Giving Good Phone

And now, as they used to say, for something completely different!

A couple years ago, my partner was working on a “phone queue” for a fairly large business – one which was quite fond of making lots and lots of rules for its employees – all of them numbered. At one point, the latest trendy management fad was, erm, trendy, and so the underlings were instructed to – in their free time, off the clock – come up with entertaining and memorable ways of reminding their fellow knaves of the dozen or so rules that were most important that week.

My partner being good at the whole delegating thing, I – who didn’t, and don’t, even work for the company in question – got stuck with it. Being the overachiever that I am, I came up with two responses. One was a set of haikus, about which the less said the better (though I’m told they were fairly popular.) The other was a short story…

The whole thing is meant to be funny – and also something of a pastiche of two authors whose books I’d just finished reading – Stephen Brust and Terry Pratchett. Even though the “rules” are specific to the (unnamed) company in question, they’re still plenty applicable to most phone queues. So, to brighten your day a little bit, and perhaps that of those around you, here’s a lengthy bit of doggerel on how to give good phone:


On the first day of the seventh month of never, the wizened but nameless Master of Fon-Fu went down into the call centre and found his chosen disciple, the unmotivated and fairly lackluster Gnoc-Lu. Smacking Gnoc-Lu about the earhole with a bamboo cane, he spake thus: “Clueless One,” he said, using his pet term of endearment for his disciple, “do not bring up old stuff, but tell me this:” “Yes, masterâ€?, prompted Gnoc. Spake the Master: “What have you done for me today?”

“Well, Master,” said Gnoc-Lu, “today is Grovelling Day, as happens every month on the first day.” “Yes, boy,” said the Master, “you are boring me with things I already know, and, indeed, have known since you were in diapers. Get to the point, boy, or it will go badly for you.” “Well,” said Gnoc, “I cancelled everyone’s prep time, follow-up time, meal breaks, smoke breaks, and cesspit breaks, so they could better deal with the endless hordes of ignorant savages we are privileged to call customers.”

Master said nothing.

“Did I do wrong, Master?” asked Gnoc.

Master scowled. “You anticipated a problem and found a solution. Perhaps you aren’t as worthless and lazy as I had thought. As your reward-”

“Yes, Master?” interrupted the eager Gnoc-Lu.

“As your reward, I shall not smack you upside the head for interrupting your elders.”

Some few days later, the Master again descended upon the dirty stall in which Gnoc-Lu liked to pretend he was busy working. “Foolish knave,” said the Master, “What have you done for me today?”

“Master,” said Gnoc-Lu, “A caller wanted something insignificant and unimportant, but time-consuming and wearisome for me to do, so I upsold him.”

“How,” said the Master, “You upsold him?”

“Yes, Master. I sold him all sorts of products, services, and features he neither needed nor wanted, but seemed happy to receive.”

“Ah,” said the Master, “the little know-it-all has learned another lesson, and after only six years of indentured servitude!â€? So happy was he, that he went away without kicking Gnoc-Lu, and didn’t come back until the very next day.

“Worthless worm,” said the Master to Gnoc-Lu, “What is Rule Three?”

Gnoc-Lu thought for a moment. “Offer alternatives, that one may avoid future problems, Master.”

The Master smacked him upside the head.

“Ow,” said Gnoc-Lu, “so, what is it?”

“You were correct,” said the Master, “but, ironically, nobody likes a know-it-all, so I smack you, and you not see it coming.”

“Drat,” swore Gnoc-Lu.

Some time later, the nameless but tempermental Master of Fon-Fu returned to Gnoc-Lu, his dim-witted but well-meaning disciple. There he stood for some moments, watching Gnoc answer the rusty tin can that dangled from a piece of string that led thru a hole in the wall. After a brief moment, Gnoc-Lu make a few complicated and painful-looking movements with some rocks before him, and set the can down.

“Yes, Master?” he asked.

“That last call,” said the Master. “Why did you transfer it so quickly?”

“Master,” said Gnoc-Lu, “the old lady on the other end said she was having problems with her yak cheese, so I transferred her to the Large and/or Flatulent Livestock division.”

