Friday, January 9, 2009

How NOT to begin a conversation...

I have been doing this job, providing this service for a good number of years now. Through it all, regardless of the caller on the other end, I strive to provide the most accurate and complete information possible. It is a matter of professional pride to be able to provide exactly what the caller is asking for, many times additional pertinent information as well, assuming of course that it falls within the realm of the departments I serve. Even if it does not, I am usually able to direct a caller to a service which will be able to help them. This is normally Service Canada's 1 800 O Canada line, which is in fact THE information and referral service for the entire federal government of Canada.

If a person reaches our service and is unsure or confused, we will situate them as to where they have reached and what we provide information on. This is not a problem and we are happy to help in any way we can. It is after all, what we are here to do: provide information. With this in mind, I would hasten to add that we are not here to take crap from anyone. That is not part of the job. There are procedures in place which allow us to terminate a call, should the caller be abusive or belligerent. It's just common sense...

The best way you can dampen the enthusiasm of such dedicated professionals as us, is to begin the conversation with a totally assinine statement. Something which will automatically cause us to rate your education and social skills on a par with broccoli, and make us revert to using 'small words' better suited for a conversation with a four year old. Here are a few classic examples of what I mean:

"You people...": This is the type of blanket statement which clearly implies that you perceive the federal government of Canada as one homogenous, incestuous entity. It provides the person at the other end of the line with a mental image of some neanderthal, inbred, 1300cc forehead, knuckle-dragging resident of the Ozarks. My favorite reply to this statement is: "By 'us people', Sir/Ma'am... you would be referring to which of the hundreds of departments and agencies that actually make up the federal government of Canada???"

"Am I talking to a live person...": No, you're talking to a dead person. Rob Zombie, at your service. If you do not hear: "Press One..." or any other such prompt, you can pretty much take it for granted that you are talking to a live person. If the voice at the other end has already answered one or two questions of yours before you ask this question of them, then you're pretty much a jackass and deserve to be hung up on.

"Do you know how many numbers I've dialled...?": No, and frankly I don't really fucking care. Your inability to use such a simple reference tool as a phone book, does not earn you any sympathy points with me. If anything, you've just classified yourself as painfully inept. Furthermore, I have nothing to do with their layout, who prints them or even the colour schemes which have been adopted. So don't make it try to sound like I should feel responsible for your being a complete idiot. That my friend, is a hat you can wear all on your own. This type of opening statement is usually from people who are looking for information that we don't provide either. So guess what? You're not through dialling today, jackhole. Have fun...

"Is this the place for boats?": Why not just start the conversation by saying: "Phlll-bllubll-phhttt!!" Is this the place for boats... For doing what with boats? Buying? Selling? Importing? Licensing? Registering? Is it a pleasure craft? Is it being used for commercial purposes? Are you building one? Are you a manufacturer? Are you an importer? Does it have a marine VHF radio? Do you want to set up a charter business? Do you need a PCOC? What? What?? Whaaaaaaatt????

"I know you probably can't help me...": Boy... nothing like sounding positive right off the git go. If you're so sure we can't help you, why the Hell did you bother calling? You're taking up time which would be better spent with someone I can help... Actually, these callers usually end up wanting something very simple, but which to them clearly equates with moving mountains. Possibly because at some point, it will actually involve them getting off their ass and going somewhere... Friggin' drama queens...

"I don't know if I have the right number...": In a full 90% of these calls, they're right. They DON'T have the right number. But, they're also too lazy to bother searching and they reach the conclusion that because one 'gubmint number' is as good as the next (we're all one big club and everyone knows each other real good...), they'll just call us up to save the wear and tear on their eyeballs. These are the same class of folks that begin their conversation with: "You people...".

"There's a dead bird in my yard...": These folks aren't even trying. Seriously... Why did they not just call Canadian Tire? Or their hairdresser? Dead bird, divided into either DFO, Coast Guard or Transport Canada equals = 0. Nada... Zip... Niente... Nothing! There is no correllation whatsoever between these items. These are doubtless the same people who will call a Mr. Lube shop, when in fact they should be dialling 9-1-1.

"Are you guys responsible for...": Now, I don't stick my pinky out when I'm drinking a cuppa. I may know how to set a table properly and how to use a napkin, but that's about the extent of my 'refined education'. I know that the best parties are the ones held in a kitchen back home and not in some hoity-toity restaurant or ballroom. Yet even I would know to use 'grown up talk' when conversing with other people over the phone. "You guys" might belong in the dialogue for a Three Stooges skit, but it has no place when dealing with other folks over the phone. Certainly not when dealing with any type of government agency.

Secondly, most government departments and agencies are not 'responsible for' anything. They do provide many programs and services, but as far as being 'responsible' for anything, not so much. Do we provide information on or offer a certain service? Absolutely. Are we perhaps charged with enforcing the rules and regulations pertaining to certain federal Acts? Yes, absolutely. Just as you are responsible for knowing and abiding by them... Can you spot the difference in the context there...?

"Where are you guys located?": This question always produces a smile. 'Cause you just know that in 99% of these calls, the last thing they expect to hear is: "Why, we're located right here in Ottawa, Ontario". You can just about hear their jaw drop over the phone when you tell 'em that. To be charitable though, I will normally follow this up immediately with: "...and you are calling us from which town/city and province in Canada?" I will than ask which program or service they are looking for information on and direct them from there. Remember, when you dial a 'General Enquiries' number for any branch of the government, do not assume it's in your town or province. Even if it's listed as a local number, which our service normally is.

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