Friday, February 17, 2012

Be Nice to the "Nuisance:" Telemarketers are People Too

Because my husband and I have a small home-based business, my phone rings three or four times a day with "cold-callers" trying to sell everything from copy machines to investments.  They always start out asking to speak to "Mike," which is not the name anyone here goes by, but must be the contact listed on some master roster of businesses, somewhere.

These calls are a nuisance. They interrupt my activity, my train of thought, my concentrated effort at whatever I'm working on. When I'm writing, I find these intrusions particularly irksome. By the time I look on the caller-ID, which usually says 'restricted' or 'unidentified' but sometimes does offer the name of some unknown company, the damage is done. Usually, I just answer the phone, and get the so-familiar request for "Mike."

I'm not talking about the telemarketers who call at a home number. If you don't like them, you can sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry.  No, these solicitors aim for businesses, no matter how large or infinitesimal.

I respond that Mike's unavailable; may I help you? Most of the time, the salesman says "No, I'll call back" and hangs up. Second-place response is "when will he be in?" to which I answer "I'm not sure; can I help you?" which triggers the hang-up.  Sometimes I'll get someone tenacious who starts out, "Can I speak to your personnel manager?" or "Can I speak to the manager who handles your copy ink?"  Well, that would be me, and we're all inked up, sorry.

These calls used to cause me irritation, but a couple of years ago, I had an epiphany: phone solicitors are trying to make an honest living (assuming their products are legitimate).  They spend their days dialing strangers who tend to return their inquiries with anger and disgust. They likely have children and rent to pay and yes, even cell phone bills, and they're trying in the most discouraging profession to eke out their sustenance.

Telemarketers deserve respect.  They're not spending their days collecting welfare checks (one hopes) but on the telephone taking one rejection after another.  In some cases, their entire incomes are based on the commissions they make from the rare respondent who says "yes."  Many of the people who phone me have accents. They obviously have accepted their positions understanding how constantly demoralizing the work is, but continue to press those phone buttons with renewed aspiration to make a sale with the next call.

That's honorable.  Once I thought about it, I was determined to say something nice to each cold-caller, if he didn't hang up first.  The gentleman who just now phoned asking for "Mike" accepted my offer to take a message. He gave his name and the name of his company, saying he was making a "courtesy call," cute lingo for "sales pitch," about an "investment opportunity."

My response: "I realize that this is your job, and I wish you success, but I know that Mike is not open to investment opportunities at this time. But good luck with others."  The gentleman didn't press, as many do, but said, "I appreciate your honesty, and have a great day."

Wow. That was nice of him.  He wasn't obnoxious.  But even the ones whose scripts call for them to be forceful, pushing against resistant answerers to overcome all objections, deserve credit for their efforts--not snide or rude put-downs.

Next time you get a cold call, consider the salesperson's tough job.  Even in turning her down, be polite; acknowledge that she's trying to earn a living. Wish her success, because the more workers and businesses prosper, the healthier our economy and our nation.  And you might even have a nicer day.

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