“Fool,” said the Master, “for all you know the problem had nothing to do with her yak, but everything to do with the milk, or the culture. Did you ever think of that?”

“No, Master.”

“You have learned nothing of Rule Four,” said the Master. “For all you know, LFL services had to transfer her to our dairy division.”

“Well,” said Gnoc-Lu, resentfully, “we certainly don’t have a culture division here.”

The master smacked Gnoc-Lu across the shins. “Stupid boy, we outsource that to France.”

Some days later the Master again approached Gnoc-Lu. “Gnoc-Lu,” he said, “Have you managed to remember anything at all of Rule Five?”

“Rule Five,” Gnoc-Lu recited from memory, “The Customer is Always Righteous.”

“No!” exclaimed the Master, landing a stinging blow on Gnoc’s head. “Strive for intuitive understanding of every caller without asking lots of stupid questions.”

A day later he returned to Gnoc’s stall. “Lazy worthless good-for-nothing disciple, I have received complaint about you!”

Gnoc-Lu cringed and cowered. “It was the goat’s fault, Master, I had nothing to do with it.”

The Master paused for a moment. “A likely excuse,” he muttered, “but not relevant. A Mrs. Dong of Hoo-Cair Province wrote me to complain about you. She says she ordered a water buffalo from us, but we sent her a camel by mistake.”

“Oh,” muttered Gnoc, “her.”

“Yes, her. She says she called to complain, but didn’t know her order number, so you told her she’d have to call back when she found it. Is that true?”


“Would it have killed you to transfer her to purchasing department? Or put her on hold and walk across the pasture to them and ask in person? Must be, because you didn’t do it. And in not doing so, you demonstrated your clueless ignorance of all things that are Rule Six – always go the extra kilometer.”

“Sorry, Master,” said Gnoc-Lu.

“Not as sorry as you will be,” said the Master, “for you also forgot Rule Seven.”

“I did not!” exclaimed Gnoc.

“Did too! Mrs. Dong said she called back again to complain and you answered and told her to get bent, and the Foo Dog she rode in on.”

“But she called me a clueless capitalist running-dog and part of the imperialist hegemony,” said Gnoc. “Whatever all that means,” he added.

“Just because someone else does something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for you to do it. Consider, I smack your empty, good-for-nothing head nearly every day, yes?”


“And it is just, for I am your Master and you are, unfortunately, my disciple. But if you were to go around smacking yourself on the head, everyone’d think you were either crazed, or stupid, or had been out in the sun too long.”

“You have a point,” conceded Gnoc-Lu.

“Damn skippy,” said Master, and left.

Some weeks later it came time for Gnoc-Lu’s annual review. At daybreak he climbed the rocky slope that led to his Master’s palatial byre, clapped before the gilded wooden door, and was bade to enter.

“You have proven a constant dissapointment to me,” began the wizened and ancient Master, “yet I sense in you great potential, though less than in most people, and think that with a few centuries of grueling labor and study you could progress to mediocrity, perhaps even near-adequacy.”

Gnoc-Lu beamed at this praise.

“Let us review the Fourteen Lessons,” said the Master.

“Lesson One,” said Gnoc, “anticipate the anticipatable problems, and find others to blame for the unanticipatable ones.”

The Master nodded.

“Lesson Two, upsell, upsell, upsell, because, is it not said, there is one born every minute?”


“Lesson Three, offer alternatives to achieve the harmonious avoidance of future problems.”

“Suck-up,” muttered the Master.

“But, Master,” said Gnoc-Lu, “is not Lesson Three basically the same as Lesson One?”

“Do not question me, kid,” said the Master, “I didn’t think these damned things up. Continue!”

“Lesson Four! Seek enlightenment that one may avoid unnecessarily inconveniencing our valued customers.”

“Close enough, go on.”

“Lesson Five, The Customer is Always – no, no, wait, seek harmonious understanding of every caller and their place in the world’s order.”

“Something like that,” sighed the Master.

“Lesson Six, always go the extra kilometer.”


“Lesson Seven, maintain positive behavioural attitudes while being screamed at.”

