Thursday, April 17, 2008

About Telemarketers

Recent events compel me to say a few words about telemarketers and telemarketing, a job that I myself have actually done, and which I rank as one of the Two Most Repellent Jobs I Have Ever Held (it runs neck-and-neck with a job I once had pulling weeds at a long-neglected, dreadfully overgrown condo complex). Herewith some helpful facts and hints about telemarketers for the targets of annoying sales calls:

1. For all you business owners out there: if you're really serious about putting the kibosh on all sales calls for all time, quit advertising your business. Sales calls are part of the price you pay for publicity. Also, next time you go to a sales or trade convention, don't sign up to get free information about anything. Last time you went to the Acme Annual Shower Curtain Ring Sales Convention in Vegas, you took a few too many spins at the roulette wheel, downed a few too many highballs, and then signed your name to a few too many lists. That may be a huge factor in why you are now being besieged by telemarketers trying to get you to sign up for a free subscription to a trade magazine. Booze and mailing lists just don't mix.

2. That pestiferous person on the other end of the phone line, trying to push something on you that you don't need, or pester you with survey questions about your medical conditions, is not annoying you for his health. It is his job -- possibly the only crummy job he could get at that particular moment in history. Some telemarketers have been in the business for years, and love it. You mustn't grudge them that, since it enables them to earn their keep and get through their workdays in peace -- a considerable benefit not only to them, but also to their families and friends and everybody who has to put up with them in person. Others, however, are just struggling, and would jump at the chance to shovel out stables, scrub floors with a toothbrush, clean bedpans, or do just about anything else besides telemarketing. Telemarketers' time is highly regimented and closely monitored by computer: they get dinged for being five minutes late to work; they get only 20 minutes for lunch; they can spend a total of no more than 12 minutes a day on bathroom and drink breaks; and they put up with all this in exchange for peanuts. That person you are about to tell to go take a flying leap may be a lifelong housewife whose philandering husband suddenly left her destitute, or a young widowed mother, or just a kid trying to earn his way through school. Your real quarrel is not with the working slob making the sales call, but with the company that hired the telemarketing firm he works for to push the magazines or take the surveys. Or maybe, the person you really should be mad at is yourself -- see Point No. 1 above.

3. The telemarketer has no control over whom he calls, and has no way of knowing that you have been called three or four times today already. The calls are all placed by computers, into which have been fed your contact information, which was provided by the telemarketing company's client, which in turn came from -- well, you (see again Point No. 1 above). The telemarketer just sits in front of a computer screen, waiting for the calls to come up. The calls are sent to whichever telemarketers are logged in and have their phones on: they must be logged in in order to get paid, and they are not allowed to turn their phones off without a good reason. If you keep getting unwanted calls, it is not the fault of the person on the other end of the line.

4. The telemarketer reads his sales pitches from scripts. He is required to read the script as written. After you have said no, he has another script that he is required to read, and then another script that he is required to read after you have said no again. He has to do this, however annoying you find it, and even though you tell him not to bother. All his calls are monitored and recorded, so if he makes a habit of not following the scripts, and especially of not making his second or third effort, he will get canned.

5. If you want the telemarketers to stop calling you, you can (a) put yourself on the National Do Not Call Registry; (b) sign up for the free subscriptions the telemarketers are hawking; or (c) ask them to stop calling you, at which point they will put you on the do-not-call list (which may or may not actually end the calls immediately, depending on the company's system and procedures). Don't just tell them you're unavailable or too busy, because then you won't be taken off the call list. Just hanging up on them is also not a sure-fire way of stopping the calls. Threatening to press charges will have no effect on the telemarketer, who is not ultimately responsible for your being on the call list in the first place (see again Point No. 1).

Telemarketing is a plague and a nuisance, a sure sign that we have not, and will not, achieve Paradise on Earth. The only good thing that can be said about it is that it at least provides a sort of financial lean-to for some who otherwise would find no shelter at all against the economic storms that batter their lives. Telemarketers are merely annoying, not sinful. Cut them some slack.


  1. Nobody put a gun to any of these people's heads and made them telemarketers any more than anti-Wal-Martians think the store conscripted its workers out of their homes.

    Telemarketers deserve every amount of scorn they get. If the companies don't have telemarketers, they cease to exist . . . right?

  2. Cygnus, I never said telemarketers are conscripted from their homes. I did say that sometimes telemarketing is the only job some people can get in a given area at that moment, just like cleaning restrooms or pulling weeds might be the only job there is in a given area at a given moment. When that's the case, and you need work, you don't sit around waiting for something better to come along; you go out there and do what you gotta do. When I did telemarketing, that was all I could get at that moment; so, much as I hate making telephone calls, and much as I loathed even the thought of having to do it, I went ahead and did what I had to do, until something better came along. (And just for the record, I only called businesses; I did not call people at home.)

    Do you criticize people for refusing certain kinds of work because they don't want to get their hands dirty, even though they're hard up? If so, then you need to not criticize people who take up telemarketing, because chances are they're hard up. They aren't doing anything sinful by telemarketing; they're just being annoying.

  3. I have never, ever been rude to a telemarketer. I completly agree with you.

    It takes just a moment to say "not today, thank you."

  4. I have been rude to telemarketers and I feel bad about it...feel worse now.

    In my last job, some of my customers worked as telemarketers, and I've had friends who did the job, too. They all hated it, but they did it because it gave them a steady check, it kept their children fed, and as soon as they could get something else...they were LEAPING from their tethers.

    Ironically, as I look for summer work, I am strongly leaning towards trying to find a job on a horse farm. I am working on a book and the work would maybe not only help with that, but maybe get this crazy dream of finally being a horse owner out of my mind. I'm sure that a month of shoveling poo will change my romantic ideas about doing farm scutt work, no matter how much I DO love horses!

  5. I realize that your original post was from spring, 2008 but I just today found your blog and read "About Telemarketers". The calls we receive are from charities, usually ones that we've donated to in the past. And sometimes we get a lot of these calls. I try to be as polite to them as I can, because I know they are just doing a job. It is frustrating when I can't donate and they won't take 'no' for an answer, and I can usually tell that they have a scripted reply.

    I've talked to several friends and relatives who almost seem to be proud of how hateful and mean they can be to them, which I find to be very sad. I've tried explaining to them the same points you made in your post, but they don't seem to care.

    Several years ago our son worked as a telemarketer because it was the only job he could find. It changed my attitude about them.

    Would you want someone being rude and hateful to one of your children?

    You did a good job explaining this. I hope people read it and think about it.

    One last point: some of the people I've heard lambasting telemarketers have made excuses for sex industry workers, saying that they had to work and were desperate for a job. ???? So, is the message that sin is okay but annoyance is unforgivable?