I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard this one before.
Yes, the overall theme is numbingly familiar — a maddening quest by a regular person to get ahold of a rational human being at a massive conglomerate — but this one has a bizarre technological twist.
The tale comes compliments of Akron resident Tim Greathouse, a wedding officiant with a wide-ranging background.
When I read his email, I realized I couldn’t present his issue any more clearly than he had. Which meant two things:
1.) I wouldn’t have to work very hard.
2.) The fact that he is an excellent communicator suggests the communication breakdown that dogs him was not self-inflicted.
I’m going to paraphrase, but many of the words are his.
Several weeks ago, Greathouse began to get a rash of wrong numbers on his cell phone. At first, he got one every other day or so. Now he’s up to a dozen a week, coming at all hours.
He always answers the same way: “This is Tim.” About half of the callers immediately hang up; the other half apologize for dialing a wrong number.
After fielding a few of the latter, he quizzed a caller who sounded particularly apologetic.
“I’ve been getting a lot of wrong numbers lately,” he said. “Do you mind if I ask what number you dialed and who you were trying to reach?”
The man replied: “877-821-5080. I’m trying to reach Brian Pierpoint at Chase Bank. I got a letter in the mail about my late mortgage and it said to call him.”
Greathouse asked the next few callers the same question, and the responses were uniform. Same phone number. Same guy. Same company. Same reason.
So Greathouse picked up his cell phone, which has a 330 area code, and dialed the toll-free number. The call kicked into his own voice mail.
Clearly, something had gone horribly wrong with Chase’s phone system. And surely, Greathouse thought, a fellow named Brian Pierpoint was wondering why no one was calling him.
Greathouse doesn’t work for Chase and never has. Nor has he ever had a mortgage with the company.
He searched in vain for the main number for Chase, figuring an operator could direct him to Pierpoint, but the closest thing he could find was a mortgage hotline. When he reached a “mortgage specialist,” he outlined the problem and asked whether she could check a company directory and connect him to Pierpoint.
The rest of the conversation reportedly went like this:
Chase rep: “Um ... do you want to open a mortgage account with Chase Bank, sir?”
Greathouse: “Did you hear anything I just said?” He gave a brief recap.
Chase rep: “Are you a Chase customer, sir?”
Greathouse: “I’ve told you twice that I am not a Chase customer, so allow me to tell you a third time: No. I need to speak to your boss.”
Chase rep: “I don’t think my boss will be able to help you in this matter, sir.”
Greathouse: “I’d like to speak to him all the same.”
Chase rep: “Can I place you on hold for a moment?”
Greathouse figured he was likely to be put on indefinite hold and would eventually hang up in frustration. But he got lucky. The next thing he knew, he was speaking with Brian Pierpoint.
Pierpoint not a believer
Pierpoint expressed astonishment at the situation and said his phone number is actually one digit higher than the one printed in the letter. But Pierpoint insisted, it is impossible that someone dialing that number would reach Greathouse’s cell phone, because that number would go to one of his colleagues.
Fine, said Greathouse. I will hang up and you can dial that number.
Thirty seconds later, Greathouse’s cell rang. Guess who?
So Greathouse said something like: “You know, Brian, if I were a less-than-savory character, I could have easily started posing as you when these calls arrived. I could dupe your customers out of their full names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and credit card information under the guise of ‘making a payment’ toward their delinquent mortgage balances.”
Brian assured him he would consult with his bosses and rectify the mess forthwith.
That was Sept. 14. Nine days later, after having left two messages on Pierpoint’s voice mail without a return call, Greathouse decided to contact his favorite columnist (my words, not his).
Well, Rev. Greathouse, I can relate. When I sent an email to a media relations specialist listed on the Chase website, I got an automatic response saying she was out of the office and I should contact a colleague. When I sent an email to the colleague, I got an automatic response saying he was out of the office, too.
Apparently, Chase employees enjoy liberal vacation packages.
So then I dialed the number that is one digit higher than the one that is haunting Greathouse. I was connected to Chase. When the automated system asked me whether I wanted a specific employee, I said yes. When it asked me for his name, I gave it. When it asked me whether the name I just uttered was “Brian Pierpoint,” I said yes. When it said it was connecting me to Brian Pierpoint, it instead connected me back to the employee directory so I could start over.
So, Tim, I believe the solution is clear: Simply throw your cell phone into Summit Lake and leave the country.
Maybe the rest of us should, too.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.