Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When you get "that" phone call?

Yesterday I got "that" phone call.

The daughter of an out-of-town friend called to tell me that her mother had passed away. Audrey K. lived in the Baltimore area. We had gotten acquainted in about 2001, after she wrote a complaint letter to the Sears, Roebuck headquarters.

Most complaint letters were routed to one of several call centers, where they were handled by representatives who were pretty closely monitored by supervisors. I could just imagine supervisors marching around with clipboards and stopwatches, carefully timing how long a customer service rep stayed on the phone with a customer and making sure they kept the calls as short as possible and paid as little reimbursement as possible.

Fortunately, in my role I didn't have such a supervisor. I handled complaints that made it through all the filters to the desks of senior executives. They'd forward the complaints to me to handle personally, because they knew I loved satisfying customers. And they knew we'd still have a customer when I  the call was over.

I have forgotten the nature of Audrey's first call. When I opened and read her letter, I just picked up the phone and called her. I'll always remember her reaction. She said, "I never thought you people would call me!" Whatever the problem was, I handled it. Audrey said something like, "I'll bet you won't give me your phone number. I told her I'd do better than that - I'd spell my name for her and I'd give her my direct-dial phone number.

I iced the cake by offering my home number, too, in case she had a problem after-hours. With that, a friendship started.

She called me a few months later with another complaint. She was being billed for a car repair. The problem? She didn't own a car and didn't have a driver's license!

After I quit in 2002 (that's another story), I sent her birthday cards and occasionally called her. And she'd call me, sometimes just to talk. Ever have a telephone friend?

So I was saddened yesterday to receive "that" call. I never knew Audrey's age; not that it mattered. I thought I might find it in her obituary, but it wasn't published there. I guessed she was some years older than I, because she's always say, "Hello, young feller." R.I.P., Audrey.

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