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Borders Business News

Outtakes from Doing Business In Memphis

Sometimes our data research reveals a lot about how business is really done in Memphis!

We love it when we talk to people who obviously know their jobs and take pride in doing it. These individuals are friendly, well spoken, and have ready answers for our questions such as, "What year was your company established"? Conversely, and unfortunately, we also see a distressing number of companies which are represented by people who are rude, inarticulate, and who basically couldn't care less about their company or their bosses. The simple question, "Could you please tell me the name of your company's president (or CEO, General Manager, etc.)" sometimes inspired responses ranging from "I have no idea" to "You don't need to know." 

These "outtakes" documented by our Data Researchers represent some of the more amusing responses we've received during our yearly update. They also include some of our "oldies but goodies" that were gathered from previous years but are just too good to retire. We promise we did not make any of these up!

At this end of this litany of how not to do business in Memphis, we have a few simple suggestions on how business can avoid these kinds mistakes.


Voice Mail Jail. Some companies will do anything to avoid talking to you in person. A large established law firm has a voice mail system so complicated that our Data Researchers could not crack it, even after numerous attempts. They did repeatedly land in a mailbox with an automated attendant delivering the following message: It is January 28 and our office is closed due to bad weather. The researcher got this message on April 3rd.

Finger Lickin' Good. We called one large corporation whose secretary answered the phone with a mouth full of food. It wasn't just a case of uh-oh, I got caught with a mouthful of bagel. This woman proceeded to eat the entire time our researcher talked to her. Munch, crunch, slurp, belch.

This Company Just Runs Itself! When our Data Researcher asked who the owner was, the person who answered the phone replied, "Some Lady." Well, then, who was the restaurant manager? They didn't have one, the person replied. Hmmm. Who, then, runs the place when "the Lady" wasn't there. "No one. It just runs itself."

Also Self-Run. Another company that "just runs itself" is a popular fast food restaurant. The Researcher called the main office on this one and was told they have "no one in charge there."

O-mi-god, Where am I? We called a pizza restaurant and the assistant manager not only didn't know where he was, but didn't know his boss's name either. This must be a real problem, because we also talked to another store where the assistant could barely pronounce the manager's name, much less spell it.

More Lost Employees. Yet another pizza restaurant told us to call back after 5 PM. He too did not know the address of the establishment he works for. (What's with the pizza parlors, anyway?)

Lost in the Mall. One store manager said he didn't know anything except that he was "in a mall."

I Could be Queen! One church we spoke with had no clergy at that time. When we asked the assistant what her title was, she laughed and said, "I can be anything I want to be this week!" Hmmm.

Great Place to Work. One downtown retail establishment described in great detail the shop and its mission. Afterwards he added, "Smoking is allowed in the shop, and we serve wine after 5:00 PM."

Paranoia Runs Deep. There was a trucks part company that refused to confirm or deny any information including his street address, zip code or name of owner. "Last time I did that, " he confided, "I got mixed up in some money laundering."

More Paranoia . . . Into Your Life It May Creep. A retailer told us that she could not be listed in the directory because it would, in her words, "affect our insurance." Say what?

Left the Reservation. When asked what his title was, one person told us, "What the hell do they call me? . . . principal, that's it." He said that he actually didn't do much of anything. "I just pick my nose and scratch my backside." 

Small Town Politics. In one of the small surrounding towns, the mayor's wife answered the Researcher's questions regarding one of the local businesses. When the Researcher called this particular place a "lovely town" and "lovely place to live," she wife snorted. "Not if you live here. It used to be a nice place. Not anymore."

Cyber Mystery. Everyone either has a web site or they're working on one. And everyone wants you to visit their web site. Well, maybe not everyone. We found one person whom, when asked if they had a web site said: "Yes, but no one here knows what it is." Another bozo told us they had a web site but that it was "confidential." Wonder how many hits that site gets?

I Wonder Where I Work. In confirming the name of the business, this rocket scientist told us "I'm not sure of the exact name of our company!"

I Wonder Where I Work, Part II. It was a dry cleaners. We were all on the same page about that. But the person who answered the phone had to walk outside to confirm the address.

I Wonder Where I Work, Part III. Obviously a lot of people do not know where they work. A worker at a fast food restaurant told us that he knew he was on Macon Road but really didn't know the address; he explained he'd only been there two months.

