We’ve all experienced them: dinner hour phone calls from people trying to sell us things, inform us of new products, or otherwise try our patience with sales pitches for services or products we don’t really need or want. Our privacy is invaded on a daily basis- and it seems our options are limited…but there are ways to fight back. For instance, we might say, ‘This is a bad time for me; give me your name and your home phone number, and I’ll call you back when it’s more convenient’- an approach which allows us in a gentle way to express your irritation at being disturbed. However, these strategies are not always fail-safe. Thus, the opportunity exists for a more creative approach.
Mike Royko, the late Chicago newspaper columnist, once wrote an amusing piece about being interrupted at dinner by an unsolicited phone call from a stockbroker wanted to pitch the market’s latest ‘sure thing.’ Royko pretended to be very interested, and said, “I’d like to buy 1000 shares- on one condition.” The broker, happily imagining the fat commission he’d earn, asked the condition, and Royko responded. “All I want is for you to promise, in a written, notarized contract, that if the stock fails to go up the way you said it should, you agree that you’ll kill yourself in the manner I specify.” “What!?” shouted the broker. “Are you crazy!?” “No, not at all,” Royko explained. “It’s just that I don’t know you, I didn’t contact you, and I’ve never spoken to you before. You want me to take all the risk by investing some of my hard earned money; I might lose some or all of it, but you’ll get your commission no matter what happens. I just think it’s fair that you should have something riding on this, too; if your life is at stake, I can be sure that you have the incentive to give me the best possible advice. So, what do you say- do we have a deal?” Needless to say, that stockbroker never bothered Mr. Royko again.
Instead of getting angry at callers who invade our privacy, we can have some fun at their expense. There’s nothing to be gained by yelling at them (for after all, they are presumably trying to make an honest, if annoying, living), and we certainly don’t need extra stress or a higher blood pressure; instead, a more effective approach might be to make them hang up in frustration. In that playful spirit, I offer the following list of possible responses to telemarketers (one of which is sure to fit your interests and personality).
THE “INSURANCE SALESMAN” APPROACH
“Hello, is this Mr. Nathanson?” “Yes, it is, young man; who are you and what can I do for you?” “Well, sir, I’m calling on behalf of the American Expense Card, and…” (Interrupt:) “American Expense! Great! I’ve heard some really wonderful things about your company.” “Thank you, sir, I’m glad you have. Now, if I might…” “Say, does your company sell term life insurance?” “Well, no sir, not exactly; you see…” “That’s too bad. You know, I always ask because I sell insurance myself, and…hey, wait a minute! What about you? I’ll bet they don’t have a very good employee plan there, and you’re probably in need of some good life insurance yourself. What about it, son? You could do with some more insurance, right?” “Well, no sir, actually I’m…” “Oh, come on, boy, denying the obvious isn’t going to solve your problem. Sure, you’re young and healthy now, but that’s going to change; you are going to die one day, just like the rest of us, and when that happens, you want your family to be prepared- any loving husband and father would. You do love your family, don’t you?” “Sir, that’s really not…” “That’s always the hardest part of selling something, isn’t it- convincing people they really need something when they think they don’t. Yes, son, I can tell you dozens of stories about…” Click.
THE “LAWYER” APPROACH
“Hello, may I speak to Mr. Thornton, please?” “You are hereby duly informed that, in accord with Public Act 176.339 of the State of (your state), as amended in 1992 and 1997, this conversation is being taped and will be preserved for possible use as a legal exhibit in any future litigation involving yourself and the aforementioned party. You may proceed.” “What? Uh, is this Mr. Thornton?” “I am the aforementioned party. State your name and business.” “Mr. Thornton, I’m calling on behalf of ABC Liquidators, and…” (Interrupt:) “And your company’s articles of incorporation are filed in what state? “Um, Massachusetts, I think…” “Are there any outstanding warrants, liens, or judgments against you, or your company, or its principal officers?” “No, sir, of course not. This really isn’t …” “And for my records, what did you say your name is?” “Sir, that doesn’t really have anything to do with…” “Are you aware that your refusal to share basic information with me when duly requested to do so might constitute bad faith and serve as grounds for invalidating any contractual agreements that may be rendered between us?” “Sir, you don’t understand. I’m just trying to…” “Ample legal precedent exists in this situation. In the case of Shymer v. Connors, the Seventh District Appellate Court, in a decision upheld by the State Supreme Court of (your state) ruled that…” Click.
THE “WRONGED CUSTOMER” APPROACH
“Good morning, is this Mrs. Drummond?” “Yes, it is; who is this?” “Mrs. Drummond, I’m calling for AT&C Long Distance, and…” (Interrupt:) “Oh, good, you’re calling about my complaint regarding my last bill. It’s about time. So, are you ready to refund me that disputed charge of $57.18?” “No, ma’am, that isn’t why…” “What!? You’re not going to give me back my money? I told you, I’ve already paid that charge, and I have the records to prove it!” “Excuse me, ma’am, but I don’t…” “Are you doubting my word, young lady?” “No, ma’am, of course not; I’m trying to tell you…” “I’m amazed you people stay in business, what with shoddy customer service. Whatever happened to ‘the customer is always right’?” “Ma’am, if you’ll just let me explain…” “I’ve had enough of your company’s so-called explanations, always talking about these surcharges and fees and federal excise taxes that are nothing more than a disguise for old-fashioned greed. I tell you, it’s a disgrace!” “Ma’am, please, you misunderstand…” “Oh, so now I’m senile, is it? That’s it! Let me speak to your supervisor, young lady….Hello? Hello?”
