Is it time to overhaul the user interface of the phone system?
A few months ago we started getting a lot of calls that were wrong numbers. Before that we used to get maybe one a week, but suddenly we were getting 5 or 6 a day. After an initial period of frustration, we eventually started to apply our debugging skills.
Our first guess was that somebody was distributing our phone number on a flyer or something, either as a prank or by accident. But this didn't make sense because every caller was asking for somebody different. “Hello, is Juan there?” “Hi, Elizabeth/Gary/Tanya/Carlos?” Or the ever popular “<pause> Who is this?!!” No, dude, you called me, so you tell first.
Ok, scratch that idea. Hmm, I suppose we could always ask. “Sorry, wrong number, what number are you trying to reach?” At last, some progress. Our phone number is 987-654-3210 (not our real number). The people who were calling us were uniformly dialing 654-321-0xxx. The 654 area code is for an area maybe 20 miles away, so lots of people in our area code were dialing numbers there. Even worse, there are up to 1000 numbers in that area code that match this pattern. No wonder we were getting a lot of calls!
The reason they were getting us was that they were forgetting to dial a 1 first. Without the 1, the phone system was interpreting this as a local call within the 987 area code to 654-3210, with the extra three digits on the end simply being ignored. On many (most?) cell phones the 1 is not necessary, so people lose the habit of dialing it. Then when they use a land line, where the 1 is required, they get us.
With this insight, we contacted the phone company. It took three tries and many patient explanations to even get somebody to understand what the problem was. I asked what had changed in the system recently, because clearly something had changed to cause the sudden increase in wrong numbers.“Uh, I don't know. I'll ask our tech guy.” A few minutes later. “Our tech guy says the 321 exchange in the 654 area code is a Cingular exchange. You should call them.” “But how is that supposed to help? The phone calls are originating in your system and never getting out of your system, so even if they made a change over there, it wouldn't change what's happening here.” “Well, you should call Cingular.”
Predictably, Cingular couldn't help. They couldn't even tell us if the 321 exchange was new because “our computers don't tell us that”.
The really frustrating thing about the problem is that it's so easy to fix. It should be easy for the system to detect when somebody has dialed a 10 digits but is being connected to a 7-digit number. Give the caller a warning and ask them to redial! It's possible this might break some systems with extensions, where the leftover 3 digits indicate the extension. So perhaps disable the warning if there is a pause between the 7th and 8th digits.
Has anyone else had this problem?