I’m sure you’ve heard the story. Or seen the meme on social media.

A guy’s stranded on a deserted island. Ratty clothes. Shaggy beard. Probably near starvation. Then a bottle floats ashore with a message. Expectantly, he races to the water’s edge, snatches it up and pulls the cork to extract the message, hoping it will provide some clue to a possible rescue. Instead?

“We’ve been trying to reach you about your vehicle’s extended warranty. This will be our last attempt.”

If only.

In truth, it’s important for companies these days to keep in contact with customers. “Engagement” is the word that’s frequently used. Of course, engagement implies two-way communication. Business sends you a message and you reply or interact with it in some form or fashion. And if it’s a product you like and a company you respect, the arrangement can work. Still, more often than not, it goes awry.

My engagement with the car warranty folks used to go something like this.

Step one: Hang up. Step two: Block that number.

Now, I just ignore it. I’m fortunate that my cell number’s that’s not a 580, and if I get a call from that old area code, I can pretty much tell it’s a telemarketer. If there are friends there calling from a number I don’t have saved, I expect they’ll leave a message.

At the beginning of COVID, I thought if I got one more “We’ve got your back” email from a company I hadn’t done business with in years, I was going to pitch the computer. I try to unsubscribe from those I did sign up with that I no longer need to hear from, but I’ve determined “unsubscribe” works about as well as the “Do not call” list.

But the ones that really get me are the ones that want you to rate their product. Now, if you bought a new TV, car or even a major appliance, that makes sense. They want to “engage” with you, have you give them a rating they can use in future marketing campaigns. If they like it of course.

Two recently caught my eye. One was a USB charging cable. “You recently purchased a charging cable. Please answer a few questions and rate its performance for people just like you.” Well, it fits into the plug. And it charges the device.

Like anything these days, I guess, consumer engagement often starts out as a good idea, but then gets corrupted into some kind of an annoyance. Done right, consumer interaction is an incredibly important component of today’s business relationship with purchasers. They know, if you do a bad job, your replacement is only a click away. With online ordering, next day delivery and algorithms that want to anticipate your next purchase and sell it to you before you know you even wanted it, I love the times I can actually talk to someone on the phone or across the counter to explain what the product’s needed for and they can advise me on the best solution. And you can count on the fact that they’re not going to call you for the next three years to ask if you’re still thinking about buying that particular widget.

Heck, after my dad passed in 2012, I had his mail forwarded to me as I settled his estate. I’m still getting mail from some charity looking for a donation, wanting him to “Buy Gold” or telling him “How to Win the Lottery.” I can’t imagine the millions wasted on programs like that annually.

And then there’s “Darlene”. Some poor woman keeps signing up for Medicare Part D information, but doesn’t know her own number and keeps giving them mine. Every few months, I get a series of calls from numbers that seem legit. I tell them politely they have the wrong number, I don’t need supplemental Medicare insurance, and there is “no Darlene here.” They’ll stop for 4-6 months, then I’m sure she puts it back into some email form and the process repeats itself. It’s been going on like this for a couple of years.

Waaaiiiit a minit. You don’t think “Darlene” is those car warranty guys sneakily trying to get back at me do you?

David Stringer is the publisher of The Lawton Constitution, a past-president of the Oklahoma Press Association and a media professional for over 40 years, more than half of that in Oklahoma. He can be reached at david.stringer@swoknews.com.