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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Don't call us, we'll call you...

Ever since the "Do not call" list was set up in theUnited States, the telemarketing business has plummeted in size and scope. Since "telemarketing" is a term that specifically means "we will call you at the most inconvenient times to bother you about services that you don't want, need, or may even be morally opposed to" this trend has been a postive boon for Americans.

As a result telemarketers have become increasingly more desperate to find ways to justify their business. They have very actively pushed themselves towards the loopholes of the law, whereby charities and also businesses you have a relationship with (i.e. your bank account, credit card companies, etc.) can call you if they so choose.

Now, most people would understand that the least likely way to get someone to donate money or buy a service from you would be to call them at their home during dinner or in the morning on a weekend. They would realize that to make such a call would be to invite cursing of the foulest kind, delivered at full volume, into the ear of some poor, low-income worker, not actually associated with the company or charity in any way, but merely employed by the human trolls who invented telemarketing as a way to punish mankind for developing a civilization that makes concrete bridges they can't build their earthen homes under, and for creating toll bridges, whereby the government not only takes a cut of the troll's usual racket, but cuts out the little buggers altogether.

Nonetheless, the calls still come on occasion, and the desparation can be heard in their very nature. Two such recent calls come to mind. One was from our credit card company, which shall remain nameless so that unusual and mysterious little charges don't start appearing on our monthly bill or so that, alternately, we aren't suddenly and inexplicably switched over to the "poor-credit" account, wherein any delay of a monthly payment, by even a microsecond, is swiftly punished by a 40% penalty on the balance due, and the dock. (And people say debtor's prison is a thing of the past...) The other call was from a local fraternal police organization and I shall deal with that in a moment.

The first call was quite clearly from India. Many telemarketers have outsourced their labour to India, not because it's cheaper, but because telemarketing hasn't quite reached the scornful status there that it has here. The person on the other end of the line spoke absolutely perfect English with a Punjab accent so thick you couldn't cut through it with a CutCo knife. After adjusting my brain to the frequency I reserve normally for the local curry outlet, I found that the young lady on the other end of the line was already halfway through the usual pre-written spiel about some service or other that the company wanted to offer you, at a minor monthly charge of course.

Now, came my regular strategy. I asked the question I have developed from years of practice, one designed to cut off this 15 minute oratory inside 60 seconds. "Excuse me miss, but is this a solicitation call?" This question is highly effective for two reasons. First, the caller is stunned by the question enough to stop and actually listen to me, mostly becuase they have to think a few moments to realize I'm not really asking if the call is prostitution-related. (Any other question and the caller would continue on as if you had only coughed.) Second, it allows me to focus on my chief goal in the conversation, which is ending it as quickly as possible without bloodshed.

There was then, what was for a telemarketing call, a very lengthy pause on the line...perhaps 2 seconds. Normally the answer to my question is a begrudging "yes", to which I can respond, "I'm sorry, but we're not interested...thank you for calling," and then hang up the phone while they frantically tell me that if I really do need anything there's this 1-800 number I can dial. Strangely though, her answer was "no". Followed by, what was for a telemarketing call, an unnervingly long pause of nearly 4 seconds. I felt like a western gunslinger who had just got the drop on one of the hired hands of an old adversary. I responded, "So, you're calling to tell me about a service that we already have?" "Yes," came the chagrined reply. As I hung up I could hear her speed-reading the 1-800 number. She'd obviously had a lot of practice that day.

The second call happened just this morning. Though I may be mistaken, and Mrs. Fando assurred me I am not, there is a provision in telemarketing law whereby they may not call before the hours of 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. local time. This call came at approximately 8:30 a.m. and was for, as I mentioned, a local chapter of the fraternal order of police. There appear to be several thousand of these organizations in our area, all with their own individual fund-raising drives, who call in shifts of 48 hour intervals. They call so frequently that if I wanted to, I have no doubt that I could easily be on a first-name basis with the telemarketers at the other end, were the turnover rate not so high in telemarketing, as employes move on to better and more rewarding jobs, such as the night shift at the local Burger King.

Anyway, I patiently delivered the standard answer I give all charities that do phone solicitations, that we only accept solicitations via mail, because we can't make a financial decision over the phone, and that they should send us a mailing. While he prepared to ask me for confirmation of our address (which according to their records was 1600 Pennsylvania Ave...sometimes I get carried away), Mrs. Fando reminded me of the aforementioned provision about not calling before 9 p.m. I asked the caller about it and he stammered back something about "being behind on calls and starting a bit early today".

So, let me see, a telemarketing company representing a fraternal police organization, believes it can flout the laws governing telemarketing because they were "behind on calls"?

The next time I am pulled over for speeding, I shall issue the following statement to the officer unfortunate enough to meet me: "I'm sorry officer. I was behind on getting to work today, and decided that I needed to do 90 miles an hour to get there, and if that's good enough for your bloody telemarketers, it should be good enough for you."


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