Do Not Call

Anyone who has ever spoken to me on the phone knows that I always begin conversations the same way. I identify myself and then I ask the person if they have a minute or two to talk. Even if it’s my mother or father, I identify myself and ask if they have a minute. I would never assume that the person I am calling wants to talk to me, unless that person’s job is to answer my phone call. I learned these lessons as a telemarketer.

I was very good at cold calling. I never worked in a part of the industry that demands that you call people at home, although that doesn’t seem like such an invasion to me. If you have a phone line and you answer the phone, you are giving permission to the person to call you. If you don’t want to be called, turn the phone off and get some sort of answering system to deal with your incoming calls. And don’t tell me you don’t want to spend money on a system or a service, you had to buy a phone and pay for the phone line. You have to pay for stuff you want.

This “Do-Not-Call” list is going to be really tough on a lot of smaller businesses. The truth is, there is no better way to get someone to take a look at your product than to speak to them person to person. The Mormons have always known this, it’s why they go door to door instead of doing ad campaigns.

I run a pathetically small business, one that might make a hundred dollars this year if we’re lucky. In order to get people to come to my show, I have to send out tons of postcards and emails and set up reminders in parts of the city where my customers might be. But the very best way for me to get people to be interested in my show is to speak to them.

We have a responsibility as Americans to investigate the advertising that is given to us. If you believe in the free market system, you have to do your part as a consumer to discover the goods and services available to you. The people who buy my product (in other words, come see the play I’m producing) have been really happy that they did. Many people are coming back our last weekend, implying that the experience wasn’t just worth the asking price, but actually worth twice that for twice the experience.

But if direct marketing ceases to be an option, what is a guy like me supposed to do? What are all those telemarketers going to do? Why, when hours and hours of our television viewing, a majority of the print we read and a large chunk of our mail and email is advertising are we making it more difficult for people to call us and offer us their product. Advertising is the way we learn about stuff we didn’t know we want.

Seriously, those knives on tv that can cut through a boot? I’d never buy them off TV or the internet. But if someone came to my door with a set of those knives, I’d probably buy them. Hell, I’d definitely buy them.

When you get spam, don’t you wish you could tell the person who sent it to you not to send you any more? With telemarketers, you can. People did all the time. I was calling businesses and offering them competitive quotes for their business insurance. But many of the people had long standing relationships with their insurance provider, some even got their insurance through family members. So when they told me they weren’t interested, I took them off the list. FOREVER. No-one ever called them again.

I only had one indignant person the whole time I was working the phones. Someone owned a chain of dry cleaners, he had about twenty employees, and I asked him if he was the person who made the decisions about the company’s insurance. He flew off the handle. “DO you really think I have the time to answer these questions?”

“I don’t really know, sir, but if you aren’t the person who can answer this question, can you put me in touch with the person who does?”

“Oh no. I’m the boss around here. I make these decisions. What makes you think I have the time to answer your questions? I have a string of businesses and they all take my attention. Why do you think I can just sit here and answer your questions about my business? What are you trying to sell me, exactly, and why are you wasting my time?”

“Actually, sir, I’m not trying to sell anything. We’d like to prepare a quote for you, but only if you are actually looking for quotes each year when your insurance comes up for renewal. If you don’t take quotes for your insurance, I’ll mark that in our list.”

“I didn’t agree to be on any list. Where did you get that list?”

“Dunn and Bradstreet, sir. They prepare a list of companies in your community that make a certain amount of money and have more than eight employees.”

There was a pause and he said, “We take quotes, but only from local businesses, we keep our business here in Texas” and I told him who I was calling for (a company down the street from him) and not only did he set an appointment, he went with that company on his insurance three months later.

And, y’know, the part where he was yelling at me about how much time he was wasting was less time than it took to set an appointment.

Look, I’m not interested in breast implants and I don’t want your fake vacation giveaway, but there are already laws against that. If you really think that the seven seconds it takes for you to tell someone to take you off their call list, even if you have to tell them ten times, is too precious a gift to give up in order to live in a free market society then you need to re-evaluate your priorities.

I’m on the “go ahead and call me” list. I got thirty seconds, no matter what I’m doing. And if you’re selling those knives, call me soon.