Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 06/83 item 03 - scanned

PHONE HASSLES I HAVE KNOWN (column)

Do you get many really irritating phone calls? It seems as if about half of ours come in this category. We can live with the users who have little problems because they paid their money and they're entitled to support. The daft ones are those that come from people who've put hand cream on their disks (true) and expect us to tell them how to recover their files.

"Why us?" is the natural first question to which the reply is "Well, we created the files using your program". A suggestion to use the back-up file receives a forlorn "But we haven't done one of those for months". A well known magazine called us the other day to complain that Cardbox couldn't read one of its files any more. When the circumstances of this disaster were explained it turned out that some hasty scribe had tripped over the power supply cable and disconnected the machine in middle of a disk update.

Programs can forgive so much but in the end there are some things (people usually) that cause irreversible damage. The sad thing is that they then try to imply that we were somehow at fault for selling a program which couldn't make sense of the gibberish scribbled on a disk during a machine's dying microseconds.

Another favourite is the tenacious magazine space-saver person. "It's the last day before we go to press and, because you're special, I'd like to give you an opportunity you can't refuse." So runs the patter along with some form of special price which is probably more than anyone else pays anyway. Translation: "Tebbo's a soft touch, perhaps he'll bale me out and even pay money for the privilege". This preamble usually takes a few minutes then the argy-bargy starts. If I want the page anyway, I start to beat them down until I have got an offer I really couldn't refuse. Since I wanted the ad anyway, this leaves me feeling jolly pleased with myself.

If I didn't want the ad then one of two things happen. The nice one is that I am presented with all sorts of reasons why I should take the page - "We are doing a special feature on one of your products". Leaping forward in time you usually find it is an incorrect entry in one of the obscure software listings at the back. Or, and I like this one, "With the page you've already got this will make sure you're noticed". To which I swiftly reply "You don't think one page would be noticed, eh? In that case I'll cancel the one I've already got." This usually indicates that it's time to give up.

The sort I don't like is the one who challenges the advertiser's judgement. Imagine having spent weeks thrashing out a press campaign based on your judgement of the various magazines' merits and then some sales person slags off all the magazines you have chosen for the campaign. When you point out that it was your carefully considered opinion that these were the appropriate magazines and you are told point blank that you are wrong, this is when your sense of humour departs.

I usually inform such people that if they don't want me to be rude to them then they'd better ring off. Most do. A friend, similarly plagued, told a sales person that he had a list of all the magazines and against each he placed a tick each time he received an advertising sales phone call. He went on to say he would place his advertisements with the magazines with the fewest number of ticks. He tells me the method works a treat.

Another regular call is from the person who says "I'm writing an article about software protection. Will you please tell me what measures you take to protect your programs and how they work?" As if we would. These people could be owners of protected software and be trying to figure out how to rip you off without getting caught. Or they could be bona fide journalists preparing an article to tell everyone else how to rip off our products. They must be round the bend to even think of asking. We usually fob them off with a generalised homily on 'bombs', serialisation, copy proofing, tamper proofing and an explanation of the economics of software publishing so that they at least realise why we are reluctant to go into sordid details on this subject.

As our company has become more prominent so have the number of phone calls from people eager to get their hands on our (non-existent) money. We get an endless stream of calls from consultants' who want to handle our investments and our insurance policies. They all adopt an identical approach. They try to bypass our secretary by saying "It's a personal call''. This is the cue for her to say "He doesn't seem to be in his office just now. May I ask who's calling?" A name follows and is duly passed on to me or Bill. A few days passes and we get another call. "Tell Mr Tebbutt it's Ron Bloggs." Of course by this time I know I've heard the name somewhere and assume it's a client. And I'm caught.

Other times I remember and warn our secretary (you notice I'm not telling you her name) to block all calls from this person. What happens then is that the person tries progressively later in the day until he catches that little window after our secretary has gone home and before we leave. Inevitably one of us answers the phone. Caught again.

If you have any favourite callers and effective methods for dealing with them why not drop me a line c/o MicroScope? We could publish the accumulated folk wisdom to help us combat this growing menace. Maybe there's an ex-telephone sales person out there prepared to spill the beans on techniques used and their countermeasures? I'd love to hear from you. Of course, we promise not to use anything we learn on the MicroScope sales force. Won't we?