You've lost me

So here's the scenario. You call up a fabric store, curious if they have a particular brand of quilting ruler. (The reason why you need a quilting ruler in the first place is, um, outside the scope of this post). A kindly-sounding woman answers the phone. She has to go and check, and she graciously asks if you can be placed on hold. You agree. No problem.

Time passes. During this time, you experience profound psychological shifts. The very essence of your humanity is called into question. Here is the progression of your thoughts:

00:21 That woman sounded so nice. I'll bet she has adorable grandchildren.

00:59 She must be walking past the wrapping paper, the ribbon, the fabric, the yarn, and the scissors! I hope all this walking doesn't hurt her kind, old feet.

01:37 This hold music is boring.

01:59 She's definitely looking through the rulers right now.

02:42 Maybe she's looking for the head of the ruler department, and he is on the other side of the store. I bet she's paging that guy right now.

03:15 Maybe the head of the ruler department is outside, taking a smoke break. I bet that guy's a total jerk. I bet he and my lady get in workplace disagreements all the time.

04:15 Man, I've been on hold a long time. It's been at least ten minutes!

04:54 Oh my god, where is this woman? Is she just taking her sweet ass time? Does she not have the capacity to walk more than 10 feet an hour?

05:33 Why does Jo-Ann Fabrics hire idiots? Maybe they have some affirmative action policy for slow, stupid people.

06:17 That woman is probably taking HER smoke break! I bet she forgot all about me! Or she thought I wouldn't wait - that's it! She probably thought to herself, "Well, it's been so long now, that chick on the phone MUST have hung up by now." God, I feel stupid for ever trusting a word she said.

06:48 Oh jeez, I hope she hasn't fallen under a ream of chenille and broken her hip! Then I'd feel terrible! I'm such a mean, impatient person. Okay. I can wait. Breathe in, breathe out.

07:26 All right, that's it. I don't care anymore. I don't care if she's still looking, if she's stopped looking, or if she's trapped under a mountain of rulers and is eating her own arm off. I have waited on hold for what feels like twenty minutes. I want out. I'm hanging up.

07:29 No wait, I can't do it. What if she's just about to pick up the phone? What if she's been looking high and low, searching through dusty catalogs and moldy storage basements, and she's got the ruler in hand? And she's worked SO HARD to find this for me, and she comes back, and she hears a dial tone? She'll kill herself! I can't do that to another human being! I'll wait.

07:45 But seriously, how long does it take? I mean, how big is the store? How many rulers must she look through? And I'm using cellphone minutes, people! I'm not one of those thousand-minute-per-month schmos, either! I'm talking 450! Every minute is precious! You are messing with my currency! Jo-Ann, you are robbing me point-blank - and I'm letting you do it! That's it, I'm hanging up.

07:51 Oh god, so help me but I can't do it. I just can't do it. She could be inches away. She could be scarred and bleeding, the paramedics pushing her bed on wheels, sirens blaring, ten firemen clearing the path from the accident site to the phone, and she's yelling "The ruler! I've got the ruler!" I can't let her die, mission unaccomplished!

08:12 Pick up the phone...NOW. Okay, NOW. Come on, lady. Get back to the phone...NOW.

08:25 Oh my god oh my god oh my god! What to do what to do what to do? Finger is trembling over the "End" button.

08:35 Please don't let my karma be forever ruined!

08:36 Beep.

Employee at Jo-Ann Fabrics, I'm sorry. You lost me. I had all the best intentions, but I no longer care about the ruler. I'm sure you have adorable grandchildren.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the new post. This scenario is so true about how our minds can wander into all sorts of depths. I can sympathize with the story but hanging up and calling back always works for me no matter what the situation is. She probably got called on my another customer. :)

Adam said...

Nice little sketch-ette there!

I always wonder why they don't just give the staff cordless phones. She could have given you a running commentary, asked you about your project, suggested other stuff you could use, and made a friend/customer while walking though the store finding your ruler.

Anyone wanting to interrupt her would have clearly seen that she was talking too....


sara said...

Hey Anonymous, you're probably right. She probably did get stopped by another customer.

It is my suspicion that some companies have a policy where the customer who is live trumps the customer on the phone. While I can understand that hierarchy, the person on the phone is not in less need than the person standing in front of you. However, humans are wired so that seeing a face is just more influential than hearing a voice. So I understand.

Perhaps there's a way to give them BOTH a type of "hold music" - something to occupy them while they wait. Or perhaps they are BOTH diverted to another person who can help them. This could be an interesting area for service innovation.

As for hanging up and calling back, I do it all the time. It does work occasionally, although I have to explain my question all over again. Plus you lose a part of the cellphone minute - not to get insanely nitpicky, but I am kind of a cheap-o when it comes to cellphone minutes, having been burned repeatedly by going slightly over my limit.

Maybe my overall feeling is that while we've all come up with workarounds for the current system, we shouldn't have to adapt just because we can. So, your points are well-taken, but I still think there's a better way, if we go outside the paradigm of "what we're used to."

Adam - great idea. If somebody's on the phone, and you can see they're on the phone, you're probably less likely to interrupt. Plus, man, would it be nice to have that person stay with me while they walk. I'd rather chat with a stranger about the weather ANY DAY than listen to "Jo-Ann's has a great range of fabrics for the holidays" one more time.

Thanks for your comments!

Stacy said...

Hilarious post! I fight with myself about the "I can't hang up now, she could be a second away!" dilemma all the time, especially with the NYC subway system. "I can't give up and walk it now, the train could get here any minute! It must, since I've already been waiting for 30 minutes..." Of course, it never comes right NOW...or NOW...

sara said...

Stacy, great analogy. The uninformed wait is so much harder than the informed wait.

For example, if you're in line at the grocery store, you're waiting, and it sucks, but at least you know how many people are ahead of you. You can watch them load their groceries, watch the cashier ring them up, and see the overall progress. You are relatively informed about when your turn will arrive.

But when you are blind to all these things, and don't know what the woman is doing or where the train is, it's extremely difficult to wait. This is the uninformed wait.

I believe LA has designed a public transit system that tells you where the bus is, and how long before it's supposed to arrive. This is simply brilliant - putting some certainty into the wait. Giving the user the information needed to make a decision (walk or stay).

Likewise, if I could have had some information on that woman's progress, it would have been huge. "Now I'm just looking through the ruler section, I don't see any quilting rulers, oh, they're in the quilting section instead, now let me walk there," etc. You might think this would sound annoying or unprofessional, but it would also probably result in less hang-ups and more business.

Stacy said...

Exactly--I know that Washington D.C. has train stations that give you the actual minutes left until the next train arrives. Makes the waiting so much more bearable.

Mean Marble said...

Sara, that was so funny, I myself have been in that situation many time and have been thinking the same things you were, you have brought a spark to my day and made me smile, if only everyone could express them selves the way that you do you could see the world being a much happier and honest place, I know that I do the same with my life and the people I interact with on a daily basis, the honesty and friendships you get back are made for life, but then again most Aussies are like that anyway, thank you so much for the laugh, take care...

Hillary said...

everyone who works at a fabric store is old as dirt. she probably forgot why she was ever looking for a ruler in the first place.

Dragonflygirlcc said...

that is hysterical...because it's SO true! In so many customer service situations this has happened to me, and your description of the change of mindset throughout those few minutes is spot on! Good job! And, freakin' funny as well!

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