You all know the feeling: The problem is solved, the computer is working, but the caller still won't hang up. He or she keeps chatting about this and that: computers, cabbages, and kings.
Reams have been written about the various techniques for ending calls properly, yet not much is mentioned about how to end a call when all those methods fail. So, in jest only, here are some methods that may (wink, wink) have been used at companies where I may (nudge, nudge) have worked in the past by people who will remain anonymous.
The boring geek
This technique works on callers who continuously bombard you with questions totally unrelated to computers. Reply to the last question with the longest explanation you can muster. Respond in a dull, monotone voice, droning on and on until the caller makes a rapid excuse and hangs up before he or she dies of boredom. Although nearly 100 percent effective, this method can take quite a while as it relies entirely on the caller’s boredom factor.
Phone trouble bluff
This method is particularly useful if the caller is using a mobile phone. Keep saying, "Hello?" and "Sorry, I can’t hear you." The caller will say, "You’re coming through to me okay." To which the correct reply is, of course, "Hello? Hello?" Hang up when you feel it is safe to do so. Always hang up in the middle of a word, not at the end of a sentence, as this adds authenticity to your performance. A disadvantage of this method is that the caller may ring back. Like emergency flares, this method can only be used once.
The crisp packet (or, for U.S. readers, The bag of potato chips)
This method works much the same way as the "Phone trouble bluff" but adds a prop for realism. As the user begins to ramble, take a crisp packet and scrunch it up next to your phone’s mouthpiece. After several seconds of scrunching, say, "Hello? Hello? I'm sorry you're breaking up…," and then simply hang up, remembering again to do so in the middle of your sentence.
Interrupt the caller with, "Oh my goodness!" When the caller asks what the matter is, reassure them that everything's fine. Then, partially cover the mouthpiece and say, in a worried voice, "Dave, can you get a bandage on this? I don’t think I can hold it in much longer." Hearing this and figuring that you have more important problems at the moment, callers often hang up within seconds.
As with "The crisp packet" technique, this method requires a prop. In the early '90s, small gadgets that made a variety of noises were very popular. These devices, which could be installed on a car dashboard or office desk, emitted various sounds to entertain and relieve tension. An engineer at our help desk owned such a device that produced a sound very similar to the building's fire alarm.
Provided that the callers were not in the same building, it was possible to convince them that we were about to evacuate by playing the sound effect into the phone's receiver. While effective, this method can backfire if used too often. A caller on a remote site once called the company's safety officer and complained about the many false fire alarms experienced in our building. This technique was abandoned soon afterwards.
This is my all-time favorite technique (and there’s a true story that goes along with it). Although highly effective, this method relies more on luck than acting ability or careful planning. One day, a help desk engineer I know was walking around his office while wearing his headset and on a call. He had an eight-foot, coiled cable attached to his headset and was trying to reach the tea pot approximately 12 feet from his desk. This engineer's phone system was an elderly Pantera, which (for those of you who aren’t hundreds of years old like me) is very heavy. Being as the Pantera box would not slide off his desk, something had to give.
The cable suddenly came loose from the Pantera box, flew across the room with lightening speed, and cracked our engineer on the side of his head. This caused him to drop his cup of tea onto a nearby colleague’s desk. That colleague promptly leapt to his feet, throwing his chair over backwards and into the path of the office mail clerk. Immediately, the contents of several mail trays joined the mess of people, tea, and furniture on the floor. All the caller knew was that the line went dead; he was totally forgotten in the mêlée.
Add your favorite escape techniques to the list
How do you handle callers who can't let go? Do you have a creative method of ending a call that has gone on way too long? Post a comment to this article or write to Jeff Dray and share your favorite escape techniques. Remember, it's all in good fun.