The social skills of a thermonuclear device: Why did you hang up?


One morning I'm working in my office and I'm interrupted by a telephone call. The caller-ID shows that it came in through the switchboard. (I.e., somebody called the main Microsoft number and asked for me by name.)

Me: Hello?

Caller: [angrily] Mr. Chen, why did you hang up?

I don't recognize the voice, and I haven't received a phone call in several days, so I have no idea who this person is or what he's talking about. But if somebody starts out rude to me, that doesn't put me in the friendliest of moods. Still, I use a polite tone of voice.

Me: Oh, I'm sorry. I'll do it again. [click]

A few minutes later, my phone rang again. The caller-ID shows that it is once again a call from the switchboard. I let it go to voice mail.

Shortly thereafter, I received a notification that I have a new voicemail message. Here's a transcript:

[swearing in a language I don't recognize] Why do you keep hanging up on me? I asked you, are you Raymond Chen, and then I talk to you, and you hang up. Are you stupid or something? [click]

Now I kind of feel bad that the caller probably got the wrong person. There are at least four people at Microsoft who share my name (or a name very similar to it).

Comments (45)
  1. Anonymous says:

    No loss.  They were probably trying to tell you how Windows should have been written.

  2. Anonymous says:

    And know we know why Alexandre Grigoriev is the way he is, it all dates back to the day he tried to call up Raymond for a friendly chat.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This guy probably was swearing at the first Raymond Chen too, which explains why he got hung up on the first time. Angry dialing is only slightly better than drunk dialing. (Though both are fun to record. You didn’t happen to upload the voicemail anywhere, did you?)

    Points of interest I take from this story: a) you can reach Raymond by calling the MS switchboard and b) if you decide to call, be polite.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Ummmmm…….weird person, really.

    I really wonder what answer the caller was expecting, even given getting through to the "real" Raymond Chen.

  5. nathan_works says:

    He probably wanted to tell you about a great opportunity with this company called Amway..

  6. Anonymous says:

    Other Mark: Nah, this one was probably Norman Diamond. :)

  7. Anonymous says:

    I disagree with the tact taken.  If I’m answering a phone at my place of employment, and it’s an oustide caller, I must always ASSUME it could be a customer of my employer.

    To that end a more helpful tact should be taken:

    Me: Hello?

    Caller: [angrily] Mr. Y why did you hang up on me.

    Me: I’m sorry you got disconnected but I am Mr. X Y and I was not speaking with anyone just now on the phone.  There are several people here at ZZZ Enterprises with the same first name as mine.  How can I help you reconnect to the person you were speaking to?

    Generally this calmer approach will deflate most angry callers and a diplomatic solution is reached.  Of course, there are the edge cases where nothing that is said in appeasement will make the caller happy.  In that case simply force caller on hold then redirect to switchboard.  They get paid to absorb most of the heat from angry callers to the company.

    Then again, maybe I’m full of it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think I agree with Plexman.  Maybe the guy was a royal douchebag, but he could be a big customer; it’s better to err on the side of caution just to be safe.  This is why I never answer my phone :)

  9. Anonymous says:

    "And know we know why Alexandre Grigoriev is the way he is, it all dates back to the day he tried to call up Raymond for a friendly chat."

    Umm… No. I’m not that grumpy. I’ve just been using and programming Windows for too long. If you want to know a grumpier one, check Dr. Joe Newcomer. Though he’s also not grumpy toward persons, just toward big faceless software corporation.

  10. Anonymous says:

    > I think I agree with Plexman.  Maybe the guy was a royal douchebag, but he could be a big customer; it’s better to err on the side of caution just to be safe. <<

    Hey, Raymond did say he used a "polite tone of voice".  What more could one ask for?

    On another side-topic – hanging up on someone is when you really want one of those old monopoly-era AT&T telephones.  You could really slam the handset on those things.

  11. Anonymous says:

    "On another side-topic – hanging up on someone is when you really want one of those old monopoly-era AT&T telephones.  You could really slam the handset on those things."

