Saturday, June 4, 2022

Compulsion to Reply Quickly to All Messages

There is a person I admire very much. This person, who shall remain nameless, is bold enough to do something I simply do not have the courage to do. This person actually replies to emails, voice messages, and text messages if and only when he or she feels like it.

That is just stunningly brave behavior. In this day and age of high-speed instant communication, most people, especially me, are compelled to reply to all forms of electronic messaging as soon as humanly possible. We instinctively fear that if we don’t reply right away, the time gap between receiving and replying will itself send a message, specifically: “I don’t care about you.” Which, of course, is not the impression we want to give.
So, as soon as our phones beep, chirp, or blare out the first eight bars of “The Chicken Dance” (some ringtones are purposely obnoxious, while others are that way because most of us have no clue how to program a different tone), we are compelled to read or listen to the message and then reply right away. This is true even if we’re driving in congested traffic on the Merritt Parkway. (I bet I’m the only person in America who thinks car insurance premiums are too low. The number of fender-benders I see each month, usually caused by someone looking at their phone, is so high I’m certain every single one of us will eventually be either the highway hitter or hittee at least once in our lives.)

In my case, this compulsion to reply instantly is magnified by the fact that I’m in sales. The moment I receive a message, my first thought is that if I don’t reply right away, they're just going to contact my competition. You’d think after doing this for over 36 years I’d be a bit more relaxed about that aspect of my job.

On the other hand, there have been numerous times recently when I’ve received an email message, but since I was driving, I only glanced at my phone and saw that it was from one of my clients. Then literally 90 seconds later, I received a phone call from that same person, which I answered because I have a hands-free system in my car. This is what I heard: “Bill, I sent you an email, but you never replied,” to which I said, “Um, that was not even two minutes ago.” And then he said, “Yeah, but I need the technical specifications for that unit right away. So, I’ll hold.”

At that moment, this is what I thought but did not say, since I’m a good customer service person: “Seriously, dude?! I’m on the Merritt Parkway right now, on the verge of doing something that will make my car insurance premium skyrocket!! You will NOT hold, and I will get back to you when I’m damn good and ready!!”
What I actually said was, “Ooh, sorry, but I’m driving in heavy traffic right now. I’ll find a rest area and call you back in 10 minutes, okay?” 

The frustration and mild indignation I sensed in his voice when he replied, “Yeah, fine, whatever,” actually made me feel guilty. So, obviously, I have psychological issues that are different but almost as serious as his. 

Anyway, getting back to the person I admire, a person with the guts to reply to messages two, three, and even six days later — or not at all. I really wish I could be like that, but I know I never will.
So, if you hear on the news someday that I was the cause of a nine car pileup on the Merritt Parkway, just remember that I am a good customer service person.

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