Getting the Message Across

Pacian was talking on his blog quite recently (and quite rightly) about how impossible it can be for a hard-of-hearing or deaf person to communicate with banks and other large organizations.

A Conversation with a Textphone
Banks: See Hear

I observed that large organizations are notoriously hard for almost anyone to talk to, deaf or not, and that’s true too. However…

My sister was trying to close down one of her phone lines. It stopped working on cue, but she was still being billed for it. She was trying to get her point across using internet forms and emails, and was not getting much joy. Eventually she wrote, “I thought this was the largest communications company in the country – funny how I can’t communicate with it!” and got a reply saying the problem was sorted and the billing would be stopped.

Not before time.

The reason I mentioned this is that some organizations do try to accommodate different ways of communicating with their customers. I remember seeing notes to employees along the lines of ‘client is deaf – might not hear doorbell’ – etc. And on Thursday when we took Fusspot to the vet, I was given a form to sign. At first the vet said, “give contact number and sign your name, please” – then, before I could say anything, he changed his mind and said, pointing at another part of the computer-generated form, “oh, it’s all right, we’ll email you!” The note he was pointing at said “communicate with client by email.”

Good oh! Though, since then, it has occurred to me that the information might be a bit more obvious if it was put in the blank gap intended for the phone number.

Unfortunately there was a slight blot on their copybook a day later, after they asked what I wanted them to do with the body. I wrote to thank them for doing what they could for Fusspot, and said I would let them know very soon the answer to their question. I discussed the options with Mum and she rang them up within the hour to say we would like him cremated, please. I was there, so I know she did phone.

The next day she happened to be passing the vet’s surgery and she went in to collect the cat carrier. It turned out our message hadn’t been passed on, and they were still clinging onto Fusspot’s body. You feel embarrassed in retrospect that you were doing your best to be quick with your replies, and all the time they were thinking dark thoughts about how you never bothered to get back to them. Perhaps I should have used the email again as that’s what they were expecting, but it doesn’t occur to you that ringing them up won’t work for that reason (or any other).

Thus it seems that organizations, large and small, can be as much in the dark as the people bawling down the phone at them.

I was trying to think how a message like that might miss being passed on. One possible explanation is that the telephone itself is the culprit. Everyone complains about how they’re trying to get service, and then the telephone rings and the employee turns away to answer it. Maybe in those cases, the employee is distracted enough to forget what was said.

The moral could be that writing emails and notes is the best way to go – except that we’ve found that doesn’t always work either. Yet if most people switched to using emails instead of ringing up, things would balance out a bit better, with the messages getting through because they are expected in that format. And you wouldn’t have to stand like a stork on one leg waiting for somebody’s phone conversation to finish.

In Fusspot’s case, maybe the employee said, “all right,” typed on his computer entry something like “to be cremated” – and if that was all, the relevant people might still be waiting around wondering what the hold-up was all about. They wouldn’t know to look at his computer details for the answer. Maybe Mum made a mistake by adding other messages to the main message, such as “we will come and pay the bill in the next week,” and the employee thought that was what she had rung up to say. Or maybe the message was assumed to be for a different pet – a Fussy the Poodle, perhaps. Which is another reason why emails should be preferred over phone calls – you won’t be misheard. Misread, maybe…

Meanwhile, at the other end of the bridge, Thor enquires crossly, “what kept you? I expected you HOURS ago!”
Fusspot: “need you ask…?”

Comment for this entry (from its previous life at Blogigo):

1. Pacian wrote at Mar 20, 2007 at 12:19: At the root of it all, I think, is the fact that it’s an interaction with an ‘organisation’ rather than a personal interaction with another human being. Somewhere in there, we lose what little understanding and flexibility we expect of real people.

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