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FROM 'WINDEXED' LIZARDS TO LOST BOY SCOUTS, HELP IS JUST AN 800 CALL AWAY

 FROM 'WINDEXED' LIZARDS TO LOST BOY SCOUTS,
 HELP IS JUST AN 800 CALL AWAY
 DETROIT, Aug. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- The little boy on the end of the line was frantic. There were marbles stuck in the ice maker. "It was sort of an experiment," he explained. His mom would be home any minute. He needed help. Fast.
 It was a typical call on a typical day to 1-800-626-2000 -- the GE Answer Center. And like many callers, the little boy, who knew exactly whom to call, got the advice he needed to solve his problem.
 General Electric is among the thousands of U.S. companies that have established centers with AT&T 800 numbers to keep in close touch with its customers. These centers serve consumers in a variety of ways, from taking orders and answering questions about products to handling customer complaints.
 Whirlpool Corp. of Benton Harbor, Mich., was the first U.S. company to offer its customers a toll-free number to call for information. Its Consumer Assistance Center opened 25 years ago this month.
 Whirlpool and other companies provide extensive training to employees who answer customer calls. But even the most thorough training programs can't prepare these representatives for some of the calls they get:
 -- At the Drackett Co. in Cincinnati, JoAnn Margeson took a call one morning from a man wondering if Windex (a registered trademark of the Drackett Co.) is harmful to reptiles. The man had accidentally grabbed a bottle of the window cleaner instead of water and sprayed his pet lizards. Margeson assured him the lizards would be just fine (not to mention no streaks).
 -- At the IBM Personal Systems HelpCenter, a company representative recently took a call from a customer asking exceptionally sophisticated questions about his PS/2 computer. The conversation was interrupted when the customer's mother called him down to dinner. "I can't come down now, mom," hollered the caller, who turned out to be a 10-year-old boy. "I'm talking to IBM!"
 A more common question at the IBM center is what to do when the cat has knocked over a cup of coffee into a computer keyboard. Answer: Shake it out and blow dry.
 -- Customer representatives at GE have been asked whether it's safe to drink the water from a dehumidifier and whether refrigerator racks can be removed and used for barbecuing. (The answer in both cases -- a resounding no.)
 -- Holiday Inn Worldwide saved the day for a lost Boy Scout who got separated from his troop. He had forgotten what hotel they were staying at, but did remember Holiday Inn's catchy reservations number -- 1-800-HOLIDAY. The scouts weren't staying at the local Holiday Inn, but a company operator called every hotel in town until she found where the boy belonged.
 -- Last year on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, General Mills received so many phone calls -- as many as 200 an hour -- asking for microwave instructions for its Gorton's frozen fish entrees that the company installed an automated voice-response system to answer all the requests.
 -- Whirlpool manufactures major home appliances, but its consumer consultants have handled their share of customers with holiday food problems, too. Every Christmas, Whirlpool's Customer Assistance Center gets a rash of calls from customers who have accidentally locked their ovens with the holiday turkey inside. Dozens of Christmas dinners across America have been saved by Whirlpool consultants who have talked callers through the procedure to unlatch their ovens.
 -- One Chicago-area dad is still talking about how Pleasant Co., a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of historical dolls and books, saved Christmas for his little girl. "All she wanted for Christmas was one of our dolls," said Jean Dollard Dunham, a supervisor in order processing. "She wrote a letter to Santa but didn't tell anyone because she was afraid her wish wouldn't come true." Her dad found out just two days before Christmas. It was too late to have the doll sent, but he called the company's 800 order number anyway.
 "We were closing down for the holidays, but we told him we'd keep the distribution center in Madison open if he could come pick up the doll," Dunham said. "It was a four-hour drive and the roads were bad, but he came and that little girl got her Christmas wish."
 -- One Lands' End customer used the company's 800 number to do some truly last-minute shopping. "He called from the hospital birthing room to order a diaper bag," said Mike Gillispie, Lands' End director of customer services. "His wife's contractions were less than two minutes apart. They were having trouble deciding whether to have the bag monogrammed."
 -0- 8/25/92
 /CONTACT: Ana Gabriel of AT&T, 313-262-4965, or (home), 313-649-0641/
 (T) CO: AT&T ST: Michigan IN: TLS SU:


ML -- DE013 -- 2987 08/25/92 11:22 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Aug 25, 1992
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