DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work for a remote-receptionist company. My co-workers and I answer calls for companies and individuals all over North America, and we do it well. We are bright, educated, friendly women; many of our clients tell us that their callers assume we are in-house receptionists. The callers have no idea we are answering from hundreds, even thousands of miles away.
Given the nature of our job, my co-workers and I simply have to be quick and skilled. We can give driving directions to a person in a city we've never visited. We know how to execute a flawless, "I'm so sorry, may I place you on hold a moment?" when a caller asks a question we can't answer. Then we get the answer and relay the information.
I am happy to work for a company that takes such good care of its clients and ecstatic to work with a group of lovely, well-mannered women. The only problem is this:
It often happens that a caller, somewhat overcome by having reached an actual human rather than a recording, begins to spout praise that simply will not stop. It is not uncommon, during the course of an average work day, to speak with someone who continues to say things like, "I can't tell you how refreshing it is to speak with a real, live person. And you are so polite, and have such a lovely phone manner! How long have you worked for this company? How are you being paid? I am looking for a receptionist..." and so on.
This is flattering, but (rude questions about salary aside) our clients are charged by the minute, so any extra time we spend making small talk with a caller is only kicking up the bill.
Could Miss Manners please suggest a humble, concise way of responding to such praise? I have found that a simple "thank you" is not enough to end the torrents.
GENTLE READER: Wait -- here comes another torrent. It is Miss Manners, overcome by the pathetic spectacle of customers overflowing with uncontrollable emotion because someone in customer service was actually willing to talk to them. And, as if that were not miraculous enough, you and your colleagues apparently go on to solve their problems, competently and cheerfully.
Miss Manners is not being cheeky here. She thoroughly identifies with your grateful customers. Recorded answers to standard questions are all very well, but when the question is not standard or the problem requires human thought, it is maddening not to be able to reach anyone.
(Apologies for joining the problem instead of first attending to the solution.)
You do have to get back to work, or others will not be able to reach you. That is what you must tell your admirers: "Thank you, but please excuse me now. I don't want to keep other customers waiting."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been yelled at for coughing/sneezing into my hand. I have also been yelled at for coughing/sneezing into my elbow. What is the correct way to cough/sneeze if I lack a handkerchief or tissue?
GENTLE READER: Eeew. Miss Manners does not approve of the yelling, but she certainly understands the revulsion that prompted it.
There is no correct way to handle this situation because it is an incorrect situation. Correct people always carry handkerchieves.