Grammatically Impaired. When we asked to speak to the office manager we were told, "She ain't in."

Not a Spelling Bee Contestant. The company moved its offices to a Poplar Avenut address. The woman carefully spelled out the street name: P-O-P-L-E-R.

Hey, I Just Work Here. The church receptionist told us she wasn't sure just who the pastor is.

More Church Disinformation. The church secretary could not tell us if the head clergyman was a Rev., or a Dr., or an Elder. Our Data Researcher told us she sounded like she had been fast asleep.

Going Out of Business. One respondent told us: "I will be going out of business in 60 days. I'm 74 and getting to old for this s---!"

Soon Going Out of Business. The voice mail of a certain retail business. "We're usually here by 10 or 10:30 and are open till around 4:00 or so. Or by chance, or by appointment."

Snappy Comeback. We asked, "Do you have a toll-free number?" The person replied, "Well, it's toll-free if you live here."

Someone Take this Employee. Please. When asked if Mr. Jones was still store manager, the person said: "Yes, but don't say it too loud, nobody knows he is still manager."

Nobody Home. After identifying ourselves, one of things we always do when we update company information is to explain that we are looking for any changes (in location, telephone, size of company, personnel) that may have occurred since we called them last year. One brilliant manager told us this: "I am new here, but everything is still the same, like last year."

We Know Absolutely Nothing Here. One transportation company was left out of the Logistics Section because the Data Researcher could not get any information confirmed. He simply wrote, "No one knows squat here."

What Were They Thinking? One of our Researchers reported that when calling an electrical contracting company she noticed that the on-hold background music was unusually loud and intrusive. When the person came on the line the music just kept right on playing while they were having a conversation. Weird.

And One Less Lawyer. A lawyer told us not to bother listing him this year because he had lost his license. "I think I'm just going to leave it alone," he said, referring to the practice of law.

Make that A Couple More. An Office Manager in an executive suite being rented by several lawyers was giving us the information about which attorneys still worked there. She told our researcher in a confidential tone, "You know, some of these lawyers have suddenly left town!"

More Legal Info. When asked what kind of attorney he was, the gentleman chuckled and said: "A damn good one!"

One Less Entrepreneur. One small consulting firm owner told us he was closing the door to the business. "I have a real job now."

Customer Service Flat Lines. There was seemingly no way to reach anyone in this morass of voice mail instructions at a clinic that had four or five locations but one central phone number. (A really bad idea.) Whenever she did reach a real voice, they could give no information, and would either give her disconnected numbers or would take her back into the tangle of recorded messages. She finally gave up and wrote, "I think they must be selling black market organs for transplant. They really don't want you to know they even exist."

Phone Book Travesties. We spoke to a company that sells pipes as part of their water, sewer and gas supplies. Because they sell "pipes" one of the local phone book companies had them listed under "Tobacco and Smoking Supplies."

Crisis at the Crisis Center. The office was some sort of mental health intervention place. We don't want to name names. We are assuming (maybe incorrectly) that the person who answered the phone was a staff member and not a mental patient, but we cannot be certain. At any rate, they proceeded to give our Researcher a list of other phone numbers, contacts, etc. while repeatedly stating that "this number you are dialing is not the crisis line for our center." Yes, that's fine, the Researcher said. We will only list the office number, not the crisis line. The person on the other end, oblivious to that bit of information, waxed on dramatically: "In other words, if someone was coming after you with a butcher knife, please do not call me at this number. I could not help you. If someone was coming at you with an ax or a butcher knife, you would need to call our crisis line to get help." And on and on. The researcher finally got off the line but she said the experience definitely gave her the creeps. 

Multiple Personalities. We wanted to clarify a name issue. We had the owner's name of a company as Paul _______. We also had information that the owner's name was Frank _______. And we also knew there was just one owner. When we called back for clarification we were told, "Oh, Paul and Frank is the same person."

Warm Body Occupying Front Desk. One company was asked if Mr. So-and-So was still president. The person answered, "I don't have a clue. I'm just a temporary."

Speaking of Clueless. Another person replied flatly, "I don't know," when we asked her to confirm the name of the company's general manager. We did not get the impression this person was a "temp."

So Sorry to Bother You at Your Place of Business. The phone at this shop was answered thusly: ". . . what is all this junk layin' around here? "XYZ" Shop, whuddya want?"

