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Those Sneaky Phone-Marketers

July 20, 2012

About a year ago I agreed to buy a subscription to the San Jose Mercury News from a guy who came to my door and said each subscription he got would help him to graduate high school.  I let the papers pile up at my doorstep for 45 days for a whole bunch of mediocre reasons, the main one being to convince myself that the guy really needed help for getting into a degree program at a state school and that he wasn’t just working a crappy job to score some drug money.  I still haven’t decided whether or not I got suckered.  But anyway, because of subscribing I’ve ended up on several local-paper-subscription call lists, and they are even more wiley than the door-to-door salesman may have been.  Actually they aren’t because I can see through what they’re doing, but I still want to give them credit for trying to be clever.  Here are some of the techniques used by a company when they called me yesterday:

The call came from the 314 area code, which is in St. Louis, which is half a continent from where I live.  Automatically I think that someone is trying to sell me something because I’m not expecting a call from a non-local number I don’t recognize.  And since I’m not in the mood to buy anything, I don’t pick up.  The non-local service could be a product of necessity, though, since just like with local journalism there might not be anyone willing to do the job here (did I read that article right?).  But maybe the exotic number works for some people.  And for those people who do pick up, maybe they don’t feel put off to be sold a local paper subscription by someone who isn’t local.  Maybe the telemarketers are also geniuses, and in addition to getting cheap labor to surf a marginal market they realize I’ll be slightly curious about this phone number so they:

Mystery is calling.

I expect a message, something that will tell me about the amazing free timeshare on a yacht offer I might miss out on and where to call back.  But I get nothing.  The call could’ve been a wrong number instead of a marketer.  It could’ve been a friend who got a new cell phone because he dropped his old one in his dog’s water bowl and he’s calling to tell me that adorably boring story.  Or it could be a marketer acknowledging the decline and fall of the voicemail.  But I’m intrigued now, and I want to find out just how far the rabbit hole goes.  I also know that if I get a telemarketer line they should have a way for me to take my number off their list.  So I call them back.  They planned for that.

The other end of the line is a robot.  Mystery’s over, I was phone-assaulted.  But if I have to be in this situation, an automated system is the best way for things to be, both for me and for the marketing company.  I’m probably more likely to press 1 for a subscription than I am to listen to a live person try to sell me the subscription.  And if a live person had picked up on the other end of the line, I would probably be rude to them when I asked to be taken off their call list.  Maybe not rude, just stern.  But their day would suck more, my day might suck more, it’s for the best that fewer people are involved in this caustic business.  History has shown that yelling at a single telemarketer will not stop telemarketing, it will just make everyone meaner.  The only thing to do now is to listen to the message all the way through and try to get my number off their list.

Figure 1.  A Graph.

The telemarketer still hopes you’ll press the right button to make a subscription, but they know most folks who call back are doing it to get off the list.  Once you’re on their home turf, their game-plan changes into a Stratego-like defense, where the telemarketer guards the remove-number feature with as much illusion and padding as possible.  Usually they’ll mix up the dial options so I can’t press 3 automatically without risking a lifetime supply of lawn ornaments (paid of course).  In place of confusing me, though, today’s call tried to bore me away.  They had a six second pause between each menu options.  The telemarketers must be banking on the empty spaces fooling the weak-minded, but I was too stubborn to give up that easily.  I knew the remove-number feature had to be there somewhere.

After over a minute I hear it, and I press 3 to be taken off.  Did I mispress?  Press 2 for no.  Am I sure I want to be taken off?  Press 1 for yes.  Confirm that I meant to press 1 when I just did?  Press 2 for yes.  Did I mean to press something else and I actually want that subscription after all?  Press 2 for no.  Really?  Press 1 for yes.  So I don’t want to be taken off the list?  Press 1 for no.  You do want to be taken off the list?  Press 2 for yes.  Am I sure I’m sure?  Press 2 for yes.  Remember all the fun we had together?  Press 1 for no.  The time they tried to sell me something and I bashfully accepted?  Press 2 for no.  So that’s it, I’m just going to walk away like none of it mattered?  Press 1 for yes.  I want my number off the list?  Press 1 for yes.  Now press 2 to confirm.

No, I don’t need any more vegetable subscriptions, my husband’s got too many peppers as it is.

Later that day I was called by the same telemarketer line.  Then today I was called by the same telemarketer line.  I picked up today and it was a real person, and I hope I wasn’t too stern with her explaining how I unsubscribed from the paper for a reason and I also already asked them not to call me.  She was helpful and took my number off their list.  Maybe human interfacing is just a better way to do business.

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