Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Their Days Should be Numbered

Including area code, there are 10 digits to any garden variety telephone number.

Tell that to the folks at Progressive Insurance.

I'm sorry to pick on Progressive, but they're the most egregious example of what's been making me cranky lately.

I find that as I get closer to 50 years old (I'll be 47 this summer), it doesn't take much to crank up my crank machine.

Progressive, if you'd like to call them, pumps a phone number that defies logic and that makes its own rules for dialing.

1-800-PROGRESSIVE.

The "area code" for purposes of this number is the toll-free 800, thus leaving seven digits to dial a proper, legal phone number.

"Progressive" contains 11 letters.

I think you see where I'm going here.

What the Progressive people want you to do is use the name of their company to better remember their phone number. On the surface, I understand that sentiment.

Two problems.

One, you have to dial four superfluous numbers.

Two, the new "smart" cell phones, like BlackBerries, aren't so smart.

A traditional telephone keypad contains both numerals and letters; you know---2 is also ABC, 3 is DEF, etc.

But a smart phone doesn't play that game---which has only been around since the days of WWI, for crying out loud.

The numbers on a smart phone share the same keys as the letters on a QWERTY keypad, a fancy term for a typewriter keypad.

So the 1 is on W, the 2 is on E, etc.

This doesn't do you any good when the phone number you are meaning to dial isn't a number at all, but rather a word.

Try dialing 1-800-PROGRESSIVE (forget the 11-digit thing for a moment) with a "smart" phone, if you haven't committed to memory what number P is, then R, and so on, on a traditional telephone keypad.

Here's what I want: I want a phone number. Just give me a phone number. I don't want cute, clever words---just numbers.

Turns out that 1-800-PROGRESSIVE, for example, is 1-800-776-47377483.

See how silly that sounds?


Huh? You're supposed to dial "dot-com, inc.", too?


I guess the beef I have isn't with the notion of using names instead of numbers, in of itself. To be fair, this phenomenon began way before smart phones came out.

My complaint is the abuse of this practice; read: using words that contain more than seven letters!

Like I said, 1-800-PROGRESSIVE is, by far, the worst abuser of this attempt to provide an easy-to-remember phone number.

If you dial all 15 numbers, the phone thinks you're nuts. It may or may not complete the call after the first 10 digits. Regardless, it's probably wondering what the hell you're doing, tapping in 15 freaking numbers for a task that only requires 10.

1-800-FLORIST is nice because it shouts the name and purpose of the company, AND---bonus---it only uses up the allotted seven key punches!

But gradually, companies began fudging---sneaking eight-letter words into their cutesy phone numbers, then nine.

Progressive takes the cake, with 11.

Still, I prefer numbers only. OR, a compromise: announce the cutesy number (for radio spots, for example), then repeat it in numerical form.

"Call 1-800-FLORIST; that's 1-800-356-7478!"

Printed forms of the cutesy numbers sometimes will include both alphabetical and numerical versions. God bless those people who provide that.

Just thought I'd share that with you.

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