Are phones a necessary evil?

I hate phonesI hate phones.

I hate answering phones. I hate making phone calls. I especially hate doing business by phone. Maybe it's a part of my social anxiety, but I will go to great lengths to not use my phone. (The phone “app” doesn't even live on the homescreen of my phone!)

If I ever have a question for my bank, for instance, I will get in my car and drive to the bank before I'll pick up the phone.

Kim thinks I'm crazy. She's just the opposite. She loves the phone and prefers it to doing business in person. Every week, I listen as she makes two or three calls and uses her charm on customer service agents. I have no charm, and I hate the phone.

Let me give you a more detailed example of why I find phones frustrating.

As a non-phone guy, it makes me sad that some of my friends are very much phone people. If I text them, they phone me back. If I send them email, they phone me back. *sigh*

Welcome to Purgatory

Last autumn, before my trip to Europe, I inadvertently signed up for the Oregon Health Plan. I had been filling out online forms to research an article, and apparently one of the forms that said it was informational only was actually a real, genuine application.

When I returned from Europe, I found that I was enrolled in my state's low-income health plan. Oops.

“You need to call to correct this,” Kim said.

“I know,” I said, “but I hate the phone.”

“Do it anyhow,” she said. I dialed the customer service number. Then I sat on hold for 45 minutes before becoming so frustrated that I hung up and went on to other things. A week later, the same scene repeated itself. And the next week too.

After a third session of waiting on hold, I'd had enough.

“This is why I hate phones,” I said to Kim. “You wait on hold for an eternity. It's like you're in purgatory. When you finally get through, nobody knows the answer. I'm over this. I'm going to go find somebody who can help me.”

I drove twenty minutes to a government office, where a pleasant young woman listened to my story. “I can help,” she said. Ten minutes later, my problem was solved.

I texted Kim: “It took me less time to drive down here and get this solved than it did to wait on hold for nothing this morning.”

And I can almost guarantee you that if I had actually reached somebody on the phone, it wouldn't have been the right person. I would have been shuffled around — and left on hold — several times before somebody would have been able to help. That's how it always goes.

From my experience, it's almost always more effective to speak to somebody in person than it is to handle business by phone. If I have a question for a company or government agency, I do my best to stop by an actual office to ask it. I prefer the face to face contact. It's quicker and produces better results.

Sometimes, though, the phone is a necessary evil.

A Necessary Evil

This morning, I was doing my end-of-month finances. I noticed a charge this week from Avis Rent-a-Car. “That's strange,” I thought. “I haven't rented a car recently. Is this from my rental in France?”

I did a quick search of my transactions to find two recent charges from Avis:

Avis Charges

When I rented the car in France, I did so with Chase Ultimate Rewards points. No cash changed hands. When I returned the car, the man who checked me in told me everything was fine. No damage. I was under the impression that I didn't owe anything else.

That said, it's possible that I inadvertently broke some law or other while driving around Normandy, Brittany, and Paris. Maybe I used a toll road without knowing. Maybe I ran a red light that was photo enforced. Maybe Paris has congestion charges like London. Maybe I was speeding somewhere that I ought not have been speeding. I don't know.

I tried to follow all of the rules. Plus, I drive like an old man. But that doesn't mean I didn't make a mistake.

So, maybe these charges are due to some error on my part. But it's also possible that I'm getting screwed over by Avis. The problem is that other than these two charges to my credit card, nobody has contacted me to let me know what's going on.

With a heavy sigh — and a complaint to Kim — I called Avis.

I'm pleased to report that I didn't have to wait long for a customer service rep. (Maybe because it's early on a Sunday morning?) Unfortunately, all Ed could tell me was that both of these charges are “administrative fees”.

“What are administrative fees?” I asked.

“They could be any number of things,” he said, “but they're usually due to a government fine of some sort. Like a parking ticket. Or a speeding ticket. Stuff like that.”

“Is there any way to find out what my charges are for?” I asked.

