Consumer IQ

5 Ways Executives Hide Their Contact Information

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Executives — especially VPs with the word “customer service” in their title — don’t really want to hear from you when you have a problem.

That’s why they pay companies overseas hundreds of thousands of dollars a month to field your angry phone calls.

So it might not surprise you to hear about the extraordinary lengths some managers go to keep you from contacting them. But I admit: I am shocked.

Just yesterday, I tried to help someone contact the CEO of a large multi-national company.

He’d sent emails through normal channels and received the usual form response, suggesting no one had actually taken the time to read his grievance.

Email addresses at the company were firstname.lastname@companyname.com — an industry standard. But the email address was bouncing.

A little sleuthing revealed the exec used a middle initial — and “X” — in a somewhat clumsy effort to thwart consumers from directly emailing him.

The fake middle initial trick is just one of several tactics used by managers to keep you away.

Now, there are legitimate reasons for an executive to keep you at arm’s length — at least from that person’s perspective. After all, they’re the captain of a big corporation and their time is valuable.

That’s not a valid perspective. If said CEO were doing his or her job, then most service problems would get taken care of and only the most pressing issues would get forwarded to the management level.

Nor is the argument that the executives have a right to privacy a valid one. If these executives want privacy, they can move to a monastery and take a vow of silence.

Their professional email address and phone numbers are fair game.

So how do they hide them? Here are the most common ways.

The (fake) middle initial.

It’s a popular trick, especially when the executives have a common name.

Adding a middle initial helps differentiate them from other employees with their name, although I pity that underling, since he or she will get all the mail meant for the CEO or the VP of customer service.

More questionable is the fake middle initial, because that’s an outright lie meant to send your email bouncing right back.

And if a CEO lies about their email address, it makes you wonder what else they are lying about.

You can easily find an executive’s real middle initial on the company website or public SEC filings.

The gobbledygook address.

Some companies try to throw you for a loop by making their email addresses nonsense.

For example, one well-known phone company adds random numbers to the email address; another equally well-known online travel agency creates random addresses that include the first three letters of your first name and part of your last name.

These are meant to keep their employees’ email addresses private, but it’s silly.

Eventually, these bumbling attempts to prevent you from contacting someone at the company will backfire and in the end, the executive’s email address will get released into the wild anyway.

Oops, wrong domain.

Here’s a crafty way to avoid the crowds: give your executives email addresses at another address — one not widely publicized. Let me explain:

I just saw this with a big wireless company. Let’s call it greed.com.

All the managers at greed.com had email addresses at greedwireless.com. Pretty smart, huh?

So all of the emails sent to firstname.lastname@greed.com got bounced right back as undeliverable.

Sometimes you have to do a multiple-guess when you try to triangulate an executive’s address. But this one’s relatively easy to discover.

The decoy.

Why have a fake initial when you can just have a fake address?

Well, unfortunately some misguided executives, on the advice of their PR department, set up fake addresses and then release them online. Whatever for?

They funnel the correspondence right back to those outsourced “customer service” centers for a non-resolution. I’ve seen it.

A legitimate manager’s email address is never easy to get, so if it seems too easy, it can often mean your message is being channeled to a decoy and will never be seen by the right people.

The bogus bouncer.

You probably already know this, but many email systems offer an option to “bounce” a message as undeliverable — even if the email was received.

It’s an extremely rude way of saying “get lost” but blaming it on the Internet.

I just encountered it today, when I tried to email several executives at a certain large computer manufacturer whose addresses I knew worked.

Although it’s a fairly savvy way to make a complainer go away and potentially even forget your email address, it’s as bad a lie as the decoy or the fake middle initial.

Eventually, the truth will come out.

By the way, there are many ways to ferret out a fake address. My preferred method is through a free service called Rapportive, which automatically verifies an email address if you use Gmail. You can tinker with the address until it green lights the email and then you’re good to go.

Look, companies will try to keep the addresses of their executives private. But you have a right to contact them when you’re not getting the service you deserve.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.