Reprinted from June 1997
Way back in the ‘30s or ‘40s, the telephone was a magic instrument. Hanging on the wall with a crank, we could hear the voices of our loved ones miles away. We had to contend with party lines and lines down, but the contact we had with the world was worth it. Now, thanks to Judge Green, we have not one bill as we had back then, we have multiple bills, and the bills just keep going up. Just like every other store owner, I pay about five different bills, from a variety of sources having to do with the telephone. As if this isn’t enough, about ten times a week, I am distracted from my customers and work to respond to sales pitches with all kinds of offers.
Let me give you a sample my day:
“I’d like to speak to the person who handles your long distance telephone decisions.”
It doesn’t matter what you say here. If you are civil, you going to be pushed, and if you are rude, you are going to be pushed. When these folks call me it is as if they picture my little store as a big jeweler with a switchboard and the operator routing the call to some office where an executive will happily respond. There are no executives here.
Yesterday, when someone called, I was scrubbing the sink in the bathroom. They are full of suggestions and claims:
“Would you like to save 25% on your long distance bills?” This is another call which could only lead to trouble. If you say “yes,” they are going to give you a 15-minute pitch. If you say “no,” they ask why. We are with Southwestern Bell and now other companies call so cleverly and ask, “May I speak to the person who handles your Southwestern Bell account?” I have learned to say “no” or “what about?”
Last week, we bantered words back and forth, as I sought to establish who it was that was calling. On Christmas Eve, this same pitchman called and suggested he was with our own telephone company. I recall I was pretty annoyed and said, “You call me on one of the busiest days in retail business to ask me dumb questions like these?” I think I shocked him and he didn’t call back for almost three days.
I get a bill every month from Lucent, and I’m not really sure what it covers. We own our own telephones, so I suppose it has something to do with maintenance.
A couple of weeks ago, some fast talking women called and said, “Is this Martha Williams?”
“Is this Ben Williams Jewelers?”
“Is your address 1206 A McRae?”
“And you’ve been at this address X many years?”
“And you have 5 incoming lines?”
At this point I said, “Who is this?”
She said, “Lucent” and I said, “Why on earth are you asking me all these stupid questions. You know where we are, what we do, how many phones we have. You have known this as long as I’ve written you checks, and by golly, you’ve cashed every single check. Now I want to know what it is you do? Where are you located? What do you want?”
She hesitated and explained they maintain our phones. I responded, “I am paying this fee just in case I need a phone fixed? No one has ever sent me an explanation of your services and I’ve never used it. Take it out.” I think she was horrified.
I’m not even sold on the yellow page advertising either. The bigger the ad, the less impressive the store it seems. I recall once Ben and I were in Dallas and he decided to look into toupees and he took a taxi to a place advertised on a full page in phone book. It turned out to be a little tiny store on a side street. Now, in today’s world, you see an ad with the name of someone suggesting they are in business in your city and you might be talking to someone 5 states away.
There are no more assurances you are dealing locally on anything you can order by telephone. If you do order a pizza from El Paso Pizza or some such name, you might have a pizza delivered from some remote area of your city, which was routed there by a telephone gimmick, which has bounced you all around the US to find some cleaver operator. Same thing with florists or anything purchased sight unseen over the phone.
To me, the telephone has become an enemy. It rings and one instantly thinks, “What now?”
I used to cringe and think, “Oh, I hope it isn’t Aunt Helen wanting me to take care of her cat for a week while she is out of town.” Now I wish it were old Aunt Helen.
I know when the caller ID reads out “unavailable” it is going to be a hassle. Or it could be a hassle. Sometimes it is one of the people we do business with or we’ve come to know and like and they call to see if we need anything. Realizing business is bad for them, too, I can’t blame them for trying.
I think what annoys me the most are the people selling telephone services. Their claims and methods, choice of words, etc. are deceptive. They inflate and mislead the sucker who allows the caller to stay on the line and respond to stupid questions.
In a series of calls which annoyed me, I demanded to know who was at the bottom of the pile. Who was paying for the telemarketing scheme? It turned out to be American Express. Or that’s what I was finally told.
I asked them to remove my number from their list. Since I have five lines, I suppose I’ll go through this four more times. If I add up all the time spent handling phone pitch people, I come out in the minus for the week, I feel am no longer in the jewelry business - I am a call responder. The telephone is supposed to be for the convenience of your customers and you, but it is really a lure, a lure for every potential telephone service out there, and there are many.
I long for the olden days when we hand cranked the phone to hear a human voice. I also long for the days to come when caller ID positively tells you exactly who it is on the other end. I think they call these marketing schemes competition, which is supposed to bring down the price of everything, but I call it intrusion.
I love the FAX. There is no argument with a FAX. Like the olden days, you put something in a machine slot and the next day a package appears at your door, just what you ordered. This is almost as good as the old telephone with the hand crank which produced grandma on the other end!
The people who call to telemarket telephone services have a motto: “You can fool part of the people all of the time, which is enough to make it financially worth while.”