Tag Archives: telephone


Voter InformationWould you like to play a game? Oops, please hold. I’ve got to take this.

The following organizations have all banded together in solidarity in support of a new law:

  • American Bankers Association
  • ACA International
  • Air Transport Association
  • Consumer Bankers Association
  • Coalition of Higher Education Assistance Organizations
  • Edison Electric Institute
  • Education Finance Council
  • Financial Services Roundtable
  • Housing Policy Council
  • Mortgage Bankers Association
  • National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO)
  • National Council of Higher Education Loan Programs, Inc.Student Loan Servicing Alliance
  • Student Loan Servicing Alliance Private Loan Committee
  • The Clearing House
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Wow. That’s a lot of agreement. Specifically they are all in support of something called H.R. 3035, the “Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011.” (MICA.) I know they are, because they all signed a letter saying so in regards to H.R. 3035.
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Ecommerce shopping tip

Every once in a while reading my blog will payoff with important information that can be used to immediate effect to improve your life. That’s just what I do.

If you are lucky enough to be reading this, prepare to enjoy yet another payoff.

I’m here to help you!!!

I’ve operated in the murky underworld of ecommerce business for almost 11 years now. Thanks to WordPress and the power of the blog, my misery and suffering can be milked to benefit others. Perhaps there was a reason for this after all. Perhaps my suffering wasn’t all in vain if someone can benefit from my hard-fought experience.

I’ve frequently told anyone willing to listen the myriad ways of evil wrought by ecommerce companies. The litany includes how they flat-out lie on web sites, fake “in stock” status, bogus customer reviews, and inventing how many customers they have right out of thin air.

It’s time to start putting that knowledge to use. And that brings us to today’s topic:

How to spot ecommerce companies you should avoid

Today I’ll discuss one simple yet powerful method that can effectively save you a lot of hassle. I won’t beat around the bush. Here is my technique:

Never place orders with any ecommerce company that is willing to accept orders by phone.
–Tom B. Taker

Short and sweet. Powerful, too, if you really think about it.

It works like this: Most small ecommerce companies have very limited staff. In some cases, it might even be a single guy in a nondescript strip-mall office generating $2 million yearly in revenue. I’ve personally seen this, and I’ve also seen the way that operation worked. (Not very well.) In other cases, like the last place I worked, there may be four employees and a couple of owners (husband and wife). At my current job there are two employees and two owners (again a married couple).

The specific numbers aren’t what’s important. The part that matters is that all of these employees have full time jobs that they are already overwhelmed with. Order fulfillment, shipping, inventory, maintaining the web site, pricing, purchase orders, production, retail floor and counter, etc. There is never staff dedicated to simply watching the phones. In fact, there is no employee given phones as a primary task. It’s lumped on as a bonus task for the rest of us. And, it goes without saying, that the phone is the ultimate thing all employees are forced to whore on no matter what.

My first ecommerce job was a small firm with four employees and one owner and five phone lines. That’s a one-to-one relationship of phones to employees. My last two jobs have had two phone lines each.

The main point is that when that phone rings, someone’s job just got put on hold. Period. Once a phone rings the only thing that matters in the entire universe is whoring that call and landing the fish. Period. End of story. Nothing matters except that next sale. And as soon as the phone hangs up, that order goes in the shitter when the phone rings again, because it’s no longer important. Only that next call matters.

This is fine and dandy when you are the customer and on the phone. For that brief moment in time you are the alpha and omega to us. You are a god. You have our full attention and commitment. You are the only thing that matters.

Phone calls are the Rubik’s Cubes of the ecommerce business. They require you to run around to all corners of the office, weighing things, opening boxes, looking up information in books, and solving riddles worthy of Sherlock Holmes. All for a theoretical chance at a sale.

There is no situation known to mankind where an ecommerce owner won’t hear a phone ring and say, “We’re too busy at the moment. Let it go to voice mail.” We’re talking about nothing less than the fate of the entire universe here. The Earth itself would crack in half and disintegrate into small pieces if a phone call went unanswered.

