Friday, November 30, 2007

I Regret to Inform You...

The first job I ever had, my boss told me how not to answer a phone with this story:

"Don't explain why someone is unavailable. One time someone asked when the boss would be back and the secretary told them he had gone to the bathroom with the newspaper under his arm, so it might be a while. Some things, just don't need to be shared."

I learned a lot about phone etiquette on that job. If I ever let my boss's phone ring more than three times before answering it, I knew he was coming out the door of his office to have a talk with me. If I ever let a call drop by putting someone on hold too quickly, I would get a talk. There are certain things you do not do when you answer a phone. Now, fast forward to a year later at my trucking business, while I was still in college. We had a dispatcher working in another area who had passed away suddenly in the night. Out of courtesy to the family, the home office explained to his wife how she could forward his calls so she did not have to answer them. The dispatcher in the home office greeted the first several callers who asked for him by telling them:

"Cook's DEAD!" with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. After the first several such calls were overheard, the owner of the business asked him if he might be a little more delicate in breaking the news. After all, the people calling for him were mostly just making a standard check call as they would any morning to let their dispatcher know they were loaded and rolling. To suddenly be told the man was dead certainly must have come as a shock. So, the man changed his explanation.

"I regret to inform you, MR. COOK HAS MET HIS DEMISE!" his voice rose as he explained it each time. Most of the time the drivers had to ask what on Earth that meant. That elicited his initial explanation, "Cook's DEAD!"

What did I learn from this exchange? Well, I learned that sometimes it might make more sense to break things to another person slowly, especially when the information is completely unexpected, such as with a death or accident. Taking a serious or grave tone can prepare the other person to receive difficult news, and tact is a must. Mostly, I learned that some people are just not meant to answer phones for a living.

-- Robert


Sister Mary Lisa said...

I regret to inform you that this post made me laugh. Twice.

No disrespect to Cook, who is dead.

Robert said...

Yeah, "Cook's DEAD!" and "Tony drove off the side of a mountain" are two stories my best friend and I can't help but chuckle at, despite the misfortune of those involved. Both lines were uttered by the same man, if you can believe it. Some time in the future, I may give "Tony drove off the side of a mountain" a different treatment to show why it became so funny. The way I wrote it was perhaps too serious.

le35 said...

"Cook's DEAD." If I were the person on the phone, I may be thinking, "Is this guy serious? Or is he just trying to steal his customers." For most people, when someone has died, they have sympathy for people.

Suki said...


"Cook's DEAD!" reminds me of our teachers during peak activity season. We'd be asking for "Where's Ms XYZ?", and the initial answer was "in heaven!"

Apart from that.. you're right. Some people are just not meant to answer phone calls.