Everyone likes a good phone conversation. Few things get the blood pumping faster.
As a big-shot design operative, the Intellectual Hooligan does his fair share of wheeling – and the odd bit of dealing – with members of the Gutenbergian profession. That is, the fine men and women who take the images on my computer screen and convert them into lovely shiny (or, indeed, tastefully matt laminated) printed products.
And nobody likes a printed product like the Intellectual Hooligan.
(Okay, maybe not all of them.)
Anyhow, through my designery antics, I've come to meet and correspond with a fair range of print professionals. And have found these people almost unfailingly pleasant and helpful.
I say almost unfailingly.
Because, not many days ago, I received an extraordinary phonecall from one gentleman whose printing services I had (on a couple of occasions) previously employed.
He came straight to the point.
'I'm really concerned that we may have lost your business.'
I like phonecalls that start like this. They're almost inevitably going to be Lots Of Fun. Considering the fact that, yes, the printer in question had lost my business, I was at something of a loss as to how to respond. I plumped (masterfully, in retrospect) for:
He plunged onward.
'I mean, we haven't heard from you for ages. And I'm wondering, are you busy? I know you've got work on. So I'm wondering why we haven't heard from you.'
Whoa boy! Whoa!
'... Because I know the work we've done for you has always been excellent quality, and we've never let you down or missed a deadline.'
Me: 'Um, well, actually, you have.'
This led into a little reprise of a job (the last job for which I used these fellows, coincidentally enough) which ended up being delivered two days after the event for which it was intended. Which came under the category of both 'letting me down' and 'missing a deadline'. But, of course, who am I to categorise?
'I know [my colleague] called you about that job and I was under the impression we'd sorted it all out.'
'Um ... no ... I don't think I ever heard from [your colleague].'
'Well she assures me she called you.'
'Um ... I assure you she didn't.'
'I have her here and she says you discussed this.'
What the fucketty-fucking-fuck? Are you actually accusing me of lying, here? Is this part of your ninja win-back-my-business strategy? Because here's a sodding newsflash. Even if I were lying, for no discernible personal gain, so presumably just for a laugh – which I'm damn well not – but even if I were – what precisely are you going to do about it?
Spool forward a minute or two in the 'conversation'. A new tack:
'I know you're currently using [competing print firm]. I know [competing print firm]. We're cheaper than [competing print firm]. And our quality is just as good.'
Now here's where we hit another problem. Because, my friend, your quality is nowhere frigging near as good. You are a cheap printer, yes. But you are cheap for a reason. I don't criticise your quality, because you are cheap and you are (with notable exceptions as aforementioned) fast. And I know that cheap + fast is not an equation that generally = high quality.
So we run into problems if you tell me that you are high quality. Because you're not. You are really, really not.
However. You are a printer. That is your trade, your passion, your skill. How on earth am I going to contradict you on this point without causing mortal offence – and setting you even more haywire than you are already?
Such were the thoughts whirling around the Intellectual Hooligan's head. How (I wondered) am I to register disagreement yet avoid insult? There must be a perfect response – an eloquent, supple comeback (the kind of which you know me to be a master) with which I may neatly escape this predicament ...
... Come on, O muse of the conversational gambit. Do not desert me now!
'... Um ....'
Exasperated though – in spite of my finely-delivered rejoinder – our man took the conversation a couple of steps further – veering into truly bizarre and questionable territory:
'I mean, I know from having met you that you're not the type who'd go informing other suppliers about competitors' prices and undercutting them. Because there are all sorts of legal issues with that.'
But was that supposed to be a threat? So ... just let me check (because I'm making notes of the points we've covered so far): you not only accuse me of lying, but also imply that I am engaging in shady business practices to your detriment?
Cripes, you're really bringing me round, here.
'... If you look at it from my perspective, what do you see? You do good work for a client, you really put an effort into helping them out, and then you just don't hear from them.'
I'm sorry, mate. But did we go on a date, or something? Maybe I oughtn't to have sent you those roses, back in February. I can see that I led you on unforgivably. And I have betrayed your trust – your loyalty – your (I think it not bold to use this term) your devotion.
It was terribly wrong of me. I see that now. How heartless!
While you were sitting, watching the phone, aching with misery, I was gaily cavorting with another printer. O what fickle, fickle man am I! O wretched cur! O thing most unworthy of printer's love!
Where did I put that cat o' nine tails of mine? I feel a self-flagellatory impulse coming on.
But ... hold on ...
WAIT ONE MINUTE ...
Didn't we pay you? You nasty, belligerent, tactically clueless, turfbrained dolt. Am I not representing one business and you another? Was this not, in fact, an entirely FUCKING BUSINESS DECISION?
ARE YOU FUCKING MAD?
Do you think that you are going to come within Jupiter's breadth of persuading me of anything aside from your own instability as a human being by speaking to me in this way?
Do you think that if you say things that are manifestly ridiculous with sufficient aggression to somebody who wishes to converse on polite, non-confrontational grounds, you are going to win just because they aren't coming out and telling you that you're acting like a pillock?
Do you think that, if you keep overriding my explanations and reasoning and presenting me instead with downright falsehood that I must either accept or flatly contradict, you are somehow advancing your cause?
Do you think that, because I'm not going to get into a massive argument about this, you're onto a winner?
Do you think that, when I put the phone down on you at the end of this conversation, I'm EVER voluntarily going to contact you again? Let alone give you any business?
Do you want a clue on that last one?
YOU GHASTLY, IDIOTIC, MYOPIC TURD.
(Which is, of course, exactly what I said.)