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What if extended hold times are a ruse?

March 3rd, 2022 by dk

My father ran a camera store in Evanston, Ill., just north of Chicago. His favorite perk  of the job was to travel to trade shows and professional conventions to see the latest gizmos before they had been released to the general public. He was what we’d call a tech-head during the Eisenhower years.

He had a reel-to-reel video tape recorder when I was in first grade, giving the older neighborhood girls a chance to see themselves on TV. He brought home a device once that looked like a television, except the screen was hinged as a door. It cooked a Cornish hen in six minutes without getting the plate hot. He always had the most interesting gadgets, always with stories to match.

One time he came home with the station wagon filled with security cameras. There must have been hundreds of them. He bought them from a fellow at a trade show for practically nothing, because that’s what they were worth. They were empty inside. No gadgetry at all. Just the shell of a security camera.

As I recall the story (I was barely 10 years old), the manufacturer had updated the mechanics inside. The vendor who manufactured the outsides learned of the change only after hundreds of obsolete cases had been finished. My dad took them off the vendor’s hands, but why? My father was a clever one.

He kept a box of the cameras in the car. When he shopped at a store that used security cameras, he asked for the owner, who was almost always near the cash register in those days. He offered to double the store’s security for a very modest sum, spouting practiced statistics about shoplifting losses.

He sold the dummy cameras to be pointed where the working security cameras missed. All the cameras looked alike, so security was increased in effect, even if not exactly in cause.

I thought of my father last week when I called a business on Friday afternoon who was experiencing “higher-than-expected call volume.” Businesses use this line like dime stores used security cameras, whether it’s true or not.

They were unable to take my call, simply because too many others had thought to call them moments before me. Their message didn’t offer me the option of waiting or leaving a message. It just encouraged me to try again later and hung up. Others now typically estimate my wait time and then pelt me with suggestions to use their website instead. 

I can’t prove this is happening, but I can channel my father’s entrepreneurial spirit and imagine the pitch. 

“We can set up an outgoing hold message that warns every caller of a 30-minute wait time by default. This will cull your service calls to those who cannot or will not find an alternative. Your agent then takes the call after 30 minutes, quickly apologizing for your popularity, then proceeds as normal. Callers who endure are grateful and you’ve reduced your service volume by 50 percent or more.”

My father could conjure gold woven from straw. I miss him.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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