THE “PATRIOT” APPROACH
“Hello, may I please speak to Mr. Washington?” “Speaking. Who is this, please?” “Mr. Washington, I’m calling to offer you a wonderful business opportunity involving…” (Interrupt:) “You say you have a wonderful opportunity for me? That’s great!” “Well, yes, sir, it is great, and I want to tell you about…” “You know, sometimes I just can’t get over it. Our parents and grandparents faced nothing but hard work and drudgery, and even today millions of people throughout the world are locked into poverty and have nothing to look forward to, but here in America we have more opportunities than we can count.” “Yes, sir, that’s a good way to look at it. Now, if I could…” “Son, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little choked up, but when I think of all the freedom and the opportunities we have, and the fact that you and me, complete strangers probably hundreds of miles apart, have the chance to talk like this, it just makes me so, so, damn proud to be American! What about you, friend? Are you proud too to be an American?” “Well, yes, sir, of course, and…” “Yes, son, I believe you; I can tell you’re a red-blooded patriot just like me, and I know you understand how I feel. You know, son, we ought to do something about this, something to say, ‘Thank you and God bless you, America.’ That’s it! Let’s sing the national anthem right now, you and me together! On the count of three. Be sure to stand up, now. ‘Ohhh, say can you see…” Click.
THE “CONCERNED STRANGER” APPROACH
“Hello, may I please speak with Mrs. Lansdowne?” “This is she. How may I help you?” “Mrs. Lansdowne, I’m with Reliable Financial Services, and…” (Interrupt:) “Reliable? You mean your company is still in business?” “Well, yes, ma’am, we’re going strong and adding lots of customers every day.” “Really? That’s strange; it’s certainly not what I heard.” “Ma’am, I don’t know what you heard, but…” “Actually, it wasn’t what I heard, but what I read in the financial section of the newspaper. I keep up on all this, you know, and the other day the business columnist was talking about all the speculation that Reliable will soon be filing for Chapter 11.” “Ma’am, I can assure you, that isn’t true; in fact…” “Oh, I understand; they haven’t told you yet. Sad, isn’t it? The average workers are always the last to know.” “Ma’am, if you’d please just let me explain…” “You sound like a nice young man to me, and I think it’s disgraceful what they’re doing to you. If I were in your shoes, I’d want to get to the bottom of this, so I think you’d better talk to your supervisors and demand some answers, and fast. After all, it’s your job that’s at stake!” “Please, ma’am, I’m trying to tell you…” “Say, you know what! My nephew Harold is starting his own financial planning firm, and he’s looking to hire an office assistant. If you want to send me your resume, I’ll be glad…” Click.
THE “MATCHMAKER” APPROACH
“Hello, is this Mrs. Clements?” “Yes, it is; who is this please?” “Mrs. Clements, I’m calling on behalf of XYZ Promotions about a wonderful new product which I’m sure you’ll like.” “Oh, so you work for the?” “Yes, ma’am, I do, and for today only we have a special offer for important customers like you.” “Do you like working for your company?” “Well, um, yes, ma’am, I do, and if I could just tell you about…” (Interrupt:) “I’m glad you like working for them, because that’s usually a sign of a successful and fast-rising employee. I’ll bet you make a lot of money and have some really good career prospects.” “Well, I suppose so, but…” “And what state is it you’re calling from?” “Actually, ma’am, we’re located in New York, but…” “That’s wonderful! Let me ask you, if you don’t mind; are you married?” “Um, no, but…” “Oh, I’m so glad to hear that! My niece Frieda lives in Buffalo, and it sounds like she’d be perfect for you! She just broke up with someone- a real loser- and she’s looking for a nice man like you. Frieda is real pretty, sort of, and she’s into weight lifting and yodeling. By the way, what are your interests and hobbies?” “Excuse me, ma’am, but company policy doesn’t allow me to talk about personal matters during these business calls like this. Now, as I was saying…” “Oh, I’m sure your bosses wouldn’t want you to miss out on the romantic opportunity of a lifetime. Now give me your name and home phone number so I can have Frieda call you.” Click.
These are some fun and creative approaches to talking with telemarketers; others might include the “NO COMPRENDO” APPROACH (in which you speak in Spanish, Italian, or any other language of your choice- perhaps even one you make up on the spot- thus creating a “failure to communicate”), the “POLITICAL ACTIVIST” APPROACH (in which you explain that you only do business with people who support your pet causes, and then ask a long series of “yes” or “no” questions on contemporary issues), or the “HARRIED PARENT” APPROACH (in which you keep interrupting your telephone conversation to shout at your imaginary children for alleged misdeeds of a mind-boggling nature, leading your caller to think she’s dialed a madhouse by mistake). Various one-liners might also have their place (“Could you get off the line, please? My wife just fell off the roof of the garage and I need to call 911,” or “I’ll buy whatever you’re selling, as long as I can pay for it with the pink suede currency my space alien friends gave me.”). These ideas are offered for your enjoyment and possibly for your own use- and perhaps they’ll help you come up with even better ideas of your own. Have fun!
P.S. If you’re a telemarketer and find this article offensive, and want a personal apology, I’ll be happy to comply. Just send me your name and home phone number, and the time when you normally eat dinner, and I’ll be sure to call.