How to Lose Customers or What Happens When the Inmates Run the Asylum. A Data Researcher called one of the locations of a well known hair salon and began, "Hi, I'm Laura with Delta Consulting Group . . ." Before she could say another word the person who answered the phone barked "I'm busy!" and slammed down the telephone. Now, Laura could have been getting ready to say, "Hi, I'm Laura with Delta Consulting and I would like to schedule a cut, color, manicure and pedicure for our president, Ms. Camp." However, Laura never received the chance. One thing is for sure, however. None of us in this office will ever patronize any of those salons again. 

Eat Up With High Tech. The researcher called a small tech firm. After 6 or 7 rings a voice on an an obviously cheap answering machine that sounded like it was recorded in a bathroom or kitchen said, "Thanks for calling Customer Support. All operators are busy helping other people. Please leave your name at the sound of the tone."

Overworked. Regarding the question of how many employees a company has, we told the receptionist that we had them listed as having five employees last year. She said, "No, we're down to one now. I'm just doing the work of five people."

Everybody Having a Good Time. The husband of the woman who owned the business answered the phone and supplied us with a few good laughs. He said, "I come in eight hours every day but I don't get paid!" "Web address? Well, we've got a lot of spiders around here." And, "My wife owns the company but she's usually out playing golf everyday." And finally, "They won't let me touch the computers. I erased everything twice so now I'm not allowed near them!" 

And Livin' the Good Life. The business was closed he said because he had sold the building, fired the help, works when he wants to, and fishes a lot." We'd say he has it made.

Asleep At the Wheel. A Data Researcher who wrote this comment regarding her interview: "I hope this information is correct. I woke someone up in this office at 9:25 AM."  We're sure the owner of this travel agency didn't mind.

DOA in the Office. The manager of a retail store in East Memphis was, as the Researcher described, "Barely there. I mean, this person was so dead on the phone that I half expected people to arrive to start the chalk drawing around her."

ARF ARF!!! It's a new job title. The man who answered the phone was friendly and helpful. When we asked his position he chuckled, "My title is A.R.F., all 'round flunky!" 

Office Politics. The owner of a small tax and bookkeeping company whispered into the phone, "No, her title is not Office Manager. She is the secretary. I think she's been telling people she's the Office Manager. We don't have an Office Manager here."

A Hard Working Man. The owner of a radiator repair shop told us: "I've been retired for six years but people won't let me quit working and go fishing like I wanna. I told my wife, when I die don't tell 'em where I'm buried because they won't let me stay dead."

Duh. Our Researcher asked is their company was minority or female owned. No, she was told, it's a sole proprietorship.

No Manners. One Data Researcher called a large, well-known auto dealership and was promptly told: "We don't have time for people like you!" Slam!  With an attitude like that, it makes us wonder just how much time they have for customers or potential customers.  It's a safe bet that we won't try to find out!

R.I.P. Each year we remove a number of people who are no longer with the company because they are dead. However, we did run across one company who carefully confirmed all the information we had, and then at the end of the interview the partner of the company casually mentioned that her husband was dead. The Data Researcher said, "Oh. Excuse me. I'm very sorry. I guess I must have misunderstood you. I thought you just told me he was the president of the business." "Oh, he is. Or, he was. We want to keep him listed as president even though he's, uh, not here. We want to do it out of respect. That's OK, isn't it?"

It Happened Again. The incident above happened several years ago but it remains one of our all-time favorites. The same thing happened again last year at another business. A small company's owner had died a while back but the current president urged us to leave him listed as owner. Go figure!

No Adult Supervision Here. Admittedly, the Data Researcher had worked a long day and well, sometimes you never know what might jump out of your mouth. She was trying to ask the woman at the accounting firm if they still had the same Audit Supervisor as last year. Instead she asked if they still had an Adult Supervisor. Startled by her question, the woman hesitated but then quipped, "I don't think we've ever had adult supervision around here!" Everyone had a good laugh.

We Do Absolutely Everything, Including Windows! One business told our Researcher his one-person company did the following things: Financial Services, Security, Business & Personal Services, Printing & Publishing, and Janitorial. 

