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The Hole in the Loop

Of course, a business that uses them is obligated to make human beings available for special cases, not to make the operator option another dead end. Beyond that, it is obligated to have such operators equipped with the judgment and authority to solve problems.

That is the crux of the consumer service problem: that a business's live people, when one reaches them, are rarely equipped to weigh an uncommon problem judiciously and offer a solution. The unspoken deal was that businesses would save money by using recordings and spend some of it on training the people they are supposed to have available. Few have lived up to the deal.

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Dear Miss Manners:

I was at a restaurant when a solitary diner loudly admonished the neighboring table for talking too loudly. The two ladies in question were at the table next to me and their conversation was not intrusive in the least. They, as well as I, were nonplused by this comment.

No one responded to the complainer and, after a startled look of disbelief, all went back to their meals and conversations. Should something have been said to this person?

You mean that someone should have admonished this person for the rudeness of having admonished others?

Satisfying as you may have found that, Miss Manners is afraid that it would have made your complaint difficult to define. The two ladies could have responded by saying, "We are so sorry to have disturbed you" and turned back to their meals. You could have said, "Perhaps you might want to have the waiter move you to a secluded table." But as you are not allowed to quash rudeness with rudeness, you were all best off tending to your dinners.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

© 2005, Judith Martin


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