Have you ever tried calling a travel agency? Have you ever wondered why they never pick up the phone? Well, after extensive research which involved sitting in two travel agencies while waiting for my friend Mike to book his Lustful Holiday of Forbidden Love (he missed his first honeymoon because his bride took ill at the airport, after the luggage had been checked in, you can find out more in my Weddings article), I have found that it is because answering a phone in a travel agency is against their Hippocrite Oath and punishable by taking you to the back room and having you spayed.
However, if you are a regular customer, your call will be picked up right away. They do not even need Caller-ID, the travel agency people know who is calling by the subtle nuances of the ringing. If you are not in their inner sanctum, or you are just calling to find out more about their newspaper offer, you can forget about getting through. There is nothing Free or Easy about calling them.
I quite understand, travel agencies prefer you to turn up in person at their offices so that they can make you wait while they answer phone calls. This actually happened to my father, who went down to the agency after failing to get through via phone, and was served for an entire twelve seconds before the agent answered a phone call and chatted with an Inner Sanctum person for the next half an hour
When they finally served my dad, they told him that when his tickets are ready, they will page him. They did page him in the end, but he reached their offices in person before the call was picked up.
Answering the phone is something that different industries do differently. When you call Technical Support lines, for example, to find out why your mouse emitting noxious gases, making snorting noises and moving by itself, you will almost always connect with a recording first.
"Thank you for calling Tech Support, all our operators are busy at the moment so please proceed with our semi-helpful interactive phone help line. If you are facing mouse-related problems, press 1. If you are facing hard disk problems, press 2. If you think 'AM Singapore' is a really bad show, press 3."
If you are lucky (and I mean you are the sort who wins Singapore Sweep, 4D and TOTO every other week, even when you don't buy lottery tickets), you may end up talking to a real person. And this real person will, in his most cheerful and helpful voice, be of absolutely no help at all. I sincerely believe they have a few stock answers in front of them that are supposed to address all 99.94% of computer-related problems. Here's what I think is on the list:
1. "It's your phone line that is dirty, that is why your modem is not working."
2. "Your .exe file has been corrupted by the FAT TABLE in the BOOT BLOCK of the TERMINATE-AND-STAY-RESIDENT program."
3. Your CD-ROM tray is not a cup holder.
4. You have a virus.
5. Your computer has a virus.
6. You did not bathe today.
7. Take two Panadols and call me in the morning (I may be mixing this up with The Comprehensive Singapore Armed Forces Medical Guide).
8. You should not insert your identity card into your floppy drive.
9. It is El Nino's fault.
10. Evil worldwide currency speculation syndicates and global warming are responsible.
And these answers will apply even if you are asking about your mutant mouse.
Sometimes, when I call big and swanky companies after hours and the receptionist has gone home at 5.00pm sharp, some upper management type will pick it up, like the CEO or the Director. I have found that this experience is not unlike having your toenails ripped off. Almost inevitably, when I ask for an extension, I will be given a dead tone. I do not think they teach upper management how the PABX system works or the difference between "Flash" and "Disconnect". It is just not found in their Management Courses. My theory is that the higher up you go in the company, the lower you go down the evolutionary ladder of Phone Usage.
My own little Graphic Design company has no high-tech voice mail, unless you count the times we pretend to be an answering machine. We take all calls in person, even the unusual ones. We get unusual calls because of the proximity of our number to the following people: United Overseas Bank, an LPG Gas Company and Ah Huat's home. I am not kidding. It is not as bad, I think, as my cousin, whose home number was a tad too close to a local Pizza company's and a Used Car dealer's. She changed her number after the COE market went soft and too many Pizza orders came in that she could not fill.
I quite enjoy calling friends with high-tech business voice mail systems and pagers with voice mail. Whenever I get bored, I'd call the office phone number and leave bizarre messages or bad jokes (Example: "Congratulations! You have won a prize to Europe, please pick up your tickets at our office after listening to an informative talk on holiday investments"). My favourite hobby is to call Mike's voice mail and leave inane remarks about his virtual girlfriend, Miss AuDicks. His is a stylo voice messaging system where a lady, Miss Audicks, says, "Your call has been answered by AuDicks, -Mike- (in his voice) is not in, please leave your message after the tone, or if you need assistance, press zero now. Record at the tone..."
I always wonder what kind of assistance I would get if I pressed zero. Maybe I can find out the meaning of the word "Phoneme" or get soccer results. Hey, it could happen. But I suspect that it is just another way of saying "if you wish to talk to the operator who does not know where Mike is either, press zero".
It also drives pager-owning friends crazy when I leave silly messages on their pager voice mail, like "This message will self-destruct in five seconds, please hold...".
Speaking of self-destruct, don't you just love those phone calls from Timeshare companies? They used to be more direct ("Buy! Buy! Buy! Buy! Buy!") but they have since become more subtle ("Hello? Buy! Buy! Buy! Buy! Buy!"). I even get called up for things like "Lifestyle Surveys". How many of you have gotten those lately? Man, if I had some kind of Lifestyle, I would not be here talking to these people on the phone, now would I?
At first, I was unaware of their intentions until they asked me how often I holiday and how much I make a year and what is my bank account number. Then I knew this was not from the Ministry of Lifestyle Surveys. I may be stupid, but I'm not dumb.
I have to go now because I need to fill an order. I just got a call and I need to deliver some LPG gas to Mrs Lim of Block 192. So if you want to reach me, just leave a message before the tone. Beep.