Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How To Handle Telemarketers

In one of my previous incarnations, I was a telemarketer.
I worked in the ‘boiler room’ of a local monthly newspaper, making calls to renew subscriptions to any hapless individuals who picked up the phone. But because my personality was not aligned with this sort of work, I only lasted about 6 months.

The room was filled from 5:00 to 9:00 pm each night, elbow to earpiece with people from several different walks of life. Old war Vets, bored housewives, people ‘between jobs’ and students. Pretty much the same cross-section as the people we were supposed to be troubling for a sale. While the majority of the sales staff was as half-hearted as I was, some of my co-workers were quite good at the job and regularly took home sizeable paychecks. Back in those days, and at this particular business, we didn’t follow a strict script. We were just taught to offer ‘special rates’ and to not take no for an answer, at least up to the point where the client might become upset. For me, this meant only selling subscriptions to people who already subscribed to the newspaper and resulted in few sales. But for the big sellers in the room, a different technique worked fairly well. They ask a few personal questions (to set themselves up to seem like a friend) then they would listen for a bit until the right moment came when they would ask their new ‘friend’ to help them out. “I only need to make two more sales and I’ll get the free trip to (fill in the blank).” This was effective for those sellers, but it felt too disingenuous to me. Another problem I had with the job was when I would reach a fragile sounding, older woman on the line. I would make my pitch and they would respond with, “Mr. Wilson died last month…I don’t think we’ll be needing the paper anymore.” This felt like a gut punch to me and I would apologize for their loss and after hanging up, I would cross their number off the list. But the hard-nosed sellers used this as an opportunity. “Oh…that’s unfortunate, Mrs. Wilson, do you have any sons? Wouldn’t you like to keep the paper coming, just in his memory?” It wasn’t bad enough that we called at dinnertime, annoyed them with chitchat and then browbeat them to make a sale. And although I knew that some of the sellers in that room were not capable of doing anything else to make a living, I soon went back to my previous job with a new appreciation for what it takes to eke out a living.

In my informal poll of friends, I learned that most of them just hang up on the sales call, a few try to be polite, and a few use their Caller ID to ferret out the annoyance in advance. Many telemarketers pop up as ‘Unknown’, however and if you don’t answer, they’ll just keep calling back. My friend, Crazy Jack, who lives under the big water tower behind the Mall told me that ‘if they wanna loan you money, just tell ‘em you just filed for bankruptcy and you could really use some dough!’ He also suggested that you can just ask them to repeat themselves over and over until they hang up, but the first idea is lying and the second one takes too much time.

For me, having done the work and knowing that if some of those callers weren’t working the phones, they might be on the dole instead, I tolerate them, try to be pleasant and when they’re done with their spiel, I ask them to remove our name from their list. That having been said, ultimately, your telephone belongs to you and it is your resource to be used as you see fit and at your discretion. Therefore, it is your right to have control over the calls you receive and because telemarketers are intruding on you at their convenience, not yours, you shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty in quietly hanging up on them. If you are still bothered by telemarketers, there are ways and resources to help limit the number of solicitations you receive. Firstly, make your existing number unlisted. It’s worth the small monthly fee. Then contact your credit card company and ask them to mark your account as ‘Do Not Solicit’. Do the same thing with your bank. Finally, the National Do Not Call Registry at will allow you to register your home and/or your cellphone for free. Telemarketer calls should drop off significantly about 30 days later and the registration is good for five years.

But if you’re like me, you may want to just not answer the phone all the time, and when you do end up with a solicitor on the line, be nice to them;
they may be annoying sometimes, but a job is a job.