantic, sold me this absurd bundle of options that includes voice dialing and a second number on my main phone line that rings differently. In typical 90s managed market style, the whole package is the cheapest way to get the options I really want (voicemail, call waiting, caller ID). My office telephone has a huge number of (mostly unused) speed dial slots, and now my phone service offers me 50 more, in addition to 30 voice dial numbers. As if I'm ever going to program in and remember that many numbers! I can't even remember how to program the phone.

So they activated this new second number and within a couple hours it was ringing. Guess who called? A telephone solicitor!