A little telephone etiquette wouldn’t go amiss
Three stories caught my eye this week: the first involves my absolute hero, a rail passenger who became so sick of some moron yabbering loudly on his mobile that he grabbed the handset and chucked it out of the window, before asking: “How much do I owe you for the phone?”
I used to have a fairly romantic view of train traveI – flying along at 70mph, twisting and turning through beautiful countryside, racing past villages and towns, sipping delicious coffee, watching cows and sheep grazing in the fields, as the massive machine rattles back to the future. Now, I am always seated next to a mobile nuisance, a shouter. It seems that so many people have their mobiles glued to their ears 24/7. And they never have anything interesting to say. All you ever hear from the mobile nuisance is their side of the story. It’s cut-price eavesdropping and very unsatisfactory.
The second story concerned a train guard on a journey from Milton Keynes to London who made the following intercom announcement: “Would the woman in First Class please refrain from shouting on her phone as she is annoying other passengers.” The third story involved an equally moronic mobile nuisance who had the cheek, given all the warnings, to use his phone while driving. When stopped by the police, the driver mumbled: “It was my ex-wife harassing me. Could you speak to her for me?” This example was included in a list of weak excuses used by motorists as part of a road safety campaign.
I hate the telephone, in all its forms. And, no matter where you are – whether it’s at dinner in a restaurant, chatting in the street or waiting at the school gates, the ring of a mobile phone changes everything, immediately. The telephone is an intruder. It bursts into your life uninvited, at any time of the day or night, paying absolutely no heed to whatever you happen to be doing at the time. At home, you can, at least, pretend to be out, but with mobiles, there is no escape. That – need I remind you – is the whole point of a mobile. It goes everywhere with you. People forget their manners the minute they get on the blower. They go on and on, without even stopping to draw breath. You could put down the receiver, go off and make a coffee; even a three-course meal and they’d still be chuntering on when you got back.
There simply is no telephone etiquette. You can be deep in conversation with someone and, all of a sudden, that noisy, insolent little instrument in their pocket or yours will blast out the William Tell Overture. We have all come across the shopkeeper who chats on his mobile phone while you’re standing there trying to give him business, or, the friend who invited you out to dinner, who keeps texting a pal while you are in the middle of sharing your deepest thoughts. Remember, when you were a child, your parents used to say, don’t interrupt while other people are talking. Nowadays, the mobile phone does the interrupting for you.
Whatever happened to human contact?
Is there anyone out there who actually prefers communicating with a machine over a human voice? The most irritating phrase on the planet, it is: “Sorry but I just have to take this”… The second most irritating phrase is: “Sorry we can’t come to the phone right now” – that oh-so-familiar, insincere, pre-recorded message. There follows a lengthy explanation of why someone can’t come to the phone. Who cares? Do people really have to list their activities for every Tom, Dick or Harry who calls? “I’m sorry, I can’t answer the phone because “I am washing my hair,” or, “sitting on the couch stuffing my face with horsemeat burgers.” Not content with just asking you to leave a message, they then dictate what your message has to say. It goes: “Please leave a message after the tone, giving your name, phone number, the approximate time you called and your reason for calling. “If it is urgent, please call me on my mobile” – more wasted time while they leave that number as well.
Every time you phone a business these days, you connect with a call centre where some over-familiar twerp says, parrot fashion: ‘Hi, you’re speaking to Kylie, how can I help you?’ How is it that banks, credit card and insurance companies are so desperately keen to take our money yet will do just about anything to avoid speaking to us – the very customers who keep them in business? It is an incredible cheek. When you phone a multinational, hoping against hope to speak to a real person, all you get is the dreaded recorded message – explaining all the options available to help you reach the person you want more quickly. Of course, you have nothing better to do than faff about all day, pressing the star button, keying in your customer number, trying to remember the number you first thought of, doubling it and clicking your next option. What fun. You hang on then a few minutes later, the same irritating voice is back telling you that, sorry, all the customer service advisers are busy at the moment, taking afternoon tea, whatever, and your call has been placed in a queue. Effectively, they’re saying: “I am going to punish you by putting you on hold – for the rest of your life.” Corporate messages always start with something like: ‘You have reached the office of J. Arthur Pilkington Smythe. Your call is important to us” – my ar*e – “and we are so sorry to have missed you on this occasion. If you leave a message, we will call you back.’ If a firm is that successful, why can’t they afford to staff their phones instead of using machines?
There is no end to the daft instructions on some company answering machines – messages such as: “If you are not a customer of Bloggs International, press 3, if you are an existing customer, press 5. If you think you know the extension of your Great Aunt Maud, press 7. And so on.” Funny how there never seems to be an option for the specific query you have. Nor is there ever an option which says if you are a new customer and are being driven to the edge of insanity by this call, press 9. Just how many times have you hung up the phone, sick of waiting to be connected to that elusive human being? The more people who hang up, the fewer call centre advisers are required and the more profits can soar – especially if the call centre is on the other side of the world where staff are paid a pittance anyway.
They tell you that you call may be monitored for training purposes, a polite way of saying, do not lose your temper because, if you do, we will come and get you.
Article focus: telephone etiquette