One Degree of Separation. Wow. This story blew us all away, and it will definitely go on the record as the strangest out-takes of all time. We have a Data Researcher by the name of Frankie, who has worked with us on annual updates for several years. One year she called a very large company (over 500 employees) and was routed to an assistant to help her with the update information. This woman's name was Charlie. Frankie made a few idle comments about both of their names, and then offhandedly remarked that she had taken a job in 1964 vacated by a woman named Charlie at a radio station in California. There was a stunned silence. Then Charlie asked Frankie, "Was that radio station KFAC in Los Angeles?" It was. "I am the Charlie who had the job you took after I moved!" It is indeed a small, small world!

Each year we come out of production armed with new ideas and insights, plus tons of observations about how people are doing business. (Or aren't in some cases.) Many, many thousands of phone calls were made. We've been to voice mail hell and back. And, we've been to voice mail jail, where there was no escape and absolutely no humans to talk to. Voice mail has replaced answering machines, and in many cases, is replacing people. Some company's aggressive use and abuse of voice mail made it all but impossible to update information on them. In those cases, we had no other option but to drop their listings. These same companies were also the ones whose employees would not return phone calls left on voice mail. Unfortunately, voice mail makes it much easier for people to become more and more inaccessible . . . which mostly is not a good thing.

Here are a few observations about voice mail and other things, as well as a few suggestions that might come in handy sometime.

If You Have Voice-Mail, Less Is More!
The shorter and more succinct your message is, the better. The less complicated and convoluted, the better. We encountered some voice mail systems so long and complicated we forgot who were calling and why by the time we finally reached someone. What's really annoying is to have voice mail for the receptionist or the main, front-line telephone person.

Use "On-Hold" Time To Your Advantage
If a caller to your company is put on hold for more than a few seconds it's crazy not to have some sort of recording informing the person on hold about the benefits of your products and services. Something like: "Did you know that XYZ Company can make life easier for you by blah, blah, blah."

Make Sure Your Frontline Employees Know Your Web Address
If your company has a Web Page and/or Email address, and you don't mind sharing it, make sure your front line telephone people have it, and know how to articulate it. You don't even need to say "http, colon, double slash." Just say (or .org, .edu, etc.).

Frontline Employees Should Be Able to Answer Simple Questions.
People who answer the phone should know simple things about your company, such as, is it based in Memphis or another city. If it's not based in Memphis where is the company headquarters? What year were you established? What is your correct address and zip code? (Forget the zip code, you wouldn't believe how many people answering your phones don't even know where you are or how to find you. This could be a real bummer if you are a retailer.) We did actually have someone from a retail outlet tell us, "I'm sorry, I can't give out that information." And all we wanted wanted to do was confirm their address!

Provide Your Fontline Employees With the Information They Need.
It would seem obvious that whoever answers the phone should know who works there and who doesn't. This is a clear and present challenge to many people on the phones. Understandably, if the company has hundreds of employees, it may take a few minutes to recall (or look up) some of the names. However, one would think that all front-line people would be able to identify by name and title their Presidents, CEOs, and senior management. Also, it's a good idea for front-liners to have the correct spelling of these folks' names, too.

Frontline Employees Can Be Your Best--Or Worst-- Advertisements.
The person who answers the phone is like a big billboard to the person making the phone call. Generally you make a mental image of that company through this contact. Are they friendly? Do they sound the kind of people who want to do business with? Do they sound like they know what they're doing? Do they want to help you, or are they trying to get you out of their hair as quickly as possible? We found there were a bunch of companies we would love to do business with. And, because we are always scouting out new sources of vendors, supplies, etc., we will go back to some of them as a customer. On the other hand, there are some that we would not do business with if they were the only ones in Memphis offering the product or service. These folks got relegated to our in-house database entitled "Jerks and Morons."

The absolute best companies with the most polished images were the ones that picked up the call within 3 to 4 rings, then warmly and distinctly announced the company's name. (Terrible, terrible examples are: "Hi, I'm Frieda. We're having a great day at Friendly Frisky Furniture. Can I interest you in a futon with nothing down and no payments till August?" Believe it or not, they're out there!) The best have people who sound interested, awake, and fully prepared to deal with your questions or requests. They inspire confidence and leave you with the impression that they will do whatever it takes to serve their customers.

If you've enjoyed these Outtakes let us know by emailing via our contact form or call us at 901.590.0500. We'll be glad to put you on our email list to receive other funny and irreverent news about Doing Business In Memphis.








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