    Oh, I dunno.  I’ve been pretty happy with standard office phones.  Just remember, use the handset, and make sure you slam the mouthpiece down hard a few times before depressing the hookswitch with the earpiece.  Those microphones are pretty sensitive to direct contact.

    My officemate used to do that with his "all-phone" pages.  But then, he was a jerk with aggressions to release.

  12. Anonymous says:

    If it was a language you didn’t recognize, how did you know he was swearing?  :)

  13. Anonymous says:

    If it was a language you didn’t recognize, how did you know he was swearing?  :)

  14. Anonymous says:

    when my office phone rings, it’s always some one dialed the wrong number. other people reach me through IM and email. :(

    maybe you could have told him it’s the wrong number?

  15. Anonymous says:

    while nobody appreciates when somone is rude, you might want to consider that this guy probably talked to a half dozen people before he got to you… or worse (and more likely), he spoke to a machine for 15 minutes trying to get through to someone who could help…

    and we all know what phone calls can be like while waiting to speak to an actual human. it wastes 15 minutes of your time forcing you to enter ALL your info, account numbers, even why you’re calling, validates your name and EVERYTHING…

    and what’s the first thing that they do when they finally answer your call?

    they ask for your damn name, account number, and why you are calling… WTF!

    so this guy probably was polite and friendly the first 15 times he failed to get through, and by the time he got to you, the person who connected you probably swore up and down he was being connected to the right person…

    in the end it was still the fault of the caller, who made the mistake of assuming the person connecting him did it correctly…

  16. Anonymous says:

    If it was a language you didn’t recognize, how did you know he was swearing?  :)

    Swearing is universal.

    >>and we all know what phone calls can be like while waiting to speak to an actual human. it wastes 15 minutes of your time forcing you to enter ALL your info, account numbers, even why you’re calling, validates your name and EVERYTHING…

    and what’s the first thing that they do when they finally answer your call?

    they ask for your damn name, account number, and why you are calling… WTF!<<<

    That’s why I don’t give any info if i think I want to talk to a human.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Title reference article, because I spent the time to find it again:

    http://www.kuro5hin.org/comments/2004/2/15/71552/7795?pid=79#88

    The comment on k5 was also the reason I started reading this site and all of the archives.  And the book.  Any publicity is good publicity.

  18. Dean Harding says:

    "If I’m answering a phone at my place of employment, and it’s an oustide caller, I must always ASSUME it could be a customer of my employer."

    "you might want to consider that this guy probably talked to a half dozen people before he got to you… or worse (and more likely), he spoke to a machine for 15 minutes trying to get through to someone who could help"

    I don’t work for Microsoft, but it seems obvious to me that the developer division is not customer support. If you called the developer division and asked the operator to speak to a particular person, chances are pretty good that they’d put you straight through.

    Also, contrary to popular belief, Raymond is just a regular developer. It’s unlikely that a big customer is going to be calling some random developer (for example, if a customer ever calls me directly, it’s because they already know me and I know them – it’s not going to be some random person calling the switchboard).

  19. Anonymous says:

    @Plexman: "If I’m answering a phone at my place of employment, and it’s an oustide [sic] caller, I must always ASSUME it could be a customer of my employer."

    If you work for Microsoft, there’s a 99% chance that any given person in the English-speaking world is a customer of your employer.

    "this calmer approach will deflate most angry callers"

    From Raymond’s point of view, hanging up will ALSO deflate angry callers, plus it’s much more efficient.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Now I kind of want to call the switchboard, ask for Raymond, and when he answers ask why he hang up!

  21. Anonymous says:

    "I’m sorry, I’ll do it again." Heh! That’s priceless!

    Daytime television edition:

    Somewhere in the world a man looks one last time at a faded black and white photo of a man and a small child, and tears it in two.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I would have thought that Microsoft is doing OK for customers, so one more or less is a drop in the ocean.  And causing the company to have one less grumpy customer is a Good Thing, so used did exactly the right method here.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Whether the caller was an important/big customer or a dog walker that just fancied a chat, I think that the Oh-So-Clever Hang-Up quip precipitated the voice mail, and to poke fun at the caller/message leaver is missing the point.

    Whatever had caused the caller to become so rude/upset was not your fault, but only up to the point at which YOU were rude to THEM.