You can get where this is leading, right?

God help you if your order happens to fall into the category of “one we’ve already taken.” Once you’re off the phone with us your order becomes nothing more than a steaming pile of shit. It is essentially something we’ll try to squeeze in, if we can, between the phone calls that came after yours.

Elegant simplicity, eh?

Since we have no staff dedicated to answering phones, the only people who will be answering the phones are the ones who could actually be working on your order. Seriously, I can’t believe people get paid to invent business models like this.

Since every customer expects al a carte treatment, orders become a veritable cornucopia of sticky notes, handwritten scribbles and notes typed in a computer (that never get read by humans, of course). This guarantees that when your order actually gets processed by bitter, harried, multitasking drooling idiots who are dancing with the phones, the subtle little nuances of your order’s needs will be lost in the shuffle. It is inevitable. We are guaranteed to suck.

How come no one ever seems to remember the quintessential wisdom of the movie Lethal Weapon 2? You remember the part where Joe Pesci famously says, “They FUCK YOU at the drive-thru, okay? They FUCK YOU at the drive-thru! They know you’re gonna be miles away before you find out you got fucked! They know you’re not gonna turn around and go back, they don’t care. So who gets fucked? Ol’ Leo Getz! Okay, sure! I don’t give a fuck! I’m not eating this tuna, okay?”

That’s why I never, never, never ever order “off the menu.” Ever. I order the “number one” and in the standard configuration. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing special. Ever. I don’t care if it comes motherfucking loaded with peanuts and I have an allergy to peanuts that will kill me. Ordering off the menu simply isn’t worth it. You show me someone who says “no pickles” and I’ll show you someone with an order that is fucked up.

Placing an order with an ecommerce company that slaves over their phones is the exact same concept. If if explained myself properly above, hopefully you already know this now.

Real Life Example

Let me preface this story with this. I am not making ANY of this up.

Last Friday a guy called repeatedly trying to get a hold of the boss. Every single time the boss was already whoring on the phone so I was the lucky one who got to take the call. (Ah the beauty of the multi-line phone system.) I don’t know why, but he specifically asked for the boss.

Mondays and Fridays are pretty much pure cluster-fuck for us. They are our busiest days. People will do things like email inquiries, wait about 15 minutes before getting angry they haven’t had a reply yet, then pick up the phone and redial until they get an answer. We’ll answer those calls, thus preventing us from responding to emails, and thus guaranteeing that the cycle continues ad infinitum. The true beauty of this, of course, is that later, when we do get some time, some idiot spends time responding to emails where we’ve already talked to the customer! I call this phenomenon service clobbering.

So, each time this customer asked for the boss, I’d offer to help and/or take a message. He always said, “No, I’ll call back in a few minutes.” Fine. Whatever fuck face. Not once did he ever bother to mention what it was regarding or give me his phone number.

Finally he called again at 4:15pm and the boss was still on the phone. Our shipping deadline was 4:30pm and we weren’t going to make it. (No point in satisfying the orders we’ve already taken, right?) That’s because the boss was the only one there who could print shipping labels and he was on the phone. And I was the only one who could ship packages and I was on the phone. (See how this works yet?)

It was getting ridiculous with this guy calling umpteen times. I finally convinced him to give up his name and number. I took a message. I set it aside until shipping was completed. The FedEx guy only had to wait 20 minutes for us this time.

Once the FedEx guy was gone, I handed the sticky note to my boss. “This guy has been trying to call you all day. He didn’t say what it was about.”

Fast-forward to Tuesday. It’s the middle of the day and I happen to notice the sticky note on the his computer. The boss never called the dude back! Worse, the boss isn’t even aware of this because, like the rest of us, he is too damn busy and whoring the phones. Nothing is organized and nothing gets done. Everything is an ongoing game of stimulus and response. Only work on whatever beeps and jumps in your face.

Naturally the phone rings again and I’m the only one around to take the call. (The boss was four feet from my desk imitating a whoppie cushion on the toilet.) Naturally it was my old friend from Friday. Only this time he was mad as hell.

