Return calls for profit, politeness

    I got back to the office late one afternoon last week. I looked in my telephone message box and, happily, there were three messages.
   Three people who wanted me.
   Never mind that one was from my wife and another from my mother. It was the third one that mattered Ė a name I didnít even recognize, a stranger who took the time to call me.
    I looked at the return number. It had an area code I didnít recognize, obviously far away. There was no company name. I immediately guessed it was a cold call from one of those investment guys that insist on making my future financially secure.
    I was 99 percent certain, but I returned the call anyway, for two reasons: 1) the 1 percent change it might be someone I actually wanted to talk to and 2) I always return phone calls.
   When the receptionist answered with the name of the company, a recognized brokerage house, I knew the 99 percent guess was on target. Still, I asked for the caller, who was amazed to learn I returned his call only to tell him I wasnít interested in his investments and never would be.
   There was one other reason I returned that call. On another day last week I got to the office and made five phone calls. None of the five people I was trying to reach was available. So I left a message asking them to call and sat back and waited.
   Not one of them returned the call.
   Never mind that one of them was my mother. I can handle that. It was the three business calls I made that were unreturned that was so irritating.
   Iíve never quite understood why people donít return phone calls. The standard answer, of course, is that they have been so busy they just havenít had the time.
   While that is certainly true in the short-term, and very understandable, Iím talking about people who simply ignore phone messages, knowing that the person will call again. And again. And again, until they catch you at the right time.
   And thatís just plain rude.
   Everyone has run into people like that at some time in their business career. I know Iíve run into far too many. My guess is that they simply crave attention, that their egos are soothed by the thought that there are people out there who want them. And if they can prolong the quest, all the better.
   Sure theyíre busy. But most times the phone conversation, if it finally happens, consists of a quick question and answer and lasts less than two minutes. Show me someone who canít spare a couple of minutes and Iíll show you someone who could use a course in time management.
   Most people arenít serious offenders. They may not return the cold calls from stockbrokers in New York, like I do, but they generally find time within 24 hours to return calls from the names they recognize.
   Itís the habitual offenders that need a good swat on the fanny. If you donít catch them at the right time, you donít catch them. They think you have nothing better to do than dial their number 16 times a day with the faint hope theyíll be available.
   And their poor receptionists. Some are as belligerent as their boss, but most are apologetic, promising to do their best to get the big buffoon to call you back.
   They rarely succeed.
   Finally, when I call the 17th time, the receptionist is on a break and Mr. Bigwig reluctantly picks up the phone. The conversation always goes like this.
   Me: Mr. Bigwig, hi, itís Nick Hoppe.
   Mr. Big Wig: (Pause while he realizes heís trapped) Nick! How the hell are you! Geez, I think I have a message here to call you (rustling of papers). Iíve just been swamped.
   Me: Yeah, I know. Iíve been trying to reach you for two weeks. You sure are a busy guy.
   Mr. Bigwig: Yeah, itís been a real busy time. Busy, busy, busy. How are you doing?
   Me: Iíve been busy , too (you arrogant noodlebrain).
   Mr. Bigwig: Good. So what can I do for you?
   Me: Oh, not much. I just wanted to tell you that I learned two weeks ago that your bookkeeper is embezzling $100,000 per day from your account.
   Mr. Bigwig: My god, Iím ruined! Why did you wait so long to tell me?
   Me: (suppressing a smile) Just luck.
   Anyway, thatís how those conversations should go.


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