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“It doesn’t exist” really means they can’t find it.

By Bill Quimby on September 13, 2023

Phone company representatives almost always make the assumption that if they can’t find a number that it doesn’t exist. Phone company reps aren’t looking at which exchanges they have, or everything in the whole company, like you're assuming. They have just enough information to do their job, and tracking down numbers isn’t really their job. If they don't see it in the system they have access to, they don’t tell you they can’t find it, they say it doesn’t exist, because that makes them sound better and gets you off the phone.

When they say they don't have it, ask them, is that because you're looking at the complete list of what their company has, or because they don't see it in their available numbers? Given that choice they'll usually say it's because they don't see it in the available numbers they have access to, which is different than what you're assuming they don't have it means.

The information our data is based on comes from the actual exchange data that shows which companies have every exchange. The difference between what they see and what's actually assigned to them means you have to go higher, or your timing isn’t right, or some combination of the two. It doesn't mean the underlying data is wrong. Phone reps never want to tell you they can't find something. They will always tell you it doesn't exist, because they live and die by their computer and don’t know how to find anything that’s not in their computer.

If it just came out, it might not be in their available numbers yet, so you might have to keep checking. If it was active for a customer they wouldn’t tell you it doesn’t exist. They would tell you it’s active for another company. So saying it doesn’t exist, is actually a good thing.

Most large companies have been built by merging multiple smaller phone companies. So you might have to find someone that has access to the right system or part of their organization. Part of getting a specific number is timing, and part of it is reaching the right person in because everyone never has access to everything, especially in even a medium sized organization.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly who you have to talk to. It does take some luck to reach the right person, especially in a large company which has a lot of reps with differing levels of knowledge and multiple front doors. You may just have to look for someone that knows more about their multiple systems (every big company has multiple systems) or you might try a different front door. You might call business customer service instead of residential for example. Keep track of who you talk to and where they’re located, and ask some questions to figure out their level of experience.

The bottom line is that you can’t take the first no, as if that were the final answer. Every customer service rep will try to make it sound like their answer is the absolute final answer, but the underlying exchange data is still true, but their answer could change tomorrow or if you talk to someone else.

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