Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Charity begins and ends at home, when the phone rings

I've always hated telemarketing. Paper junk mail is annoying - particularly those little glossy slips from real estate agents that can't be easily slam-dunked into the recycling bin - and spam is a chore, but being asked over the phone to buy or donate something really, really pisses me off.

For starters, as a lawyer, I am instinctively happy with the written word only, when it comes to making contracts. This goes double when I can't see the person I am dealing with, and triple when you know that that this person is working on a results-based commission (as they invariably are), and so has every incentive to bend the truth (i.e. lie). Adding further insult is the fact that my landline (rarely used, apart from for Web dial-up) now costs a fortune, thanks to Australia's corporate equivalent of Nauru - the wastrel basket-case otherwise known as Telstra.

When I get a telemarketing call, I do at least try to be polite. As soon as I've worked out that the call is not social, I say (or at least I used to): "Sorry, I do not accept telemarketing calls", and then hang up. This line failed me the other day, though, when a pushy git from the Make-a-Wish Foundation replied, lightning fast: "But this is not telemarketing; do you know what Make-a-Wish is about . . .". I could have said something smart, but when the guy is building up to a crescendo about kids with cancer (cue violin music), I just wanted him out of my face, so to speak. So I again stated that I was not interested - having to talk over him to make this point - and hung up, as he continued to yabber.

My new line, then is: "Sorry, I do not accept unsolicited calls".

Having worked in an inbound call centre, I have some sympathy with the pressures that the job of commission-based cold-calling must entail. In particular, I am acutely aware of the fact that call centres are usually staffed almost entirely by GenXers (supervisory classes excluded, of course). But this time, my personal sanity runs deeper that demographic kinship, I'm afraid.

As for the news tie-in here, here it is. I'm surprised that "Dear Fuckface" letters aren't actually a lot more common (i.e. I've never received one). Apart from calls sometimes being "live" monitored, and statistics assembled on everything to do with worker performance, call centre IT systems usually aren't much chop, making it quite probable that a worker could make a note of a "not interested" customer they wished to, ahem, personally follow-up in their own time - without being traceable.

But the $64 question here is: "Why bother?". If the revengeful worker sends a "Dear Fuckface" letter from work, they are obviously going to get caught, and if from home, then postage ain't cheap when you're on a call centre wage. Moreover, it would surely be a case of where to begin with the "Dear Fuckface" mailing list (so many, so many).

Why, then, was Jillian Blake of Sydney's salubrious North Ryde singled-out, particularly when she says (and I have no reason to doubt it) that she was scrupulously polite in decling to make a donation to the Oncology Children's Foundation.

My explanation is this. Starting with Ms Blake's presumed relative affluence from her address and age* (50), the commission-hungry GenX worker would have assumed that he had a reasonably firm prospect. But when, in politely declining, Ms Blake let it slip that she was in the same game too, of soliciting donations for charities - any red-blooded GenXer's corpuscles would have boiled at this sting.

You see Ms Blake, a 50 year-old from North Ryde is very, very unlikely to be cold-calling their way through the A-Z pages for money, and money alone. (If I'm wrong on this assumption, i.e. that she is indeed without "charity" in the pre-1980 sense of that word, then my apologies to her). Sometimes, empathy can be the cruellest cut.

* It is unlikely that Ms Blake's age would have been on the worker's screen. But human nature, not to mention incredible boredom, dictates that call centre workers like to put a picture to each voice, and age (and much else, besides) is quite easy to tell by voice, once you've had some practice. In my old call centre, there was a special place in hell reserved for white trash from Perth, such trash being usually instantly recognisable from their English accents, and then later confirmable from their suburb - Joondalup and Thornlie, invariably.

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