Now please press 6 for phone fury
Sunday 11 October 1998
Annoying, isn't it? Many's the hot exclusive about a chief executive and a sleeping wildebeest that has slipped through the net because my sources have lost patience with my voicemail or answerphone. But it seems I'm not alone. According to a survey of 600 senior managers and directors by Energis, the telecommunications company, around 30 per cent of respondents have raged against the machine when they've been forced to leave a message that may or may not be returned.
The findings get worse. Some 38 per cent said they had dropped suppliers, or potential suppliers, because calls weren't returned or they were left on hold for too long. Meanwhile, 31 per cent reported that they had placed business elsewhere because their supplier's numbers were engaged too often. And 38 per cent again said suppliers had been given the boot for "poor telephone use" or "poor telephone etiquette". I tried to elicit more information from a disgruntled company, but they told me to sod off.
The conclusions are clear. The finest classical symphonies sound like muzak when piped down the phone, and the noise only antagonises people. Don't be rude; it only antagonises people. Don't pull faces or gesticulate at the handset; they might have a video phone. Don't talk on the phone; there may be someone trying to get through. Don't forget to return calls and be ready to answer questions.
Energis was unavailable for comment.
THE TIME is approaching, so City legend suggests, when thousands of traders react to stock market chaos and job insecurity by manning the window ledges of their Square Mile skyscrapers.
"Go on, jump," sadistic onlookers will cry, little knowing that as the victims dive swallow-like to the streets below, they'll be heading for a soft landing - a blanket held out by outplacement consultancies such as Sanders & Sidney.
While "outplacement" is a typically inelegant example of management speak, it shines by comparison with "downsizing" and its new offspring, "rightsizing" - itself a euphemism for a euphemism. Outplacement takes the fight to these diabolical terms as it is a service used by companies to find new jobs for redundant employees.
According to apocryphal tales from the late 1980s, there wasn't much call for the service in the last recession: City workers would mournfully accept their redundancy cheques, spend a day or two picking up the pieces of their shattered lives ... and then walk straight into a new job down the road, their wallets suitably upsized.
Frances Cook, managing director of S&S, says that, like all generalisations, this was only true in part. She warns that this time people will struggle to find a new post. And while she thinks the shake-out in the Square Mile will cost several thousand jobs, not the 50,000 flagged in some quarters, this will still leave a lot of redundant workers having to carve out new careers.
This is where the outplacement service comes in. First, it helps ex-employees to write CVs and conduct a "reality check" of their skills: many a would- be astronaut has been brought down to earth by S&S. Then it uses networking - "we know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody," says Ms Cook - to prepare the ground with prospective employers. S&S has helped financial services staff to make radical career changes - anything from teaching to law - so clearly it helps if your application is expected.
The part of the service I like best, though, is that clients receive feedback from companies rather than the communications blackout that usually follows applications. As many job-seekers will know, some employers don't even have the decency to tell you to bugger off.
What's in a name?
SO YOU think it's easy to come up with a name? Here's what you have to do. A company wants a title for a new product that will make it attractive to a young, sophisticated audience. You go into a "creative naming process" exploring criteria that the writers will have to meet - in this case, "warmth" and "reliability". Then comes the "creative naming workshop", where members of your staff, the client's staff and the ad agency's staff toss around ideas that reflect their own areas of interest; names such as "Lager", "Football" and "Mating Habits of the Marsupial" are rejected.
You take your ideas out on the road. After overcoming their disappointment that you're not market-testing beer, consumers help you to sift out the bad ideas. You go back to the client and enter a "theoretical and practical process" where a range of names is presented and boiled down to a winner. Finally, you do the painstaking legal work - ensuring that you won't be infringing patents in any of your target markets. The whole process has taken eight weeks.
Some cynics will suggest that they could have thought of the name "egg" when lying in bed - though they may have had breakfast in mind rather than the Prudential's new phone banking service. But it will give ammunition to critics who wonder why expensive pony-tailed creatives are hired to come up with something so daft.
The Brand Name and Company is the firm behind "egg", and marketing manager, Jonathan Hall, says: "Experience shows us that people can't think of names like that." There is a discipline to the process, he explains, because you have to choose a name that communicates the right values to customers, informs staff of standards of service expected, and gives ad agencies something to work with. With egg, the most important characteristics are simplicity and reliability.
If you think he's talking rubbish, do try this at home: think of a name for a direct banking service that is neither vulgar, glib, arcane nor suggestive of banking or phones: the word "direct" has been used before.
Mr Hall admits that some people will struggle to stop laughing out loud when they are greeted with the words "hello, egg" - especially if they remember the way Rowan Atkinson said "Bob" in Blackadder.
So imagine being asked who you work for at a dinner party.
"egg", you mumble.
Slowly, the guests drift away.
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