Good evening Mr Bowden

Telemarketers are starting to piss me off. They seem to be masters of ringing at precisely the wrong moment, though when I think about it, there is no right moment to be interrupted from what you’re doing to answer the phone because someone you don’t know wants to sell you something.

Some of them, of course, don’t want to sell you anything. They just want you to give money to whatever charity they happen to be working for. It certainly seems some charities are no longer happy for you to have given money once – they want to badger you for more cash at any opportunity. Some of them also have no qualms about handing your details out to other charities, in the hope that you’ll hand over what’s left of your money to them as well.

In my case, the worst offender seems to be Vision Australia. Now, being somebody who is very nearly half blind, I am sympathetic to the cause of the blind. But their charity operations are an absolute pain in the arse. They send me heaps of mail, they phone me up every few months… and it happened again last week. Just about to sit down and eat dinner. Bastards.

This time, in the few seconds of the woman on the phone introducing herself, I managed to think about my reply, and I successfully managed to say it in one breath, not giving her a chance to interrupt or put the phone down (like last time):

"My donations go to other charities, can you please remove me from your phone list?" Pause to allow her to acknowledge. "Thank you, goodbye." <click>

Vision Australia are not getting another cent from me. I will continue to give money to the Guide Dogs’ Association instead, by anonymously feeding my spare coins to the big plastic dog in the supermarket. And to various other charities who don’t bug me.

Greenpeace rang me up once to talk about my donations. It was a complete contrast to Vision Australia. I was actually able to have a meaningful conversation with the woman on the phone. She wasn’t following a script. She appeared to be intelligent, and I was so damn impressed by their efforts that I increased my regular donation amount.

But back to the calls of last week. The next day, it was some survey thing. I knew this was a telemarketer, because she began by saying "Is that Mr Bowden?" Anybody who says this is obviously a telemarketer, because they’ve read my misprinted name in the phone book. This woman seemed very keen to emphasise that she wasn’t selling anything. No, no, she was just hoping to waste some of my time with a quick survey. My reply this time was the shorter and less specific, but again said very quickly giving no chance for an interruption: "Not interested, thank you, goodbye" <click>

Thinking about it later, I realised what I should have said was something more like: "Certainly. My fee for doing surveys is $10 a minute, with a minimum of five minutes, payable in advance."

But I don’t know if I’d really do it. I don’t want to be rude to these people. They’re only doing a job, probably a poorly paid job. It still pisses me off though.

There was a third call last week, and before I describe it, a brief technical interlude is in order.

Telemarketing is big business. Hundreds of people might be working on a marketing campaign, annoying thousands upon thousands of people trying to enjoy their dinner. And to maximise their productivity and annoy as many people as possible, the big call centres have a piece of technology called a predictive dialler.

The predictive dialler is given a list of phone numbers, and is told how many telemarketers are ready to make calls. It automatically starts ringing the phone numbers, and rings more than the telemarketers can handle, because it estimates how many calls are going to result in nobody answering, or an engaged signal, or a fax machine or answering machine or voicemail. When an actual human answers, it puts the call through to a telemarketer, perhaps along with some details of the victim onto the telemarketer’s computer screen.

Occasionally the dialler will underestimate how many people will answer their phones, and a call is placed in limbo. Sometimes this poor unfortunate person will actually be placed on hold – this is by the company calling them mind you – and will hear a recorded message, much the same as a normal hold message, assuring them how important it is that they stay on the line, even suggesting that a valuable conversation is about to begin, or whatever bollocks the marketing geniuses have come up with that week.

There’s only one thing more annoying than being put on hold when you’re ringing up a big company, and that’s being put on hold when you’re being rung upby a big company. So if they decide they don’t want to risk pissing people off too much, they might give you a phone ringing tone instead, in the hopes that you won’t hang up before someone can talk to you.

How do I know all this? Because <guilty pause> I used to work for a telemarketing centre. I helped write some of the computer systems that they use for this kind of thing. Actually it was a fun job, and before you go pinning the blame on me for your dinner being interrupted, keep reading.

So, I’m standing in my kitchen. The phone rang, and since I was standing right next to it, I picked it up straight away. All I could hear was a ringing tone. With my knowledge of how these things work, I thought it was probably a telemarketing call. So I hung up straight away. And if that happens to you, remember what I’ve said. Do the same. Unless you really want to have some marketing spiel coming at you, don’t give the gits a foot in the door.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.