When the revolution comes, telemarketers will be the first people we send to forced reeducation. Their technology suppliers will be second. As a marketer, I'm supposed to love this stuff. I don't. Uh-oh. Here I go again. I'm about to chase away another whole segment of potential clients. I've got to stop doing that. This column barely pays enough to feed my Starbucks habit.
By way of full disclosure, I have to admit that I've been responsible for initiating a few market research studies conducted via telephone. However, they did not use the technologies discussed below, and they employed scripts that called for politeness. Politeness is good. Telemarketers, did you hear that? Politeness is good!
But I digress. I don't really want to rant about the telemarketers themselves. I'm not here to complain about how they force me to be rude and abrupt to them because of their impoliteness and/or persistence in the face of a total lack of interest on my part. Instead, this tirade is against a couple of technologies that telemarketers use. Clearly, there are more than just two odious telemarketing technologies, but this is a weekly column. I need to save something for the other 51 weeks in the year.
First, let's look at predictive dialers. You don't know what they are? If you have ever answered a ringing telephone only to be greeted by dead air, you were probably the victim of a predictive dialer. If you've ever answered a phone that wasn't ringing, you need help.
Predictive dialers look at the average time that harassers (sorry, telemarketers) spend pitching their current scam (sorry, valuable offer) and the average time that it takes for the system to dial a number and for the victim (sorry, prospective customer) to answer the call. It then uses this information to start dialing a number before any telemarketers are free to begin annoying you (sorry, telling you about an incredible opportunity) but precisely when one should be freed up in time to talk to you if the ongoing calls last an average length of time and you take at least as long to answer your phone as most other people do.
Unfortunately, averages say little about a particular instance, hence the dead air when you pick up the telephone. Predictive dialers typically disconnect the call if a telemarketer is not available within a certain time. Of course, long before then, you will likely have given up waiting for the ghost on the other end of the line to say something.
This is an outrage. They call me at what is usually the very least convenient time (i.e., whenever I pick up a telemarketer's call) to pitch something that holds not the slightest interest for me, and I'm supposed to wait for them to pick up the call that they initiated. Heaven forbid that I should inconvenience them by making them wait a few seconds while I answer the phone. Note to telemarketing managers: You are trying to sell me something. I have no preexisting desire to buy from you. If you want to curry my favor, rather than using a predictive dialer, consider spending the extra few cents that you will have to pay your low-wage telemarketers to be on the line when I answer your call.
To sum up: Courtesy good. Predictive dialers bad.
Now, let's move on to another topic. I subscribe to the phone company's voice mail service. That is not my complaint. My complaint is that telemarketers have found a way to tap into the system and dump prerecorded messages into my voice mailbox without ringing my telephone. That might sound like a good thing. After all, I get to pick up the message at my convenience, without being bothered by a telemarketer at a likely inconvenient time. It sounds like a good thing. It is not.
Being a lonely guy, I get excited when my telephone rings. It could be one of my three friends, or maybe it's a long-lost love who, after all of these years, decided that she was wrong to give me the friend speech (hey, it could happen) or, be still my pounding heart, it might be a client. When I see my telephone's message-waiting light flashing, I am disappointed about having missed the call and puzzled about how that could have happened since I was sitting by the phone when it started flashing.
Imagine how upset I am when I pick up the message only to find out that it is a prerecorded announcement trying to sell me a fitness club membership. Come on, do they really think that I need a fitness club membership? Well, actually I do, but I already have one. I might have a chance to use it once in a while if I weren't so busy dealing with telemarketing calls. Of course, then I would have to find some other excuse not to go to the gym, so I probably shouldn't complain.
Here's the real problem: My voice mail service allows me a fixed number of messages. Once it is full, new callers can't leave messages. What do you think is the likelihood that I will buy something as a result of an annoying telemarketing pitch that, by filling up my voice mailbox, prevents a client from getting in touch with me? Note to telemarketing managers: If clients cannot contact me, I cannot earn income. If I cannot earn income, I cannot afford to buy from you in the unlikely event that your incredibly stupid product or service catches my fancy in a moment of insanity. Stop it. Stop it now.