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March 2002 - Insurance Quote

Now, I wouldn't normally ask this of you all, but I'm afraid that I need to enquire if you would put up with a slightly rushed edition of Nick Harvey's Comment on this particular occasion? I was held up chatting on the phone you see.

I know that you're all used to the usual, incredibly high quality of this monthly saga, so perhaps you'll bear with me for just one edition?

The last few weeks have been a bit of a rush you see, what with working out the cost of third party, fire and theft on a 1968 Ford Cortina and how much an exhaust will be for a 1989 Mini.

No, it's all right, I haven't gone into the second hand car business, it's just that I've finally decided to get my own back on all those idiots who keep ringing me up.

I've always worked on the assumption, you see, that if you run Chug Chug Tyres and Exhausts, or Incredible Insurance Brokers, then you'll probably answer the telephone with the name of your company.

That's why I'm amazed that when I simply answer my ex-directory phone with "good morning" or "good afternoon", the callers like to launch in without checking first.

For ages now, I've regularly picked up the phone, said "good afternoon", and been asked for a quote for a set of cross-plys for a 1990 Granada; or comprehensive cover for a 1995 Datsun Sunny.

The first couple of years with my current phone number weren't too bad as I was one of only a very few people to have a line on that particular set of numbers.

For quite some time, nobody else had a number anything like mine, so getting wrong numbers was not any sort of problem.

More recently, however, lots of other people have been allowed to have numbers similar to mine. A disgusting trick on the part of the telephone companies, in my opinion. They even went and changed about eight thousand other numbers on my exchange to be more like mine!

It's since all this happened that I've been getting all these calls from people who seem incapable of listening, but TOTALLY capable of non-stop talking.

I call them that because in computer parlance, their output channels are permanently open, but their input channels are firmly closed. To put it another way, they're going to get their lengthy message over, without listening to a word I might have to say on the subject.

I've been through the phase of being incredibly polite and explaining that they have the wrong number and that I'm not Incredible Insurance or Chug Chug Tyres; but I've learnt not to bother, as they just aren't listening.

They've rehearsed, at length, their speech asking for whatever quote it is they want and nothing I say is going to stop them.

More latterly, I've conclusively proved they're not hearing a word I utter, by preceding "off" with things like "sod", or even a slightly stronger, four letter equivalent. It has no effect, they just carry on their spiel about wanting two named drivers on the policy, or whatever it is they've rehearsed.

The fun comes when they finally DO finish speaking.

I let them complete their wonderful pre-prepared speech, then when their output channel finally closes in order that their input channel can be ready for me to give them the price they need, I go about explaining about the wrong number and telling them to go away.

At this point they always blame ME for the fact that THEY dialled the wrong number.

It's never their fault that they either mis-read the directory, wrote the correct number down incorrectly, or simply mis-dialled. It's always MY fault for having the cheek to pick up the WRONG telephone when they reckon they did everything perfectly.

And on the rare occasions that they let me off with just a caution, then it's the telephone company's equipment that caused it.

Now that telephone exchanges around the country are all computerised, the usual computing rule of GIGO applies. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say in the trade.

They'll swear that black is white and that they dialled the correct number for the insurance brokers or the tyre fitters, not realising that the exchange simply did exactly as they told it to.

It was a few of them who finished our conversations with lines like "Well, if YOU can't give me a quote, who can?" that gave me the idea for the game I've been playing with them all lately. It's playing this new game that's kept me so busy and made me late for writing this month's edition of Comment.

I've finally realised that getting wrong numbers can be great fun!

If you start by realising that it's THEM who have rung YOU, so it's their phone bill that you're running up by keeping them chatting; then you can have more laughs with them than ringing one of those 0900  joke lines.

My personal favourite at the moment is the questions I need to ask in order to give them their insurance quote.

And the silly thing about it all is that they're all such single minded idiots that they'll answer the most stupid of questions in order to achieve their aim of getting the quote they rang up for.

"Can you give me your inside leg measurement, so I can calculate how far your seat will be away from the pedals?" is a good one to start with I've found.

"Do you ever keep your wellingtons in the boot, because fires involving rubber can cause toxic fumes?" is another one I'm using at present.

If they sound as if they're a fairly prudish little old lady, then I have to go into the details of exactly what they MIGHT get up to on the back seat, just in case there's ever a future claim for a collapsed rear suspension.

Then I offer them all the possible alternative options to consider. Things like only driving on country lanes, with no cover on "A" or "B" roads. Or things like no cover for driving in reverse, or after dark.

This last option gets a huge take-up from the over fifty brigade, who never seem to want to drive beyond dusk, or in a backwards direction in any case.

Then, after I've kept them chatting for ten minutes or so I ask them to hold on while I feed all the data into the computer and get them their quote. This is where I put the phone to one side for a quarter of an hour or so and go and get on with something else.

They're still in such a single minded mode that they actually hang on for as long as I like!

When I finally get back from writing Comment, having tea, or whatever it was I went off to do, I quote them about eight thousand pounds a year for their cover and suggest that with their details, they shouldn't really be driving in any case.

This is the stinger, because this is the bit that finally has the effect which I've desired since I first picked up the phone.

They go away off the phone saying that they'll have to think about it and that they'll come back to me if they really DO want the cover.

What they don't tell me, but I know for certain, is that they're about to ring the OTHER insurance broker, the one who's number is nothing like mine; they'll get a quote from him for a couple of hundred pounds, and they'll NEVER ring my number again!

So you see, there IS method in my madness. In fact, it seems an excellent way of getting rid of them for good; AND having a bit of fun into the bargain.

I do the same with the exhaust and tyre people as well. I ask them if they're likely to drive into any fields, and if so what might they be getting up to while they're in there.

Then I quote them six pounds fifty a tyre, providing they'll NEVER drive in the rain, or seven hundred and eighty quid each for normal, all-weather tyres. That ensures they ring the other tyre fitters and get off my line for ever!

Oh yes, and have YOU ever been asked if you want a condom on the end of your new exhaust pipe? You can't have got me as a wrong number yet then!

All in all, I'm now quite enjoying what used to be a terrible chore, dealing with wrong numbers. This latest system is certainly better than the old method of hurling abuse at them, only to realise that they weren't even listening to me.

The only problem though, is the amount of time it takes up in my busy schedule of writing these wonderful Comments for you all.

Still, we seem to have eventually reached the end, even if it was a bit of a rush. I'd better get back to manning the phone now though. Someone might want to insure their pet crocodile.

I'll be back with more Comment at the beginning of April, so please join me then for more fun and games. Right, I'm off, where's me telephone directory?

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