Friday, March 14, 2008

Corporate communications notes from all over: the corner of Telephone and Telephone

Several days ago I got a phone call purporting to be from someone at my ophthalmologist’s office, asking whether I would be interested in participating in a study of a new drug for the treatment of dry eye, a condition noted on my chart, apparently. Show up for four appointments; use the eyedrops they’ll provide four times a day for a month. Collect $500.

Cool. Why not? Maybe the drops will help. Easy money.

So I signed up, with my first appointment scheduled for 8:30 this morning. They called Wednesday to remind me. Yes, I’ll be there. Oh, did we mention the referral fee if you know anyone else who might be a candidate? Why no, you didn’t. I mentioned the study to a friend who I’ve seen putting drops in his eyes frequently (with no claim that I know what condition he’s using the drops for). Yes, he’d be interested, too. Great. He’ll get $500 and I’ll get $100 for referring him. Excellent plan.

So I showed up this morning, fifteen minutes early in case there was paperwork, with my list of meds, as requested, and I walked up to the desk. What study? Which doctor called? Are you sure it was for today? Just take a seat.

Which I did. Eye doctor’s waiting room with no magazines. Go figure. And I hadn’t brought any reading matter of my own, foolishly. Tick tock. Eavesdrop on other people’s uninteresting chitchat. Twiddle thumbs. At 8:50 I went back to the desk and asked if we were waiting for someone to arrive. The office manager then picked up the phone and called the practice’s other office, forty-five minutes away, in a different city. Yep. That’s where the study is being conducted. No, the person who called me—in New Haven—did not tell me that the study was not being conducted in New Haven. No, I was not aware that the practice had another office. No, I will not be participating. Yes, I will be getting a check for my inconvenience, which is not a bad way of apologizing for a screw-up.

But here’s the lesson
Does your business card include the area code with your phone number? Does your website? Is there some indication, on every piece of business collateral you produce, of where you are located? When a customer calls the number listed in the local phone book for your business, do they reach someone at the local office or are they speaking with someone at a call center who has no clue what the local weather and traffic conditions are at the moment or whether you’re located across the street from Pizza Hut?

It’s a little thing. Tell people where you are calling from and where you are asking them to go.

Postscript to readers under forty
Before the age of cell phones, city streets had telephone booths containing public pay telephones (you put in one or more coins to be connected to the number you dialed—on a dial, not a keypad, before the 1960s). The standard design for many years was a square booth (executed in different materials in different decades) at the top of which was an illuminated panel with the word “Telephone” on each of the four sides. An old joke has a man stumbling, inebriated, out of a bar and calling home for a ride. When asked for his location, he sticks his head out of the phone booth, glances up, and responds, “I’m at the corner of Telephone and Telephone.”


Anonymous said...

Now there's a new squiggle that may make area codes unreliable as location pointers: porting. You can now keep your area code and phone number and just have it ported to where you move. An example is my son. When we moved from Jersey to Pennsy (and then he moved to Delaware) he was able to keep his 973 area code and number. The only thing Verizon did was change his billing address. Since many are using cell phones for business it may become almost impossible to rely on an area code as a location referent.

The best thing is to have a general locale, if not a literal city/state, on all printed/web collateral. That, however, won't help in a situation such as you experienced since they may have been using nothing more than a phone listing.

Good post, as always, Mr. M!

Dick Margulis said...


Your point is well taken in terms of saying where you are physically. But if you include your area code, even if you neglect to include a city, at least someone looking at the phone number can reach you and ask where you are located. Without the area code, you're just lost in space altogether.