If you're hard of hearing, press 8

If you're hard of hearing, press 8

This week's subject is telephones. They're the lifeline of business, yet it's all too easy to get it wrong, losing more custom than you retain. How often do you hear people announce they'll "never call that company again".

As an example, when we run an overseas-sourced story about a US product, we like to include contact details of the Australian distributor, if there is one. If we can't find the information on the Internet and we don't have time for an e-mail, we'll call the company in the US to ask if it has an Australian distributor.

Where we used to get a friendly operator who could put us through in seconds, we now have to sit through a complicated explanation of who the company is, what the business hours are, how we can contact an employee if we know their extension, what numbers to push to reach every type of department we could possibly imagine (except the one we really want) and so on. Quite often we've wasted a minute or more just listening to this robot spiel.

Even assuming that we'll find the right department to ask, it's an exasperating experience, and one I'm sure you're all used to. If it's still business hours where I'm calling, I usually hit zero as soon as the greeting starts playing, trying to get direct to the operator. If that works, great. If it doesn't, sometimes I find myself listening to the main message, all over again. Sometimes I get connected to what seems to be a randomly allocated department. I've heard that some people dial a few random numbers as soon as they hear the greeting start, in the hope they'll stumble across a friendly person who'll just happen to know the right person to talk to.

Just the fax

But what happens if you ring after hours, and all you need to find out is the company's fax number because they don't have a Web page. The almost universal cry: "You have reached SilliLogix. Our office hours are 9 to 5 Mountain Twilight time. Please ring us back then." Doesn't tell me anything I don't already know, and even when you manage to get switched to the nightwatchman, he probably doesn't know the fax number either, so I have to go through the process of asking him if he can see a piece of paper with the company's details on it. Try ringing your own company sometimes . . . it's an education.

Before I finish, here's a plea for a little consistency in the way we announce phone numbers. Regardless of how nicely the numbers fall into unusual groups, just read them in two lots of four (plus area code if necessary), such as "oh two, nine five five five, nine eight four four".

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