Tuesday, April 21, 2009

While you're up

A few years ago I was working in a government department that had the responsibility for managing the medical treatment of injured workers.

The unit I was in was rapidly expanding due to the recent change of government which invariable led to paying expensive external consultants to come in and review, restructure, resize, redevelop and recycle old ideas as and repackage them as new initiatives. Whatever; it paid my mortgage and chocolate addiction and kept me relatively interested.

My cubicle was brand new with vestiges of plastic wrapping still taped to the edges and the technicians were still installing my new telephone line. After only a couple of hours surreptitiously popping the bubble wrap I’d stolen from the empty printer box under my desk, the phone rang.
“Good morning, this is the Medical and Allied Health Unit, Kath Lockett speaking.”
“Is this the Spicy Szechuan Home Delivery?”
“Er, no. I’m Kath Lockett, from the Medical and Allied Health Unit.”
“Can I have----“ (paper rustling as the caller presumably looked at the menu) “-----a serve of spring rolls, two Tom Yum soups, a satay chicken, steamed bok choy and fried rice?”
“Sorry mate, you’ve called the Medical and Allied Health Unit. What number did you dial?”
“What about a banquet for four, do you do that?”
“No sir. We are a GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT. We can help you get well and back to work, but can’t feed you lunch.”
“But I want to place an order and it says here that I get a free bag of prawn crackers and home delivery if my order is more than twenty five dollars---“
“I’m sure it does sir, but you’ve called the wrong number.”

Every professional recitation of “Good morning, this is the Medical and Allied Health Unit, Kath Lockett speaking,” greeting-with-a-smile-to-indicate-my-genuine-interest-in-providing-quality-customer-service phrase was wasted on fending off hungry callers wanting chilli beef stir fry and wontons within forty five minutes.

It was almost as though they didn’t want to *hear* that they’d somehow misdialled the number and that I wasn’t about to drop the urgent report I was working on and rustle up some dumplings and spicy squid instead. My voice had worn out; as had my patience.

“Good morning, this is the Medical and Allied Health Unit, Kath Lockett speaking.”
“Is this the Spicy Szechuan Home Delivery?”

Pause. Evil plan about to hatch. “Why yes, it is. What would you like?”
“I’d like three Thai fish cakes, a beef and black bean, Mongolian chicken and a large serve of steamed rice.”
“No worries sir. Where would you like that delivered.”

It felt so good to put the phone down. And unplug it before I left for home a few minutes later.

I've always hated answering telephones. This is a bit of a worry really, seeing as it has encompassed a major part of all the jobs I've held for the past twenty years.

Maybe that's why, when the phone rings at home, I do my utmost to avoid answering it. It doesn't matter that it's likely to be someone I know, love, like and have been dying to hear from, I hate the bloody phone. That plastic chirruping machine that insists on interrupting my free time at inopportune moments, requiring me to respond to its summons like a drone.

The overseas marketing call has now reached plague proportions here in Australia and has done a great deal of damage to my already tenuous willingness to answer the phone. You can tell straightaway - a fuzzy sound, several seconds pause, and a strong Indian accent saying, "Helloooo, is that Mrs...?" The only time I ever get called "Mrs" is during a papsmear or by a telemarketing maggot.

The old cliche of a woman on the phone to her mates for hours and hours seems very outdated to me. My friends are more likely to see the phone as another chore on their never-ever-completed list of things to do around the house - none of us see an hour-long chat after 8pm as something fun. A few of us - myself included - have admitted that we sometimes purposely call when we know that the person is not likely to be at home. This enables us to leave a brief but useful message on the phone without the lingering chitchat we'd all desperately like to avoid.

Sapphire, at age almost-ten is still quite happy to answer the phone and is more than willing to stop what she's doing to run towards the chirruping. Bless her sweet, still-mostly-innocent and helpful little heart. I guess it's only a matter of a few years between the childish exuberance of now to when all of the phone calls will be for her anyway.

The hours between 5:00pm and 8:30pm are when we are at our most frenetic. This is when the after school - bathtime - dog feeding - rabbit entertaining - homework - music practice - playdate hosting - meal cooking, eating, cleaning up, dishwasher packing - lunch next day making - tidying up - sorting through the mail - putting out the rubbish - watering the plants - jobs are completed - all done in order to spend the rest of our waking hours relatively inert and quiet. Therefore, after the 8:30pm deadline that is Sapphire's bedtime, my desire to be in any way sociable is completely non-existent.

