Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Are you being responsive enough?

By Dick Hirsch

I try to be a good citizen, paying my taxes, recycling my papers, cans and bottles, and adhering to speed limits whenever appropriate. But I’ve been dogged by one issue for years, an issue for which I have not been able to establish a policy that defines the response of a good citizen.

This has to do with wrong numbers, especially phone messages that are recorded in error on the voice mail of an unwitting bystander, not the intended recipient of the message.

For years I have been asking myself this question: What is the role of the good citizen in a case like that? What would be the response of a person just recently selected as a person of the year by the local newspaper, the Knights of Columbus or some other organization of high esteem?

Wrong numbers were not much of an ethical problem before answering machines became so widely used. If no one answered, it was as if the call was never made. If a person did answer, the caller would be told that he or she had dialed the wrong number, and that ended that. No problem. The caller tried again.

I have a direct line at the office and it seems to be a magnet for wrong numbers. What should I do each time I get a message for somebody named Miriam or Philip? Am I obligated to call back and say they left a message on the wrong machine? Or can I erase it and go about my business?

I have a theory about wrong numbers. I believe they are on the increase and I believe I know why. I have two reasons. The first relates to the profusion of cellular phones and the size of the keypads on those phones. They are small. Since most of the people making calls on cell phones are usually in a big hurry mode, it is simple to press the wrong key.

The other reason concerns demographics. We have an aging population and although those folks are generally in much better shape than their grandparents were, many of them are vision impaired and don’t really get a clear image of the keyboard on their phone, whether it is wired or cellular. That diagnosis became obvious to me when I first began getting calls from people seeking an appointment with a certain physician. The calls were quite regular. When I answered, I could tell them they had the wrong number. There were many calls, leading me to conclude he had a very busy practice.

I became curious about his specialty. Was he a cardiologist? A dermatologist? An allergist? I called the office and asked. I should have known.

An ophthalmologist...of course. His patients had trouble seeing the buttons on their phones. I was always polite with those callers, sending them in the right direction, until one day, the same guy called me three times in quick succession, wanting to make an appointment. He paid no attention to my explanations on the first two calls. The third time I told him to dial more carefully and hung up. Undaunted, he called me a fourth time and described me in terms I well remember, but cannot publish here.

So it goes with wrong numbers.

I get messages from people calling for a cab. I also get messages from patients who are waiting to be picked up at a doctor’s office.

“Is this transportation?” they ask. “This is Emma Brown and I called before.” That is somewhat typical. Emma leaves no number, so although I might be sympathetic with her plight, I cannot contact her. I picture her standing in the vestibule, hopefully peering up and down the street.

I often get messages from people complaining about a bill they have just received. They are upset and often angry, and want an adjustment, but I am in no position to help them. The other day I had a message inquiring about whether the office was open on Saturday or had evening hours.

Messages such as these have created a perplexing ethical concern for me. I am not the busiest person in town, but I am busy enough, and must I answer each of those misdirected messages?

Just the other day I had a message from a businessman who was calling a painter named Chris about rooms that needed painting. I was moved to call him back because so many painters, as well as plumbers, electricians and handymen, don’t return messages---even when they receive them.



Post a Comment

<< Home