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“Just a citizen?” Arggggh.

We’ve got credentials coming out of our ears. And we don’t hesitate to use them in order to get through to officials in state and local governments.

And yet, with remarkable frequency, we find that the person whom we first reach on the telephone doesn’t care a whit about helping us — or for that matter treating us with a modicum of gentility and humanity. On occasion, we’ve placed a call, and explained at length about an article we’re writing for a publication,  and then the person on the other end of the phone tells us tersely, “Sorry, we’re not interested in any new subscriptions.”

Then there are the folks who think they’re being awfully tricky when they ask us a handful of meandering questions, leave us on hold for several minutes and then come back to say, “I’m sorry, the supervisor (or whoever) is in a meeting right now.” Of course, the truth is that the supervisor doesn’t have time to talk with us — or plain out doesn’t want to. But why make up a meeting?

Perhaps worst of all are the intermediaries who — without the slightest notion of what we want — just tell us that there’s no way the source we’re speaking will want to talk to us. On a couple of occasions, when we’ve persevered and explained thoroughly who we’re representing, the answer comes back, “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were just a citizen.”

It’s that last one that makes us crazy. There shouldn’t be any such thing as “just a citizen.” And if you assume — which is likely — that we have a shot at being treated better than the average taxpayer, then  something is seriously wrong. Whoever is answering the phones in city hall or a state house is representing the mayor or governor. If they’re unhelpful, or rude, then callers can easily jump to the conclusion that this is what the city or state government is really like.

So, here’s our counsel to HR departments: Be just as careful in hiring the people who answer the phones as you do the people those people work for.


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