Devoutly To be Wish’d

Dealing with strangers on the phone elicits an array of non-reactions and helpful reactions (Yay!) and suspicious, hostile, downright irritating reactions (Boo!).


All that information is on the website.

Ouch. It’s not the words, it’s the tone. Biting. Impatient. Annoyed.

I’m guessing this is not the time to mention that the requested information — an email address — was not, in fact, on the parent website from which I got the name of this association.

I’m gathering email addresses so my publisher’s publicist can send out notices about my book to those who might want to buy it. Finding a national motherlode of association listings, I doggedly follow the links through to provincial listings of local and regional associations, only to find that many provide phone, fax, and snail-mail contact information, but no email address. Odd.

Down the rabbit hole I go, only to find that there is no email address shown on many of the home sites either. I check every page, tab, and category I can think of, but no joy. Rather than slog through all 47 listings for nothing, it seems better to just pick up the phone. And so I follow business hours across the time zones from Newfoundland & Labrador to Vancouver Island, gathering email addresses — and reactions — as I go.

Ah. In my trade-off analysis, I had not counted on the reactions. Badly designed websites are irritating, but at least they don’t react.

Of course, some folks are virtually nonreactive: cheery and incurious, they are my perfect audience. I ask for their association’s email address, they cough it up, and we both go on with our days.

Some folks are thoughtful. They want to know my business so they can give me the most apropos address. A few congratulate me on publishing a book. Nice.

Some folks are suspicious: asking for an email address evidently triggers confidentiality alarms of some sort. They want to know my business so they can screen out . . . something. I’m not sure what they’re suspicious of (and I don’t suppose they are either), but the suspicion alone is enough to make me feel guilty. Of . . . something.

And some folks are downright hostile.

All that information is on the website.

Just as this is not the time to point out the design flaws of their website, neither is it likely the time to suggest that, in the scheme of things, a thirty-second phone call is not such a big imposition on anyone’s day: even a phone call to elicit an email address that is (damn it) on the website (for God’s sake). Is it?

No, it isn’t: not a big imposition, and not the time to make a big deal about it either. As usual, the only perspective I can manage is my own. And so I smile (to keep my tone even) and say, simply, OK, thanks a lot, and move along to the next call. I don’t stop to wonder what’s wrong with that person. No, not at all. Cheery and incurious: that’s me.

I wonder who first identified nonreactivity as a state so devoutly to be wished? I don’t know, but I bet it’s on a website. Somewhere.

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6 Responses to Devoutly To be Wish’d

  1. I swear it was NOT on their website…(it was, but I had not looked at THAT page), so I learned I had to pay $3 U.S. to pick up a parcel in Ogdensburg…

    John and I spent almost an hour (!) trying to exchange Canadian money into U.S. — tried a Savings & Loan (“We don’t do that!”) — then a bank “No. You have to have an account here. OK, I’ll open an account. You can’t, all our computers are down) — then a gas station 5+ miles away where I could use their ATM and pay $$$ extra to get $3 lousy dollars.

    I asked the parcel-holding person how many of their customers were Canadian. He said, All of them.

    If only their site had been more clear — or used a 60 pt RED font. OR, this company had opened a Canadian account for themselves. What a hassle…and
    don’t get me started about getting this parcel (a printer) through customs!

    But whenever I get warmed up dealing with these officious clerks, I try to remember the graffiti I saw on a parking lot wall in Las Vegas. In 4-foot high letters, it said, “O WELL.”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Soon all our money will be on our mobile phones (as it is now in parts of Africa where there is not much infrastructure) and this will be an historical anomaly. If only they’d taken $4 Canadian – you’d likely have settled just to save the running around. Sometimes I suspect there’s no link between the folks on the ground (“ALL our customers are Canadians”) and the people who design the website. Most days, I know there’s no link. Lately I’ve started running into websites that collect their own feedback? Were we easy to use? How could it have been better? That sort of thing. Of course, I don’t know whether anyone’s looking at the feedback . . .

      • Probably not. In a timely manner, anyway.
        And that is presuming anybody bothered to give “feedback” —

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – I must admit to sometimes sending notes about typos. I try to limit this proofreading impulse to things that affect functionality – like the typo I found in a hyperlink that rendered it inoperable (“” for “”, as it were). I sent a note to one of the senior folks whose email address *was* given on that website and got a gracious reply. Maybe I should follow up to see whether they actually fixed it! Anyway – that time, at least, it appeared that someone was listening.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    Somehow this reminds me of the survey questionnaire I receive every time I take my (very expensive to fix) British car to the dealer for repairs. The car’s maker sends a survey to make sure their dealers are doing a good job. So they ask if the dealer advised me about the current condition of my brakes. The only choices are yes and no. Well, no, they didn’t. Why should they — I went in to have a seat adjustment switch replaced, and that’s all. But any negative report, I’m told, has repercussions for the dealer, who just did what I asked them to. None of the questions has a “not applicable” option. Or even a “don’t know”. Lousy questionnaire. And no way of telling the company so. I haven’t phoned them. But I’m sure they’d tell me it’s all on the website, somewhere.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Yeah, it makes a travesty of the notion that you should always complain to the person who has the power to make it different (as opposed to your family, friends, and colleagues). These days, how the heck do you find that person? When it’s a paper form, I write in the margins. Confinement issues, I expect – probably overly swaddled as a baby.

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