New year's resolution #1: be nice to telemarketers


The day before Christmas eve I had a call from someone wanting me to participate in a survey. Now lately whenever I get some kind of unsolicited marketing call I've been doing the "right" thing: threatening to report them to the relevant authorities because I'm registered on the "do not call list". Since I've been on that list I have had surprisingly few calls, but some still get through - probably one every 2 months.

Anyway, it's about 7:30 pm. The kids are finally asleep in bed and I'm planning on putting my feet up and having a bit of R & R. Then the phone rings. I pick it up and I hear a click and a whirr. A pause. An echo. By this stage I'm pretty sure I know what's happening. I prepare myself to give the telemarketer an almightly blast.

Nowadays I've noticed that telemarketers give back as well as you can dish it out. They don't like us just as much as we don't like them. The last one opened with:
"Congratulations, you've just won a prize!"
"I don't want your prize, but I'd love to know the name of your company," I said.
"You mean you don't want a cruise in the Pacific, all expenses paid?"
"No. Just the name of your company."
"We only act for XXX Travel and Holiday Solutions. Are you sure you don't want to claim your prize?"
"Let's see... XXX Travel and Holiday Solutions... Got it. I'll be reporting them to the relevant authorities for breaching the "Do Not Call" Register. Now, if I can have the name of your marketing firm please so that you can be named in the complaint, starting with your name, thank you," I say in my best Oxford English.
"You can get stuffed you a$$hole!" he replies. Click.

That one left me feeling quite uneasy. I should have had a warm glow of satisfaction, but I didn't. I felt like an a$$hole and I wasn't sure why. I tried to recall other attempts at "giving a serve":

Like the time I gave the phone over to my 3 year old daughter who spoke at length to the telemarketer, saying every now and again: "You're a funny man. I don't understand you."

Or the time the telemarketer opened with:
"So what do you presently pay for your telephone calls?"
"I can't recall," I replied. "But let me ask you this: what do you currently do for exercise?"
"Excuse me? I'm about to offer you a red hot deal on your telephone connection and call rate..."
"Yes, yes. But since you are caller number 39, you have qualified for 3 months free training at the Bayswater Martial Arts and Yoga Centre. This includes all types of classes, yoga, tai chi, karate, unlimited classes per week..."
"I just want to tell you about our telephone deal..."
"Yes indeed, but let me tell you about MY offer. It's totally free. Except the annual registration fee which is mandatory. That makes you a member. But the classes themselves are completely free. That's a saving of..."
"A$$hole!" Click.

There was the guy who, with a heavy Mumbai accent, announced:
"We are calling from your area with a special offer for this week only. You will be receiving this special gift..." etc.
I let him finish his sales pitch and said:
"So how's the weather in Mumbai?"
"Oh, actually it's being very fine at the moment... Hang on! How did you know I was not in your area? Ha ha! You got me you sly, son-of-a-gun!"

That one went rather well.

Then there was the time that I told the Indian call centre operator that I didn't appreciate receiving telephone spam. I could hear her leafing through her Australian vernacular dictionary hoping to gain some understanding of what I was saying.
"I'm sorry sir, but we are not selling... canned ham. We are offering you huge savings on your..."
"Spam is junk calls. Unsolicited advertising. Direct marketing. Usually used to describe the kind you get on your computer. This is the telephone variety. I hate the telephone variety MORE than I hate the computer variety. Get it? You're giving me spam. I don't want spam! Don't call again!"
"I'm sorry sir, but I can only repeat that we are not selling processed meat of any kind. You are an a$$hole." Click.

So there I was, the day before Christmas eve, finally resting. The babes appear to be asleep. The phone rings and of course the youngest one starts to cry. I'm tempted to take the phone to the room and let the operator listen to the crying and say: "You did this. Now you can fly over here from wherever you are and calm her down. I don't want to participate in your survey. And I want your company's details... And I am NOT an a$$hole!"

Instead I did something different. I let her finish with the spiel. It was a 30 second interview about home demographics for the Department of Health. They wanted to know the number and age range of our home occupants, the approximate income range (very approximate socio-economic status), the number of times any of us had been hospitalised in the last 2 years etc. No personal details, no identifying information. It had something to do with upgrading the local health nurse clinic.

The interview did take about 30 seconds. The lady thanked me profusely. I wasn't an a$$hole. My kid had stopped crying. I hung up with a smile.

And I made a new year's resolution. Be nice to telemarketers. They have a job to do. It's a thankless job, but they are putting food on their families' tables. Everyone hates them. I'm sure they don't wake up every day and think: "Goody - more people who will hurl abuse at me on the phone." They probably hate their jobs with a passion but work to live - if not survive. I don't have to make their lives any more difficult than they are. A simple "no thank you" will end the conversation far quicker, more pleasantly and leave everyone feeling just that little better.

Aggression of any kind must always be a regrettable necessity. Telemarketers won't go away because we are rude to them. They haven't so far anyway. They've just learned to respond in kind. So from now on I'm not going to be part of the cycle. They exist. If I have to, I'll get a silent number. But right now getting a call every second month isn't exactly the worst thing in the world.
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