Saturday, July 27, 2002

Phone adventures

Sales 101: No call or no show?

        A telemarketer called the other day. She sounded like Prozac on speed.

        “My company is doing a survey of water quality in your area,” she chirped. “May I ask you a few questions?”

        I started to hang up. Don't we all? That voice — with its phony bonhomie and hint of desperation — makes us cringe, not to mention overcook the asparagus.

        I usually interrupt the spiel, say “No, thank you,” and hang up. I do this softly, though, because I see no point in hating telemarketers. I've never bothered with the gadgetry for avoiding their calls, nor have I added myself to Kentucky's new, no-call list.

        We're a nation built on the rhythm of consumption. Everyone's selling something, and at least the phone pitch is halfway normal. I'm more annoyed with salespeople like “Catina Hathaway,” who announced in a recent e-mail that she was leaving me for a bigger man.

        Three guesses what she was selling.

In the market

        Still, much as I don't hate them, I can't say that I've ever bought anything from a telemarketer. Then I got this call about water quality. For once, I stayed on the line.

        My new home has terrible water. Our appliances may suffer long-term damage, but more importantly, my hair is a wreck. When the woman called, I was looking for a third estimate on a water softener.

        She was selling just that. I told her to send someone over. She promised to have a manager call me the next morning.

        I was thrilled. This is how telemarketing is supposed to work. People selling water softeners contact new homeowners whose water supply resembles runoff from Three Mile Island. What's so bad about that?

        The key to good telemarketing is using “targeted” phone lists, says George Trebbi, president of RDI Marketing Services in Blue Ash.

        “We want cooperative people,” Mr. Trebbi says. “We're not interested in calling people who don't want to be talked to.”

        He's in the business, and even he gets annoyed when, say, that woman from a certain window company in Greater Cincinnati calls his home. It's only a few years old, so the windows don't need replacing.

        Mr. Trebbi wants to say, “Tell someone in your company they can buy smarter lists than this.”

Close the sale

        Kentucky's new law, which became effective July 15, allows people to mark their numbers “no-call.” About 670,000 already have done so. With a few exceptions, telemarketers who contact them face a $5,000 fine, and the attorney general has already sued two companies for breaking the rules.

        This is great news for some people, I'm sure. But as a naive optimist and supporter of American capitalism, I'm going to stay off the list for now.

        Ironically, here's the thanks I get:

        The day after the telemarketer called, I set up an appointment to get an estimate on a softener. Then I took time off work and waited half an hour.

        Can you believe it? The guy never showed. His company had no idea where he was.

        Now that made me mad.

        Contact: or 859-578-5584.



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