The customer had purchased an $800 item from us and wasn’t happy. He knew the boss had shipped him the wrong stuff on purpose. He knew that the boss had been deceptive with him. And now, he knew the boss was avoiding his calls. Oh lucky me, I’m the one that gets to take this call.

The customer told me he was livid. He told me he was calling our manufacturer to turn us in. He told me that he was going to be putting a chargeback on his credit card purchase. He told me a lot of things.

I told him that the boss was “out of the office” and would call him back. Gee, just like I had said on Friday.

Somehow, against all odds, I got the guy to hang up.

When the boss came back, I handed him the message and said, “This is the guy from Friday. He really wants to talk to you.”

The boss picked up the phone, called the guy, and said, “I’m sorry about the misunderstanding. I never got your message.”


That’s what I like to call “team building” but that’s another story.


I hope the above anecdotes and information serves to make my point. Never place an order with an ecommerce company that accepts orders by phone. Ever.

I’ve given you a glimpse behind the curtain. Now you know how it works. The rest is up to you.

Multi-line bull phone

Phone telephone receiverCue the choir of heavenly angels as the most as The Most Fabulous Object in the World comes into view. (And no, it’s not The Moderna Wondermajor all-automatic convenience centerette.) Ahhhhhhhh. There it sits, all sparkley and shiny as if by magic there at the end of the rainbow…

It’s pretty much the wet dream of most retail business owners that ever existed: The multi-line phone system. The fantasy of multiple phone lines each with an employee happily receiving orders all day is a compelling one. It should be noted, however, that in the vast majority of cases the person who gets a stiffy over something like a multi-line phone system is most decidedly not the same person who has to answer those incoming calls.

The reality is decidedly different than the fantasy. In our case the vast majority of phone calls start with, “I just received my shipment…” Trust me. That sort of phone call almost never turns out good. I mean, how many people call to say, “I just received my shipment and all is well?” Since we’re so inept these sorts of calls are usually the launching point into an excursion about how bad we suck.

“I just received my shipment and it’s about one-half whiskey tango foxtrot and one-half FUBAR. You guys suck!”

We’ve actually been trained to use the word “sorry” rather than the word “apologize” just because it sounds and feels more personal to the small brains on the other end of the line. The first rule of tricking someone is that they have to want to be tricked and our customers line right up for it. Yes, the primary function of this company is to be sorry. I have dubbed our segment of the retail industry as “professional apologizers.”

The owner here certainly loves his little two-line phone system. He funnels multiple web sites into it. He feels that prominently featuring our phone number on his web sites (unlike his competitors) and splashing text like “call us” all over his sites is what sets his business apart.

Speaking of phone numbers, you ever try to call Amazon.com? These bastards do it right! They make it harder than hell to actually call customer service. That’s smart. Friggin’ smart. If you are smart enough to even find the contact page, then you get to jump through hoops. First you have to log in to your Amazon.com account. They you have to select a bunch of dropdowns describing your problem. Then you have to click “email” or “phone.”

I tried it just for giggles. After jumping through all the hoops I got this:

Enter your number and click Call Me. (You’ll need an open phone line.)
We’ll call you and connect you to a service specialist.

Then you get to choose between a “Call Me Now” and a “Call Me in 5 Minutes” buttons.

Down below, in small print and ghosted, I almost missed it, I found: “Click the Call Me button or you can reach us at 1-###-###-#### to use our automated customer service system.” I don’t know if that phone number really will eventually lead to a live human being or not. I wouldn’t bet on it!

LOL! Apparently Amazon.com really doesn’t want to give up the incoming phone number to customer service. I like the way they roll. That’s where I want to work! A company that really knows how to put the customer in her place! Amazon.com, I’m proud of you. You must be a company that likes to make a profit.

Anyway, back to my boss. A natural born liar, the boss extends that particular expertise to his online business in a myriad of interesting ways. When it comes to phones, his web sites tout his “friendly customer service department” and his “specialists” who will be “happy” to help.

