At the recently concluded Athletic Business Conference & Expo, one of the seminars we conducted was called "Say This, Not That." The point of the talk was that business owners and managers know what they would like their staff to say in almost any business situation, and even how they would like it said, so why leave it to chance? We believe every aspect of a fitness operation should be scripted and the staff should be trained and drilled to memorize those scripts. It was a lively and fun seminar.

Upon returning from New Orleans, we think we need to broaden our horizons with this idea. If we don't, we may never pick up our phones again.

The first offensive call was a recent morning at 8 a.m. It was the same California phone number that had popped up on Barry's phone three times the day before. It hadn't been important enough for the person to leave voicemail after those other calls, but it was 5 a.m. Pacific time. Someone really wanted to talk.

"This is Barry." A long delay followed…that wasn't good.

"Is this Elevations Health Club?" Based on the delay, the background noise and the caller's voice and behavior, this wasn't coming from California. It was obviously from a call center halfway around the world.

[Annoyed] "This is Barry from Elevations."

"What's your address?"

[More annoyed] "Maybe you can start by telling me where you're calling from and why you're calling me at 8 a.m. on my cellular phone."

"This is Google Maps."

[Totally annoyed] "Goodbye."

A short while later, the phone rang again and it was another unidentified number. It was Karen from our electric utility. Karen had left a message the day before at the health club, and had already been an annoyance. When she had called, our staff person had obviously followed our script on how to take a message because in addition to Karen's first name, company and phone number, the staff person's message read, "Would not provide any other information." There was therefore no way to navigate the company's phone system to leave Karen a personal message (something that was not our staff person's fault). We had returned the call because she was from an existing vendor, but we had been forced to leave a message in the company's general voicemail box.

She said, "I was returning your call because you left a message for me in the general voicemail box."

"Yes, Karen, I did. Because yesterday you called us. You left a message for me."

So Karen continued, "How can I help you?"

"I have no idea whatsoever, Karen. You called us."

"Oh. Who is your electric utility company."

"You are."

"Oh, I'm very sorry. Goodbye."

But wait, it gets better! Karen called back two minutes later saying that she thought she could save us money - off her company's own rates! - and we would just need to fax her our latest bill. "Can't you just pull our latest bill?" "No," she said. [Laughter ensues]

So, to all of those attendees at ABC who came to our seminar on scripting, we say, "Good for you." We are quite confident that by following our advice, your staff will be performing better in just a few short weeks than Google - freaking Google! - and a publicly traded utility company are able to do. Just tell them what to say in common situations and then train them on it. It's not that hard…or, heck, maybe it is.