I’m Not Touching You

If you missed the alerts for the first six parts of this series, please check your spam folder… No, not really, but it is tempting.

Corporate over-communication is getting to be quite the fad. Consider these two examples, which occurred within a week.

We have a home alarm system. When it triggers, the alarm company first tries to contact us at our home phone number. If we don’t answer, they also try a cell phone, a mobile email address, and a text message. Only if all contacts fail do they pass the alert to the police or fire department. This is good–it only adds a couple of minutes to the response time, and it cuts down on false alerts, which can be very expensive.


We had a false alarm recently. The trigger was a sensor falling off one of the doors. No harm, no foul; the system worked as intended: I spoke to the alarm company, the police didn’t come to the house, and I set up a service call to have the sensor remounted.

The false alarm happened on a Friday, in the evening. When I made the appointment for the service call, the representative first offered Saturday, “between noon and five”. Well, we had plans for Saturday afternoon, so that wouldn’t work, and we settled on Monday afternoon. A few minutes later, I got an email confirming the appointment.

That’s when everything went off the rails, thanks to the alarm company’s zealous need to stay in touch.

Over the next few minutes, I got two more identical emails. Probably a hiccup in their email system. At least, I hope so. I deleted the extras and went on with my day.

Saturday morning, a few minutes before eight, we were woken up by the phone. Caller ID said it was the alarm company. We hadn’t set the alarm when we went to bed–no sensor–so we knew it wasn’t a break-in alert. So we went back to sleep. Or tried to. Shortly after I pulled the covers over my eyes, my cell phone rang.

You guessed it. The alarm company, calling a number they’re only supposed to use for an alert.

“Hi, this is [name] with [company]. We have a technician in your area who can come fulfill your service request today between eight and noon.”

The conversation went downhill from there.

Note, by the way, that the window had changed from afternoon to morning. If morning was an option, shouldn’t the original representative I spoke to have offered it? But I digress.

And yes, the caller had left a message on our answering machine before calling my cell phone.

Saturday afternoon, I got an email urging me to upgrade the alarm system to their latest system which has an all-new app for iOS and Android. You all know my feelings about apps that let you arm and disarm alarm systems from anywhere. Trashed the email.

Sunday brought a reminder email about Monday’s service appointment.

Monday, a few minutes before noon, I got a phone call from the technician. “I’m on my way, I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.” Hopefully he wasn’t actually on his way; I’d hate for him to risk getting into an accident because he was calling ahead while driving.

And, about two minutes after that, I got an email informing me that the tech was on his way. (Excuse me, I just checked: it says “on their way”. Kudos to the company for not making gender assumptions in their annoyingly redundant messages.)

So that’s four emails and three phone calls for one appointment. I was about one contact away from telling the tech to rip out the system, take it back to headquarters, and shove it up the rear end of the executive in charge of customer service.

Oddly, now that the appointment is over, there’s been complete silence. Not a single phone call or email begging me to take their customer satisfaction survey. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if one came in somewhere down the road; some companies seem to wait for months before sending those out, perhaps in the hope that you’ll forget just how horrible the service was.

Another example.

My doctor gave me a referral to a clinic I’ve never dealt with before*. When I called to make an appointment, I had my choice between two days away, two months away, or three months away. For obvious reasons, I took the first option, and set up the appointment for just over 49 hours in the future.

* This is for a minor, but annoying condition. Nothing life-threatening. No need to express concern, but thanks in advance.

One hour later, I got an automated phone call to confirm the appointment. No problem, that’s standard practice these days.

Then I got an email confirming the appointment again and including paperwork I was supposed to fill out and bring with me. Again, fine. I’d rather fill out the forms at home than on the Group W bench at the office.

This was accompanied by a separate email urging me to set up an account on their “patient portal”. This would, it said, allow me to send secure messages to my “care team” at any time; view my bills, test results, and appointment details; and schedule “visits”.

I ignored it. I don’t plan to be a regular client, thanks.

Then I got another email asking me to click a link to confirm my appointment. Didn’t I just do that on the phone? Oh, well. I clicked the link.

Then came another email, this one demanding that I set up the portal account and offering the ability to fill out forms online. Fine. If I can fill out this five page questionnaire online, it’ll be easier for everyone. I won’t have to carry it with me, and the doctor won’t have to read my handwriting.

I signed up. Noticed that my address was wrong*, so I fixed it and went looking for the form. Surprise! It’s not in the system.