The first lie is that there actually is a “customer service department” much less a “friendly” one. Yes, there is a single employee who is ostensibly “customer service” and is supposed to be first to answer the phones, but just like us, she’s loaded down with tons of other duties. The rest of us are “friendly” enough people (except for me, of course) but because we aren’t dedicated customer service staff, every one of these calls we’re forced to take represents an interruption of our regular work load. Does anyone seriously think that in a scenario like that we’re going to be “happy” to help?

Secondly, the primary customer service person actually does have some training about our widgets and stuff. My job, however, is technical and the only reason I’m forced to provide backup on the phones is that I’m a warm body. That’s it! (I think being a “warm body” is my destiny.) Those are my “customer service” qualifications. I’m not a “specialist” about the shit that customers love to ask about and their myriad various problems. Our web sites brag about how awesome our customer service is, but when you call in and are lucky enough to get me, all you get back is an earful of “I don’t know” and “I don’t know.” I imagine I probably sound a lot like Marvin the Paranoid Robot when I take the call. How impressive is that?

Because of the phone we can’t properly do our jobs, and thus, our error rates go up, which, obviously, in turn increase the amount of phone load placed upon us as endless customers call us to bitch. In “boss speak” that’s probably considered a “win win” but I just call it a cluster fuck.

Me make oops

I slipped up

Uh oh. Apparently I went and did something good. Dammit. Even the best of us can still make mistakes.

I think I’ve mentioned in the past that I used to be involved in Relay For Life, a fund raising arm of the American Cancer Society. I got into it after my dad died of cancer and I bumped into a friend who was running our local event.

My dad smoked his entire life. So did my mom. Fun childhood for me, yeah! My dad would also “breakfast” by swigging directly out of a bottle of Black Velvet to start the day. Cancer wasn’t exactly the biggest shocker ever in his case.

After his diagnosis my dad approached the American Cancer Society. Apparently whatever happened didn’t go well. My dad specifically told me, “I don’t want anything going to ACS in my memory.”

Still, I did go on to do the Relay For Life thing and my dad was a big part of the reason why. I figured he’ll just have to live with it.

Meanwhile, at work, while being forced to answer phones against my will, I happened to take a customer phone call the other day. This woman was untrusting. “How do I know if I give you my money you’ll send me anything?” LOL! Love it! Bottom line is you don’t. There are no guarantees. But even though this is a shithole the employees still care too damn much and actually do a good job. You are buying a piece of crap but at least you’ll actually receive it. We don’t lie, cheat and steal quite that much.

So in the end I convinced her to make the leap of faith and trust us with her $30 USD. 🙂

During the discussion she mentioned she had cancer. I talked to her about Relay For Life, which she had never heard about. So after I was off the phone, I took a minute to drop her a link to the official RFL web site which includes a function to locate her local event. I told her how RFL is an event where teams commit to walking around a track for 24 hours. The opening lap is for those fighting cancer and those who have survived cancer. It is very moving and I had tears in my eyes at the last one I attended. In the evening there is the Luminaria ceremony where people decorate bags for loved ones with cancer or in memoriam. These bags a lit and placed around the track while the names of everyone being honored are read out loud. My wife made a luminaria bag for my dad with little airplanes (he loved to fly) and it was pretty emotional.

I actually haven’t done RFL for a couple years now due to our local event getting all political and nasty, but that’s another story.

Anyway, so I talked this lady into a sale and thought it would be nice to turn her on to RFL. In my experience some people with cancer won’t go, and I try not to pressure, but I at least wanted her to know.

Here is the email I received in response:

Dear Tom,

When I opened this email it brought tears to my eyes. Above and beyond is all I can say. I’m going to attend the first one that I am able too, and will think of you as I am walking. Not to sound like your mother, but I must say she must be exceptionally proud of you. I know that we have never met, yet I felt a very special warmth in your tone yesterday.

Thank you again for caring.

With much respect,


Yikes! I hate answering phones and talking to customers. How in the hell did something like this happen? “Warmth” in my “tone?” That’s impossible!!!