    At that point, you are as much as at fault as anyone.

    What you should have done is explained that you had not taken a phone call recently and that you had not previously hung up on anyone, let alone this caller.

    There had clearly been some misunderstanding and regardless of any commercial relationship with another human being it would only have been polite to attempt to help resolve whatever miscommunication had occurred.

    At that point if the caller continued to be rude THEN you might have had some justification for reciprocating.

    As it transpired, all you did was to cement the view already forming in the callers mind (whether right or wrong) that Microsoft employees are among the rudest people ever they had had the misfortune to deal with.

  24. Anonymous says:

    @Dean Harding: At my previous workplace we had a customer who used to call random developers and try to tell them what to do. Our orders were clear: "Hi Mr. whatshisname. I’ll just forward you to my colleague who handles this sort of thing", then hang up.

  25. Anonymous says:

    hanging up on someone is when you really want one of those old monopoly-era AT&T telephones.  You could really slam the handset on those things.

    That was one of Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up bits:

    • You get mad at somebody on a cordless phone – "You can’t talk to me like that!" (mimes fumbling around for the Talk button, pressing it and putting the handset down) "I told him!"

    Regarding Raymond’s story – yes, maybe it should have been handled more diplomatically. But then, that could have seriously damaged his "thermonuclear social skills" reputation! :-p

  26. Anonymous says:

    Yeah. Big customers don’t call the janitor to initiate deals – they call the big wigs.

    I believe the bigger the deal, the higher up they call, because the person calling is a higher-up. Really huge deals go through the CEO, moderate deals the VPs, and small ones via sales. The big guys know how to talk to your bigwig – they will never go through the switchboard.

    There’s a whole networking ritual on how the contact information is spread. Their CEO calls Ballmer directly, because they have his direct line, and not the one to the CEO’s office.

    And if you’re a developer, customers call you only through a prior arrangement.

  27. Anonymous says:

    In my kiddie years I wrote a long and angry mail about all the things I hated with windows 95 and sent it to billg@microsoft.com – and later got a friendly mail back from the windows product manager telling me that they were entered into the bug tracker. Too bad I lost these because when windows 98 came around I found that all previous grievences were gone (albeit replaced with new ones). I like to think that even faceless corporations will respect outrage as long as it is well founded.

    Too bad I no longer know where to aim my usability frustration knowing that the WMDs of developers are surrounded by thousands of proles with AK47s.

    Thanks for a great blog.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Here’s what probably happened.

    Someone was trying to reach you. Might have been a customer, another employee, anyone really, for whatever reason.

    Mr. X: "Hello, could I speak to Mr. Chen please?"

    Operator: "Sure, hang on."

    Vito Chen: "Yes?"

    mr. X: "This is Mr. X, am I speaking to Raymond Chen?"

    *click* (Because Vito has no social skills.)

    The rest we know.

  29. Anonymous says:

    "Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll do it again. [click]"

    Reminds me of the Dilbert strip where Dogbert’s support line offers to disconnect you. (Wally chooses the Kevorkian disconnect.)

  30. Anonymous says:

    Yep, hanging up like this sounds like a very Microsoft-thing to do.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I wonder how many people failed to read the last line of the blog:

    "Now I kind of feel bad that the caller probably got the wrong person. There are at least four people at Microsoft who share my name (or a name very similar to it)."

  32. DWalker59 says:

    I like the voicemail messages that say "Hi, this is Bill, please call me back".  I don’t know anyone named Bill (really).  Bill didn’t leave a number.

    Another voicemail message I got at home said "Hi, this is Sandy and Bob, we’re on our way over, we’ll see you in a few minutes".  I don’t know Sandy and Bob, and they never arrived at MY house.

    Finally, a bill collector kept calling my office number, and asking me to call them back about a bill I owed them (to Coca-Cola Enterprises, a distributor).  I don’t buy anything from them.  They admitted that they had the wrong number, but their company kept calling me.  Aaargh.