“Well, I have a phone number here. You could call,” he said. I shook my head and grimaced. I was glad he couldn't see my reaction. “But you can also simply wait. Generally speaking, you'll eventually be contacted with information about what these fees are for.”

So, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to wait. Yes, it goes against my advice to always be proactive. But it also means I don't have to use the phone.

With luck, I'll get mail (or email) soon that lets me know how I goofed up on the roads of France. Until then, I just hope these administrative fees don't keep accumulating at the end of every month! More than that, I hope I don't have to make additional phone calls about them.

One of my biggest pet peeves — my biggest pet peeve? — is companies that allow you to sign up for service online but force you to phone to cancel service. When we moved into this house (two years ago today!), I subscribed to the Sunday New York Times. It sounded fun, and the online sign-up process was simple.

Turns out, we never read the paper. When it arrived, it sat on the coffee table for a week or two or three, then it got recycled. (Well, we did read the New York Times Magazine supplement, but that's it.) So, I decided to cancel.

In a total dick move, The New York Times forces you to phone in order to cancel. You have to run the “customer retention” gauntlet to stop service. Utter bullshit. If you can sign up via the web, you should be able to cancel via the web. (And don't give me this stupid “it's for your protection” excuse. Who goes around canceling people's newspaper subscriptions?)

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El Nerdo
El Nerdo
1 year ago

I hate it when the phone rings for me because it is an interruption, but I prefer to call a business when I need customer service. I don’t like to wait for email replies, and chats can be cumbersome with all the authentications required. As for people calling me: sure, if we have something to talk about, that would be great, but please by appointment only. The other problem is that the more you give people your phone number, the more spam texts and robocalls you get. That’s the infuriating part. Can I please block everyone except for my contacts?… Read more »

saving hard
saving hard
1 year ago

don’t ever sign up for ooma or sirius radio. very hard to cancel

Eileen
Eileen
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I’ve canceled Sirius before — it was a phone call for sure, but not hard. They will offer you the service for pennies, so you can usually get a very good deal to keep it. But I’ve definitely called and canceled before.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
1 year ago
Reply to  saving hard

Wall Street Journal makes you cancel by phone, then they make you an offer… wash, rinse, repeat.

S.G.
S.G.
1 year ago
Reply to  saving hard

I assume you mean new Ooma? My version doesnt include any kind of fee, so I dont know why I would cancel it, or where I would start if I wanted to.

dh
dh
1 year ago

Haha this was a fun little highly relatable article, kind of like something you would have published at FoldedSpace or the GRS of yesteryear. I enjoy these kinds of posts. I don’t feel like everything has to be so “on target” re: finances and all.

WL
WL
1 year ago

JD, I had a similar charge when I rented with Enterprise, they couldn’t tell me what the phantom charges were for exactly.

Turns out there was a class action lawsuit against Enterprise about double billing toll fees.

https://www.classaction.org/news/enterprise-rentacar-facing-class-action-over-doublebilling-toll-fees

As soon as I disputed the charge on my CC, Enterprise issued a refund.

May be worth a try.

The Poor Swiss
The Poor Swiss
1 year ago

I can completely relate to you! I hate phones as well! And my wife loves them!
My hatred of phones is with phones in general, not only to phone calls. I hate phone apps as well.

I cannot believe how much time people can spend on their phone. It’s pretty sad.

I have never had so much bad experience as you though.

David
David
1 year ago

Protip for having to call to cancel: In California they have to let you cancel online if they let you sign up online. For WSJ and others I’ve had success changing my billing address to a CA address (just using the address of one of my company’s offices there), and then next time I log in it gives me the option to cancel online. Doesn’t work everywhere, but can be worth a shot before making the dreaded phone call.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
1 year ago
Reply to  David

Nice hack. Will try it at the next opportunity.

Thanks!