We’re supposed to forward all “testimonial” style emails to the boss but I’m not giving this one up. No way no how. I do not want my boss knowing something like this no matter what. This could really damage my career!

Have Phone – Will Unravel

Ah, customers! Is there anything they can’t do?

Today I had the misfortune of being the poor son of a bitch who answered a particular call.

“Hello, thank you for calling ACME Corporation. This is Tom speaking.”

Usually at this point most customers will say something cogent like, “I need …” Sometimes the more evolved will say, “I want…” Let’s be honest here. No one actually needs the shit we sell. They don’t. In fact, this is some of the most frivolous shit in the known universe. So let’s not start off our little dance of lies with “I need,” okay? That just cheapens what we are both about to go through.

“I need customer service,” she said.

Well, now we got a wee problem. You see, I’m outstanding in my field (har) all by myself right now. You got yourself a techy guy on the phone. If one was to apply reasoning powers to this situation, one might realize that the reason my pitiful carcass picked up is because no one else is remotely available. If one actually had reasoning powers, that is.

“I’ll do my best to help you if I can,” I said lamely. Anyone who overheard would have sworn Eeyore was speaking.

“Is there someone in customer service I can speak with?” Ooh, she’s good. She doesn’t mess around. Let’s see where that fighting spirit gets her, shall we?

“Unfortunately no one from customer service is available right now,” I said. And, I must say, I was rather proud of myself on this one. I say this phrase so fucking often it’s pretty much an Oscar-worthy performance each and every time now. “I can take down your name and number and pass it along if you like.”

“I already did that three hours ago,” she mouth-breathed.

Oh, so you’re too impatient to give us three freakin’ hours to call you back. Now I know who I’m dealing with.

You have to try to use your imagination here. Somehow, in a vain attempt to turn a profit so we’ll all have food to eat and roofs over our heads, we actually have more than one customer. You’re going to have to come to grips with certain realities, lady. The $100 you just might spend with us today doesn’t keep us all floating around in a giant pool of Beluga caviar. It’s almost like we need more than one customer to make this business profitable.

As much fucking fun as it would have been, sadly we were not all just sitting around twiddling our thumbs playing a game of “let’s see how long we can make this particular bitch wait.” (Hint: I would have won.)

So it has been a whopping three hours and you are still waiting. Quick, someone dial 9-1-1 for the whambulance. Perhaps you also don’t know that our boss runs us ragged and in between all of his crap, we try to get back to customers in the order they contacted us. I know everywhere else in life you go you are automagically first in line, but not here. And we’re not even done with all of customer inquiries from Monday yet, which was a very hairy day.

“Can’t you just put me on hold?” she asked. “I’ll just wait.”

“No, the person you need to speak to is unavailable.”

“Where is she and what is she doing?” Wow. I wish I could award you a prize for this one. Truly.

“She’s not physically in the building,” I lied. In reality she was at her desk enjoying her lunch break. Funny but we try to watch each other’s backs regarding our precious off-duty minutes.

“This is how you guys operate?” she asked. “You only take messages then call people back?” At last, some originality. Wow, she really was feisty!

“No, not normally, but sometimes things get a little crazy. I’m happy to take a message and pass it along.” I think this was when blood started leaking out of my ears.

“I’ve already waited three hours. If I leave another message when will I be called?”

Now this part I have down pat. This particular question gets asked a lot. A frickin’ amazing amount. “I can promise I’ll pass along the message. I can’t say when you might be called.” It turns out I don’t make promises for other human beings. Not the way I roll, yo.

There used to be a time when I was too eager to please the customer and I would say something like, “Yes, they’ll call you back TODAY.” Invariably that wouldn’t happen, because let’s face it. I can’t force another human being to do something or guarantee that something unforeseen will not happen. Then the next day I’ll have the customer back in my face screaming at me, “You said that’d call back on the same day!!!” They would act just like I had shot their dog or something. I got tired of that pretty damn quick and learned: No more making promises for other people! I will only say what I can personally do. That’s where I draw the line.