    Some people apparently don’t listen to my outgoing voice mail message before leaving their message.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I get calls telling me that the warranty on my car is about to expire.  Its actually a clever machine that waits for you to say something before it begins spewing its sales pitch at you.  I’ve taken to harassing the machine by pressing as many numbers as I can before it hangs up on me.  Next, I figure I might as well pick up the handset and not say anything at all to see if it will wait forever for me.

    At a previous building, I received many calls asking me to subscribe to a newspaper.  Since this was a live person (the poor sod), I took to answering in French when they called.  I enjoy a good newspaper, but they could hold off on the harassment while I am at work.

    At some point, I’ll be sure to utilize the hold button on my phone.  I don’t use the desk phone for anything else, so I figure a few hours on hold would an amusing way to strike back at the phone spammers.

  34. Anonymous says:

    @DWalker59

    To be fair to Coca-Cola Enterprises, one would expect people who are trying to duck bill collectors to be a little sneaky and record messages claiming to be other people.

    I just re-read that sentence and realized that I may have invented a new hobby: duck bill collecting.

  35. Anonymous says:

    @MS

    I got a call like that while reading this post!

    Everyone at my place of work has been getting calls from these car warranty people for weeks. Not that any of our phone numbers have car warranties assocaited with them — all our phone numbers start with the same four digits, so presumably it’s just wardialing.

    Seems to be some kind of scam to collect information about your car, which is the type of thing sometimes used by credit reporting agencies to identify callers.

  36. Anonymous says:

    If you get called by the car warranty people, REPORT THE CALL. These guys don’t respect the laws set up (do not call list, etc), so report them. They blatantly ignore all the telemarketing laws to sell you nothing. They call everyone, even if you don’t own a car.

    I believe recently the FTC won a lawsuit against one of these guys.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Hahaha, priceless.

    It’s probably not the best etiquette, but in this case I think the caller deserved it. I’ve found that treating rudeness with rudeness either causes people to be more polite, or gets them to leave you alone. Either way is a win.

    BTW, I started reading this blog because of the Windows information that Raymond provides, but what hooked me are anecdotes such as these. I think this humour is what makes Raymond’s blog more popular than the majority of MS blogs that merely cover technical information.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Stop hanging up on me!!  I was calling to tell you I was switching to a GNU/Linux Mac because of all the bugs in Micro$oft Windoze!  Snark!  I was swearing at you in a special dialect of Klingon I developed over the past six months just so I could use it against you!  Snark!!  Now how do you feel that I’ve completely showed how terrible Windoze is with my logic!  Ha Ha see there is nothing you can say to refute my arguments!  Snark!

  39. crmblog says:

    You probably did the other Raymond’s a favor.

  40. Anonymous says:

    I’m perpetually amused by the people who offer suggestions, advice, and direction to a person who was simply sharing a piece of his life.  I know that on my blog (no, I’m not hugely interested in posting the link here) when I post anecdotes, stories, etc. – I do so for the pleasure of writing.

    Few things annoy me more than reading the comments and getting tons of unwanted advice.

    Keep up the good work, Raymond.  I’m loving your blog.

  41. Anonymous says:

    @Brian – Here’s my advice: just ignore the unwanted advice.

  42. Anonymous says:

    @mikeb – Thanks, I was considering that but wanted to actually write a blog entry about it to see what people more familiar with me thought I should do.

  43. Anonymous says:

    @Someone you know

    To be fair to Coca-Cola Enterprises, one would expect people who are trying to duck bill collectors to be a little sneaky and record messages claiming to be other people.

    Yeah, but once you’ve told them that person X doesn’t live here and to stop calling, they have to stop. Best to do it in writing so you can sue them if they persist. They also can’t sell the account to someone else who then calls you for the same thing.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Raymond:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now. I was going to say this in a more polite way, but in the spirit of Simon Cowell I’ll just say it "you’re an a**hole!"

    If somebody doesn’t ask the question in what you consider the right way, exactly on your terms, you’re just a jerk.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to contact you in this manner, but after trying to call you many times by phone and being cut-off, I must regretfully inform you that a close relative/pet/iPod was involved in a horrific accident and has been calling for you.


    Of course, it could’ve been an important client, but then I suppose nobody’s that important to Microsoft.

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