Eric Eric Eric Eric Eric Eric

I frequently must call my DSL provider to alert them to the fact that my DSL has stopped working. Typically, their plan is to keep me on hold for so long that by the time they answer me, the problem has fixed itself and I no longer have anything to say to them. But occasionally, a customer service representative accidentally picks up the phone when I have been on hold only a few minutes — an error for which he or she is probably fired — and after a brief confirmation of user info, this exchange occurs:

TECH SUPPORT: What is the account holder’s name?
ME: Eric Snider
TECH SUPPORT: And is this Eric Snider?
ME: Yes.
TECH SUPPORT: Is it OK if I call you Eric?

And I wonder, Why does he have to call me ANYTHING? This is a telephone conversation in which only two parties are participating. If I hear him say something, I’ll assume he’s addressing me. It’s not like we’re in a crowded train station and he has to shout my name to get my attention.

Customer service types are trained to use the customer’s name, because psychological studies show that people like to hear their names spoken aloud. This is apparently true even when people have unpleasant names, like Griselda or Amber. If someone, especially a loved one, says our name, it reassures us that we are important to them, that we are more than just “buddy” or “dude” (unless our name IS Buddy or Dude) (which it isn’t).

At Sam’s Club, there are signs posted at the checkout stands indicating that if the checker fails to thank you by name at some point during the transaction, you get a dollar. Of course, if they were really serious about it, the prize would be more like $50; they obviously don’t have much faith in their employees to get this right, offering a measly dollar every time they screw up.

But the whole thing is silly anyway, because the signs are posted right there for the customer to see. Are we really going to feel special when the clerk says our name, knowing that he only did it to avoid having to give us a dollar? And how special can you really feel when you’re at Sam’s Club, anyway? Throw me a surprise party and a “This Is Your Life”-style celebration of my past achievements, I’m still going to feel like I’m in a dingy warehouse, surrounded by people who shop at Sam’s Club.

But back to the DSL situation. He asks if he can call me Eric, and I tell him yes. Unfortunately, this means that each subsequent thing he says will end with “Eric.”

TECH SUPPORT: OK, what system are you using, Eric?
ME: Macintosh OS X.
TECH SUPPORT: Have you experienced trouble before, Eric?
ME: Yes.
TECH SUPPORT: I see, Eric.
ME: Do you?
TECH SUPPORT: (sneezes) Ah-CHOO! Eric.

The name thing loses its effectiveness when it’s repeated incessantly because it starts to sound insincere, insincerity being another thing in which customer service people are trained.

During my last phone call to DSL customer service, I attempted to explain that having me try the same fixes on my computer that we tried the last time, even though they didn’t work then and indeed had never worked, was the very definition of insanity. I told him the only thing that ever worked was leaving me on hold for 45 minutes. I told him no amount of human intervention can fix a downed DSL connection. My logic fell on deaf ears, however; this, coupled with the rampant overuse of my name, agitated me into a peevish state in which I began to contemplate the “May I call you Eric?” strategy.

Do people ever say no? Does someone ever say, “No, I’d prefer Mr. Snider”? If so, what a jerk THAT guy is!

Does anyone ever say, “I’d prefer you call me Doctor Snider” as opposed to “Mister Snider”? Those people are jerks, too. I agree a person who is a doctor ought to be called a doctor in situations where his being a doctor is relevant, such as when he is doctoring something. (“I notice you have altered the birth date on your driver’s license, Dr. Farnsworth.”) But when he’s just calling to report his Internet service is down, the number of years he went to college is of little consequence. (For that matter, the number of years you went to college is usually of little consequence. For example, I went for five years, and I’m no smarter than I would be if I’d gone for four.)

I decided that from now on, when the DSL guy says, “May I call you Eric?,” I’ll reply, “Actually, I’d prefer you call me His Eminence and Grace, the Lord Master Snider, Earl of Shatston, Most Noble Protector of the Realm and Defender of Truth.” If he has to repeat that after everything he says, before you know it 45 minutes will have passed and the DSL gods will again smile upon us.

"Earl of Shatston" is an actual British title that you can buy from some Web site. My friend Luscious Malone and I had a good time browsing the list (I regret that I have lost the URL now) before finally settling upon Shatston, obviously because of its vaguely dirty sound. Which titles we wanted was another issue: She's always wanted to be a Contessa, but that would make me a Count, and I prefer Earl. I don't recall what compromise was reached, but I'm guessing she won, since she usually does.

By the way, before all you Mac-hataz tell me it's my choice of computer that makes it have DSL trouble all the time, you should know that in every instance, it has proven to be the fault of either the DSL provider (MSN, of course) or the phone company (Qwest). It's never been the computer. So there.