In the end this potential customer was thoroughly disgusted with me and refused to leave her name or number. She said, “Maybe I’ll try to call back later. Maybe.”

Good for you. Maybe I’ll actually give a shit. Maybe. But if I were you I would not bet my life on it.

When customers foam

Yet another Friday bonus post.

Let’s play this post like a round of Jeopardy, shall we? Remember, all answers must be phrased in the form of a question.

Category: Potent Foamables

$500 Clue: “Five”


Alex: Tom?

Tom: The number of minutes customers are willing to wait for a response after sending an email before they foam at the mouth?

Alex: Correct! You are today’s winner!

This is how it works. You arrive at work and go through your emails. You have some from bosses, some from co-workers and some from customers. I have a routine for handling them which mainly involves getting the low-hanging fruit (quickies) out of my inbox as fast as possible. If a customer has a quick question, I might just pound my keyboard like a monkey and get them a response at that instant and be done with it. If it is more involved, however, I jot them down on a list so I can research, do the legwork, and so forth before calling them back.

Organization is good.

Of course, this all goes out the window as soon as the phones roll over because ALL of them simply pick up the phone, dial our number, then pound the redial button repeatedly until they get a human. Don’t forget to wear your handy yellow containment suit to avoid the foam spittle.

Today at 9:05am we had been open for a grand total of five minutes. The customer service primary was already on the phone. I was already neck deep in the shit on the floor with an obliviot customer (who was actually a pretty decent guy). Meanwhile all of the phone lines were ringing off the hook like it was the invasion of motherfucking Normandy beach. Apparently there were a lot of people who needed apologies. (We’re pretty much in the professional apologizing business. They’re all calling to complain about things we screwed up because we suck.)

“Eek. Hello?”

“This is so-and-so! I’m calling about order XYZ! I ordered two widgets and only received one.”

“Yes, I am aware of that. I did receive and read your email. Unfortunately you’re not the only customer in the universe and amazingly I haven’t had a chance to work on your problem yet. Sadly no miraculous knowledge has yet spontaneously jumped via telepathy into my brain. It’s beginning to look more and more like I’ll actually have to be given some time to work the problem before I’ll learn anything new. And phone calls like yours only delay that process, which, in turn, creates a snowball effect and consumes 110% of the time I have in my day. Take the square root of -1 and multiply that by 42. I’ll probably be able to call you back in that many minutes. But please know that I am very, very sorry about this problem.

Hmm. Looks like another customer problem just got pushed back to Monday. Gee, I hope you weren’t in a hurry. Too bad, so sad! Loser, loser, whatever!!!

Hoarding recordings

The House Recording Studio control room overseeing footage of the House Chamber. Image courtesy of the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives.

Today’s quickie questions of the day:

Have you ever called in for customer service and been subjected to the automated system and not been told “please listen carefully – our menu has recently changed?” Due to overuse that phrase has absolutely no meaning.

More importantly, have you ever been told that your call may be “monitored or recorded” for the biggest bullshit reason of all time, “quality assurance?”

Here’s what I really want to know. Have you ever thought to say, “I prefer not to be recorded?”

Have you ever attempted this? And if so, how did it go?

First of all, “quality assurance?” What a line of bull. They are not going to invest in a recording system and everything that entails because they care about the quality of “service” they are providing to you. The reason is simple: To cover their ass and provide documentation that could be used against you further down the road if any sort of dispute should ever come up.

I have an idea. How about I record everything on my end, too. “Hey, Julio. That’s for taking the time to talk to me today about my account. Just an FYI, bro. This call may be monitored and/or recorded for quality assurance. Since you’re already doing that to me I’m sure your company will have no problem with that, right?”

So, have you ever tried to opt-out of being recorded? I have. The poor sap on the other end of the phone could not have been more confused or befuddled. His scripts obviously didn’t cover that sort of unforseen scenario. A customer not wanting to be recorded? Horrors!

If you’ve ever attempted to not be recorded, please reply and let me know how it went. I’d really, really like to know. This could be interesting. Thanks!