Answering Phone is Like Playing Russian Roulette

Hoosier Perspectives

You never know who's on the other end of the line.

Published on: January 3, 2011

The land line office phone for Indiana Prairie Farmer doesn't get the workout it once did, what with much business transacted by email. But it's still the official way to reach us. Some days it rings more often than others. What's certain is I'm never sure what will be on the other end of the line.

Since I work out of my home, and our grandson, a one-year-old lives with us, I usually hesitate long enough to listen for background sounds, like him cooing or crying, before I decide it's Carla calling from the other end of the house. If you've called and got a grouchy 'What do you want?' or 'Now what?' now you know why.

Actually, that doesn't happen often. I try to use my professional voice and answer 'Indiana Prairie Farmer, can I help you?' Then I wait to see if I've hit the jackpot or have been interrupted for a junk call.

We still get a few people calling wanting to change their subscription. Some think if they give me their new address, I can wave a magic wand and make the magazine appear next month. They're better off calling 1-800-441-1400, or emailing circhelp@farmprogress.com,  and talking to circulation professionals.

Those aren't the junk calls I'm referring to above. If you don't know where else to turn, call me. I'll send you to the right folks if I can't help you.

A typical day last week illustrates my point. First, someone called with a question about a story in the last issue. He actually wanted more information. Those are the kind you like. Obviously, you've peaked someone's interest, albeit you never know their full intentions. It is Russian roulette, remember.

Next, someone with a beef about a government agency calls. Like I can make that problem go away. I'm all ears if it's a problem that might affect everyone. But if it's an individual problem that affects just that person, and it's pretty clear I'm only getting one side of the story, it's time for the other phone to ring, or for my secretary to say I have a meeting. That's what politicians do. But I only have one line, and I don't have a secretary. So I hold on to the nearest jumping off point, and wish the person a good day.

Now for the real ringer—the true junk call. I answer the phone. There's silence. Then a voice begins talking. I start saying I'm not interested and the voice keeps talking. Obviously, it's a recording. Who in the world actually responds to those silly recordings anyway? If we all hang up every time, surely they would stop after awhile.

The phone rang again. "Sir, the warranty is up on your truck. It's time to consider an extended warranty."

"I'm not interested."

"Just how many miles do you have on it?"

"Look, I said I wasn't interested, and this is a business line, good by."

"OK, good luck with your repair bills."

I'm never as fast as I like. Seconds later, I realized what I should have said. "If you made them better in the first place, I wouldn't have to worry about repair bills…so there!"

Five minutes late the phone rings. Come on. Not again.

This time it's an old friend I've met through the Indiana FFA Tractor Drive. He's chuckling, and just calling to tell me how much he appreciated that Front Porch piece about my mother in the January issue.

"I laughed until I cried. I could just see you going at it with 'grandma' over those 4-H steers. My mom was just like that- resolute, ready to interrogate you, and always worried about money."

"These are the kind of calls I like but seldom get. You've made my day. Thanks for calling!"

As long as you win the final round of Russian roulette, I guess you live to fight another day. It's always good to get a little good feedback sprinkled in.