The Worst Telemarketer … Ever

During the summer between my junior and senior years of college, I worked as a telemarketer. I sold publications intended to improve some aspect of business, mainly sales and marketing, with a little bit of news about environmental needs thrown in. While I wouldn’t want to make a career out of it, I learned some very valuable lessons that summer which I still carry with me.

One of those lessons is that I am generally sympathetic to the telemarketers who call me, even if I’m not in the market for whatever it is they’re selling. What I’m about to relate is anything but sympathetic, and I recognize that.

An important rule for all telemarketers is that if a lead gives you the same objection twice, then you pretty much know you’re not going to make the sale, so you should terminate the call politely and move on to your next lead. This telemarketer did not do that.

I didn’t catch either this guy’s name or the name of the company he worked for. I can tell you that the caller ID said “Service Message” and the phone number from which he was calling, was 402-982-0481. Considering this man’s Indian accent, I sincerely doubt he was actually calling from Nebraska.

The call started out poorly. He said he was calling from a home security firm and was looking for “Mr. James.” I told him honestly, there is no “Mr. James” in my house. He didn’t need to know that James is my first, not my last name.

I know that my phone number used to belong to someone else — I know his name but little else about him, other than he hadn’t used this number in so long that the phone company recycled it. That said, I still get calls for him and I’ve had this number for nearly seven years. Unfortunately, since his last name wasn’t James either, I couldn’t quite show my hand on that little nugget of information.

So the guy apologetically said that he was given a wrong name but that he still needed to talk to me. His first real mistake was not asking me my name. All he knew was that I’m not “Mr. James.”

I speak from experience that the worst kind of sales call out there is done by telemarketers who are selling you a home security system. They couch it as though they were conducting some kind of a survey and then they’ll say that they’ll enter your name into some kind of drawing and if your name is drawn, then you’ll be entitled to a free home security system. I’ve gotten those calls before and made it clear that, because I’m in the middle of a five year contract with my home security system, I am quite literally not in the market for the product they’re selling, and that such an offer is a waste of their resources and my time.

So when my caller said he was asking about home security and that it was just a survey, I told him that I just took a survey like this about six months ago (which is true), and that I didn’t want to take the survey again and that I didn’t want a callback in a few weeks offering me a system I don’t want, don’t need, and couldn’t take even if I did.

My caller told me that I apparently hadn’t answered the last two questions of the survey and that he just needed to ask me those two questions.

By now I was starting to get angry, but I stuck on the phone with him. As a former telemarketer myself, I recognized what he was doing and effectively cutting to the chase. His first question was the number of smoke alarms in my house.

I told him it was three before he even had the chance to run through his multiple choices.

The next question he asked, was: what are my biggest home safety concerns for me and my family? I started to raise my voice and say it’s calls like these and then the later offers of a free home security system from companies like you.

He didn’t listen to what I said and asked the question again, and I repeated my answer. Somewhere in there, I made a comment about how I hope someone who does quality review of his calls gets to listen to the recording of my call, since he didn’t listen to any of my objections and kept going on with everything as though I cared what he had to say. I had to repeat at least three times that the biggest security issue I care about was not getting calls like those anymore.

Finally he thanked me for my time and went on to say that my number would be entered into a drawing and if I was picked, I’d be getting a call to set up a free GE-brand home security system.

Well, that’s where I went ballistic. I told him that I didn’t want him to enter my name into the drawing, for the reasons I had elaborated on numerous times throughout the call, and that I didn’t want a callback if my name is drawn. I was yelling into the phone at this time.

(Note that this assumes that a drawing actually takes place. I suspect that all people who get the first call, will get the second a few weeks later, but I don’t know that for a fact…)

All he would say in response was that I’d only get the call if my name was picked. I decided not to ask him how he’d know my name since I never gave it to him and all I ever said is it’s not “Mr. James”. I knew he meant that it’d go by my number.

As I was getting angrier and angrier, I actually stepped out of my house so that my kids wouldn’t hear the profanity I knew I’d be about to start using. I had to tell him at least three or four times more that I didn’t want to get a call, even if my name was drawn, and he eventually “got it.”

I suppose I should mention that my caller didn’t exactly maintain a calm demeanor while on the phone with me. When the fact that I didn’t want a new security system finally sank in, despite the fact that I’d been saying it for easily five or ten minutes by that point, he begrudgingly agreed not to call me for any reason.

He ended the call by saying something that effectively was trying to make me feel as though I’d had an argument with an old friend, as though it was some kind of loss that I wouldn’t be hearing from him.

That call is a classic example of how not to do a sales call. It’s unfortunate that I don’t have a recording of that call.

If I get a call in a few weeks telling me I won a free home security system, I’m going to be furious. Time will tell….

Oh, and before you ask why I didn’t just hang up on him, well, you can blame my parents for that one. I can’t hang up on anyone.

A Notable Birthday and a Teaching Moment

Phil Ochs was born on December 19, 1940, and in about eight months (not quite), he’ll have been gone longer than he lived. I first discovered his music when I was in college and knew I’d found something fascinating. The way I found his music could be the subject of a blog entry unto itself.

When I was in my car the entire day, I’ve had his music playing on the iPod. My older son was with me in the car when the one song out of his entire library that contains an objectionable word came up. (Please note that I’m not counting the spoken-word introduction to the song “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” from the 1968 Vancouver concert where he defines a protest song as “a song that they don’t play on the radio … because they play the shit that they play.”)

The song is “I Kill Therefore I Am,” which, in that same Vancouver concert, he introduced as “an existential portrait” of the police. The verse in question is as follows:

I don’t like the students now
For they don’t have no respect
They don’t like to work now
I think I’ll wring their neck
They call me pig although I’m underpaid
I’ll show those faggots that I’m not afraid…

Historically, when my children have been in the car when words I don’t want them to repeat come on a song, I’ll either (1) turn the volume way down and make a lot of noise to drown out the bad words, or (2) skip the song completely.

I decided not to do that this time. Instead, I told my son that the word was coming up, and that it’s a really nasty word. And I actually told him what makes it a nasty word. And furthermore, that although he might occasionally hear me and mommy use bad words, this is one word I don’t actually use, it’s that bad a word. And I told him that using that word would be reason enough to get a spanking. He understood and was fine with it.

And it was a good teaching moment. As a linguist, I recognize that some words aren’t going to go away, and we probably are better off not trying to ban those words. Recognize them, acknowledge them, and know what they really mean before you either use them or make a decision not to.

And like all words, there are even times when this one could be used.

To hear the song, here’s a YouTube video that was set against it:

And here I thought…

That it had something to do with the tilt of the earth’s axis…

Seriously… All of the winter celebrations have light and/or green plants to remind us that it will get warmer and the days will get longer. Before we knew why the seasons change, we did kind of have to take it on faith that they would.