I would much rather be on the lounge, watching a DVD or hoping that 'Spicks and Specks' is on; that Love Chunks has filled my glass with a zesty cab sav and we have a plate full of snapped chocolate squares between us. Bliss, sheer bliss and completely deserved (in our minds at least).

Of course, that is when the pharken phone decides to make itself heard. And it is then, that Love Chunks and I end up having a kind of verbal tousle over who has to get up and answer it:"While you're up...." "Nah, it's never for me, it'll be your brother...." "I'm in the middle of something here, can you get that?" "I answered it last time!"

Thankfully, we both win and lose on relatively equal occasions, but it's still gives me a tiny thrill when it is LC who sighs dramatically, reluctantly puts down his glass and slouches out to the kitchen. When I've lost the Who Answers the Phone battle, the irony is that when it's been quickly established that the call is indeed for me and is from someone I like, I am always happy to have a chat and smile for ages after we've hung up, saying to LC, "You know, I really need to call her more often...."


Baino said...

Our home phone was one digit different to the local pub! Used to get heaps of calls for the "Mean Fiddler" I guess I could have qualified to some degree but very annoying. I had it disconnected and now we just use voip or our mobiles. Get your name on the 'do not call' list. It doesn't stop you being hassled by politicians or charities but it does stop the Indian telemarketers. Chocolate and Cab Sav? Hmmmm interesting combo.

franzy said...

Great. Now I want Chinese food. Lots of it.

I reckon I never feel as smug as when I lose the phone answering battle and it's for Mele. Consequently, I'm often not as happy as I should be when it's for me ...

[You've now inspired a blog. Thank you!]

Benjamin Solah said...

Margo's the same. Though I'm adverse to answering the phone if I have an inkling it could be my parents.

River said...

I used to unplug the phone from the wall socket after dinner, then the Indians would start calling at noon, or 1-2pm when I was napping, so I'd unplug the phone as soon as I got home from work, now I have an answering machine so I just let it ring and the machine gets it. Mostly the computer is on so the phone line is inaccessible anyway. Anybody who needs to contact me can leave an email.
Lingering chit chat? I hate that. State your message and say goodbye.

ashleigh said...

Great, great post.

I feel much the same way. After many a shitty day at work the LAST thing I want is to spend time on the phone yakking. I have to talk a lot at work, and I'm a male. Once we use our quota of words / day, thats it. Talkings done. Thanks. Time for quiet.

I have a solution to the indian call centres. Silent number. Had one for nigh on 20 years now. Costs more, NEVER get called by bozos selling things. Never. Wonderful. For the extra 10 bucks a month and no hassles, its cheap.

At work, when TALKING to somebody or in a meeting and the phone rings, everybody springs to get it. I'm the wierdo, who everybody is stick of hearing, who says "you know something magical and special about a phone.... if you ignore it when it rings, after a while it stops. Isn't that amazing!!!"
They don't get it... its part joke and part serious. Generally, there is very little thats so important that a phone call is worth taking the interruption for.

Managers hate this behaviour. "We are a customer focussed organisation, and ALL PHONE CALLS MUST BE ANSWERED IN 3 RINGS OR LESS. OR ELSE HEADS WILL ROLL." Fine. Let em roll, buddy. My focus on delivery of results is more important than taking an arbitrary call. They can leave a message, or call back later if its earth shattering.

Of course if they leave a message it usually takes me 3 or 4 days to get around to listening to them.... thats another test of urgency :) :) :)

squib said...

We generally don't answer the phone in our house, especially after 6pm

I don't have a mobile either as I can't think of anything more pointless than receiving phonecalls while out and about

Ashleigh same here. We never get those calls

Kath Lockett said...

Yeah, a private number might be the way to go - trouble is, I've been egotistical enough to get business cards printed with my name on it, *sigh*.

I do have a mobile, but I either forget to take it with me or just don't hear it's rather quiet chirping if it's in my backpack. I figure if anyone really wants to contact me they can leave a message on the answering machine or email me. Simple.

Jack42 said...

What a relief to read this! I HATE answering the phone. I always shout "Go Away!" when it rings. I don't know what it is but it is never a good time to receive a phone call for me. My Mom, who is a bit of a wag, used to mutter quietly with her hand partly muffling the phone, "Operator, this is the call I wanted traced" and the caller would usually hang up.