* This is not uncommon. There are two cities sharing our zip code, so any business that uses the Post Office’s zip-to-city database gets it wrong.

Logged off in disgust, just in time to get two more emails. One informing me that my portal password had been changed and urging me to call the office if I hadn’t made the change. And one to “confirm the recent changes made to your profile”.

Mind you, I didn’t change the password, I set it up. But that’s a grammatical quibble. The profile change message, however, is more annoying. It doesn’t give any clue what has changed. I presume it’s regarding the address change. But since it doesn’t give any information, I can’t tell if it’s alerting me to the change I just made, to their system reverting the change because the city I entered doesn’t match their database, or some other change.

At this point, I’ve spent as much time dealing with the emails as I expect to spend at the appointment–and that’s still almost thirty hours away. Plenty of time for another half-dozen messages.

What gives the alarm company the ability to use contact information I gave them for one purpose for something else entirely? Is it really that hard for the clinic (or, more likely, their outsourced techies) to get their phone and email systems talking to each other and to merge portal notifications that happen within a short amount of time into a single contact?

[Shrug] You tell me: am I overly sensitive, or are these companies overly aggressive?

Either way, don’t expect anything to change. There’s no economic impetus. Emails are effectively free, after all, but it would cost money to reprogram the systems.

4 thoughts on “I’m Not Touching You

  1. Unrelated… My the portal for my medical provider insists I log in with my Yahoo email address (which I used when I started with them) although communication from them goes to the Gmail address I have on file. The login address is apparently a separate parameter not available in my profile. Apparently I can only change that through customer service, and I’m about as eager to do that as you would be.


    • This surprises me not a bit. After all, if the two were linked, how would they get in touch with you when your email address changes.

      Hey, if you forget your password, which address does the reset request go to?

      Would it be uncivil of me to go to the various portal developers and bang their heads together rhythmically while screaming “THINK, DAMN IT, THINK!”?


  2. I’ll be honest, the doctor situation sounds like a lot, yeah – but then, the administration in a doctor’s office, scheduling, etc. … I’m familiar with how that (generally fails to) works, and the overabundance is the only way they have of getting asses in seats per the appointment schedule. People are ROTTEN about appointments, and when one patient is late or long, everyone else has to deal with one other patient’s lateness, lack of completion with info, etc.

    As for the service appointment, though: I don’t actually see a problem there. Yeah, it’s a lot of communication, but they were trying to offer you an upgrade, as it were, with the Saturday morning call. Someone on their schedule failed to be available, or canceled, and you were in the tech’s area. They didn’t have that slot available when you first called, but when it came up, they reached out to someone who might benefit. You know a service schedule is about as fixed as a grassless dune, yeah? So this is actually *good* service, trying to maximize everyone’s access as changes occur. My dentist actually does this too.

    As for all those contacts about the tech, when they did come to you… As someone who lives alone can tell you, that is reassuring. We know exactly who is coming, when, and that is all to the good. Yep, it’s a bit suspenders-and-a-belt-and-garters-and-duct-tape about the matter, but again, customer service is most often harangued for NOT doing enough. And in a world of uncertain security, both legally and just ethically, now it is extremely important to do more than just say when they’re going to show up days or weeks in advance and leave it at that.

    Last year, I had the problem of having to call a company myself, on multiple service call occasions, precisely because they were not doing this. They also weren’t providing their techs with exactly the expectations of a job. On more than one occasion, I arranged to work from home to accommodate a call, and they did not show. This cost me and my *employer* time and money, and just ticked me off. I’d have been very glad to get all the emails you got, because (a) I’d have been confident they were coming (and maybe that they’d know what for), (b) I wouldn’t have had to do their administrative legwork, and (c) it would have saved my and my employer’s time to have this baseline expectation met. I am very much not interested in wasting the time of those who give me my livelihood. Worth every email etc., for my money.


    • Diane, I see your points and to some extent I can accept them, if only on a “you can’t please everybody” and “service is a spectrum” basis.

      But I think you’re missing my point with regard to scheduling the service call. I gave the alarm company my cell number with the specific understanding that it would be used ONLY for alarm conditions and even then, only if they fail to reach me via landline. I’ve rechecked the customer website, and the cell phone is still only listed under emergency contacts, not normal business contacts.

      They unilaterally decided to use the cell phone for a non-emergency situation. And I have no ability to change that decision on their part. That’s corporate arrogance at its worst, IMNSHO.


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