“I think you take liberty and paraphrase, but continue.”

“Lesson Eight: In a field of cowpies, a diamond shines more brightly than ever.”

“Correct!” the Master said, dancing a little arthritic jig of happiness.

“Master, I confess I have never understood Rule Eight.”

“You’ll know it when you see it,” said Master, with what passes for wisdom in these parts. “Go on.”

“Lesson Nine: Do not hang up on caller, or you won’t be able to sit down for a fortnight.”

“Only had to teach you that one once, didn’t I?,” asked the midly sadistic and heavy-handed Master.

“Lesson Ten: When speaking, be as the grass, one who is quiet and serene and peaceful, and not as the gorilla, or one who is smelly and confrontational and invades the personal space of others.”


“Lesson Eleven: It’s my fault, it’s always my fault, and even if it wasn’t my fault, I’m but a lowly disciple of Fon-Fu and must accept the blame without bitterness.”

The Master of Fon-Fu nodded.

“Lesson Twelve: Distract not others, lest you too would like to be distracted by, e.g. someone farting the glorious and patriotic national anthem right after lunch.”

“Right, right, and Lesson Thirteen?”

“Pah, Lesson Thirteen dead easy. Avoid not only impropriety, but the appearance of impropriety, the sound of impropriety, the smell of impropriety, and the taste of impropriety in the coffee.”

“Very good,” said the Master, “there might just be hope for you yet. Now, can you tell me Lesson Fourteen?”

Gnoc-Lu dropped to his knees. “Master,” he said, “kind, just, and vengeful Master, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have never learned Lesson Fourteen, could not find it in any of the three-ring binders, and none of my fellow phone agents have ever heard of it, either.”

“Stand,” said the Master. “There is no Lesson Fourteen anymore, and has not been for many years. Yet still it is kept on the exam, for much can be learned from how one handles Lesson Fourteen. Some will invent a Lesson Fourteen of their own; they show creativity and innovation, and have no place in our company. Some argue about the numbering, or confuse another Lesson for the missing one; they are dumber than most, and we promote them. But some, some precious few take the other thirteen Lessons to heart and admit their ignorance with nobility and humility.”

“What happens to them?” asked Gnoc-Lu.

“Do not ask me that again,” said the Master, “for I will tell you, and you will not enjoy the answer.”

“But am I not going to find out anyway?”

“No! Did you think I failed to recognize cheekiness when I heard it? You were not noble or humble in your admission of ignorance, but cheeky and impertinent, only thinking of yourself and the avoidance of punishment. For you…”


“For you, we have a larger, cleaner stall, a new tin can, and an adjustment in pay that, taking inflation into account, means you’ll be making basically what you have been making up until now. Oh, and as a bonus, two potatoes.”

Gnoc-Lu was very happy with his new workspace, and his shiny new tin can, and his two nearly-new potatoes, but like many of those who work so hard to set good examples to get promoted, once promoted, he let himself slide, and only a few days later found himself beset by something that truly has no place in a well-run feudal work environment: curiosity. Seeing his Master walking past the row of stables where Gnoc worked, he stepped before him and nodded respectfully.

“Well, Gnoc-Lu,” said the Master, “You have something to ask me?”

“Master,” said Gnoc-Lu, “What happens to those who remember all Thirteen Lessons, and respond approprietly to the ridiculous enigma that is Lesson Fourteen?”

“You truly wish to know?” asked the Master.

“I do,” said Gnoc-Lu.



“Fo’ shizzle?”

“Fo’ shizzle, my Mizzle.”

“Very well. This, then, is what happens to those who have mastered all of the Lessons:”

“Yes?” prompted Gnoc-Lu.

“They are sent away to a hot, impoverished, disease-ridden corner of the world for three weeks, where the food is too spicy to eat and the water not safe to drink.”

“Gosh,” said Gnoc-Lu.

“Indeed. Be happy with your stall and your potatoes. For is it not said, those whom the Gods wish to reward they first make really stinking miserable?”

The end, thank the Gods.

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General | on June 6th, 2008| Comments Off on Giving Good Phone

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