Big-D
Big-D
1 year ago

I have a rule, if a conversation goes back and forth 3 times, it must be done on the phone. “How you doing” “Fine” “What are you up to” “Chilling” “You got a minute” will immediately get a phone call as a response. Text and email are fire and forget technologies, and are not even guaranteed to get to the intended recipient (by definition of the network protocols used). When my son was younger, I would equate it as such. A text or email is a Swiss Yodeler sitting on top of a mountain yodeling down to the valley below.… Read more »

biff smith
biff smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Big-D

Good suggestion Big-D.

I take it to the next level. I have a “home phone” that’s attached to a VOIP device, I use it for work. I have a headset that plugs in (again, a work thing) and when I know I’m gonna be on hold/talking to someone for awhile, the headset comes out, I put the phone clip on a belt and I do house chores, that’s the only way I stay sane in these situations.

Big-D
Big-D
1 year ago
Reply to  biff smith

Maybe I should clarify. I don’t have a VOIP phone as I got rid of it when my kids graduated high school and I only have a cell phone. So putting it on speaker means walking through the house with a cell phone. I live alone so I am 100% on speaker phone for all phone conversations at home or the car. The only time I hold the cell phone up to my ear is when I am in front of other people or it might be considered rude to have a speaker call. I generally go to meeting rooms… Read more »

Joe
Joe
1 year ago

I hear ya. I hate holding on the phone too. I think you picked one of the worst places to call, though. OHP and any social services are notoriously bad on the phone. It’s way easier to go down to the office, as you found out.
I got a weird charge on my card when I filled up a rental car in Iceland last year. It was some kind of deposit. They refunded it soon after. Hopefully, it’s something like that.

FoxTesla
FoxTesla
1 year ago

RE: Avis charges…does your credit card have a specific timeline you need to dispute charges by? I’d hate to find out it was a BS fee, just to learn I missed the dispute window.

Jason
Jason
1 year ago

Dispute the Avis charges with your credit card. You should be able to do it online. If its a Chase Sapphire card, you’ll get through to customer service right away and they’ll take care of you.

Shaun Stuart
Shaun Stuart
1 year ago

One of the benefits of cutting the cable cord is that I can usually get the services I want through Amazon. I wanted HBO to watch the last month of Games Of Thrones. I subscribed through Amazon. When the show ended, I cancelled through Amazon. No need to call anyone to cancel and get the hard sell to retain my subscription. I’m doing the same thing with YouTubeTV so I can watch the FIFA Women’s World Cup. When that’s over, I’ll just log on to Amazon and click a link to cancel. It’s such a nicer experience!

Eileen
Eileen
1 year ago

I had some small charges show up for a National rental car that did appears as “tolls”. It was odd to me because I specifically paid the small amount of tolls in cash because this was a business trip and the tolls trickle thru after I’ve already submitted my expense report. But somehow I still got charged tolls (after my expense report went thru). They weren’t high, my company paid for them, and I guessed there are some tolls that I just didn’t notice due to the technology they use. So I didn’t call. Conversely, we just got back like… Read more »

Jo
Jo
1 year ago

Thanks for the reminder about the NYT. I subscribed and wished to stop. As I’m international and an introvert, making that call is a massive hurdle. But reading your article made me do it, its pinged straight into a text convo … and it appears I’m on hold. I’m going to kill the PayPal payments and see what happens.

Kristen
Kristen
1 year ago

I hate talking on the phone – it’s a (rude) interrruption. Message me, email me, text me… I can finish what I am doing and get back to you. When my grandmother was alive, I wanted to be in touch but taking 1.5 hours to talk on the phone was just brutal. I finally found a phone that I could plug a headset into (this was many years ago). It was great because she could talk me ear off while I mopped floors, did dishes, etc. Eventually I settled on calling her every Friday on my commute home (Portland traffic).… Read more »

Dimitris
Dimitris
1 year ago

Once in my life I rented a car, and I too received administrative fee charges (the company was Locauto).

Fortunately, I didn’t have money in my account and I immediately canceled the card used for the rental.
After almost a year, I still haven’t received any ticket or more information about.

Rental cars companies just use the administrative fees as an easy cash grab.

Also, I need to add that I’m an extremely careful driver, and didn’t break any laws with the rental.

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