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Telesales and Telemarketing - Good and Bad Practice in Telephone Sales

The purpose of having a phone is for your own convenience, not for the purpose of companies phoning you trying to sell you stuff. The phone is for you to talk to your friends and to communicate with people who you choose to call, and the idea is that the phone is an advantage in life rather than something you are a slave to. If the phone rings, it's best if whoever is phoning you is friendly and is calling for mutually good reasons, and not an unwelcome stranger intruding into your life trying to sell you something. It could be argued reasonably that business is business and it's ok occasionally for companies to phone you and politely ask you if you are interested in something. But there is a level beyond which this is an unreasonable and unwelcome intrusion into your life. Some companies are much worse than others at this, and the scope of this page has been expanded to include a wider field of "phone spam" than before, to include examples of a variety of telephonic bad practice. Where you draw the line between what's acceptable and what's unacceptable is a matter of personal taste, but on this page are a few examples of the kind of thing which most people agree are bad telesales practice. A list of telemarketing flaws and problems are itemised after the preamble below:

Positive note: People working in a phone spam sales office are just people working for a company and are not somehow the voice of the corporate company incarnate. It's best to be friendly to them, as they are just doing their job.

(Note: The examples are taken from a variety of different situations and from many different companies. This page is not about any specific company whatsoever, but is about good and bad practice in general in a free trade marketplace. Also note that not all telesales companies are guilty of these things, and no company is guilty of all of them! Also see Zyra's Good Hotel Guide. The whole thing is published without prejudice and is the opinion of someone who insists on good practice and FREE SPEECH. Attempts at gagging this are considered in very poor form, and various paranoid tactics will be used if required to defend freedom, to the death if need be, but let's not talk about that just yet).

Bad telephone marketing practices include, but are not limited to:

* Aggressive telephone marketing. Unwelcome cold calling is made much worse if the caller is aggressive and unreasonable. Some companies make this the norm, and this is to be discouraged. If you find someone phoning you is unsympathetic, it's important to make sure you do not make any deals with them. Positive note: Some companies have improved in this aspect and are not as bad as they were. Cases of sales aggression are much rarer than a few years ago.

* Bad timing. To be fair to them, telesales people can not predict when you are doing something important, but it's a chance they have to take. However, I have been phoned at ridiculously early times of the day. Part of this is because of the nonsense of daylight saving time. But also there is often an absence of sympathy for the situation into which the caller is intruding.

* Worrying people, frightening people, upsetting people, causing a state of fear. It is in my opinion unfair to phone vulnerable people and frighten them. (Also see BULLYING). Some people of an infirm nature would be scared by some of the stories told to them by sales reps. It is an unscrupulous sales tactic. Examples of this include the heightened fear of risk inherent in some kinds of insurance selling, the idea that your kitchen is out of fashion and must therefore be replaced as you should feel ashamed of it, and such notions as the idea that if your double glazing has black edging then burglars can get in and steal everything and get out again without being noticed, regardless of any security alarms, dogs, sharp spikes, or psychotic behaviour on the part of the residents of the building.

* The "we're not selling anything" problem. The argument goes that phoning people up and arguing with them and frightening them in pursuit of selling them something IS NOT ACTUALLY SELLING, because they're not really "selling" anything, but just giving away a free quote. My argument is that regardless of whether the call is technically "not selling", it actually IS selling if the whole thing has as its purpose the actual selling of a product or service. Remember: If someone phones you to sell you something and claims the "we're not trying to sell you anything" ploy, the whole thing is questionable to start with. Also see the opt-in lie as documented on spam e-mails.

* The "we're doing a survey", when in fact it's a sprat to catch a mackerel. This has been especially noted in the case of Feature Films For Families, where a robot phones you up with a hidden agenda on behalf of a right-wing Christian organisation.

* The "You've won a prize" sales ploy. This is surprisingly common and designed to lure gullible people into thinking they are somehow privileged to be phoned. The "prize" is often worthless, for example a step into the next round of the competition to get 40% off a kitchen which you have to pay for up front and then might or might not be included in the brochure catalogue. To get around this, simply make sure that as soon as the sales person says "won a prize" you insist on not paying anything. A genuine prize would of course be with no strings attached. Especially be wary of fake radio stations and time-critical prizes with a phone number you are expected to call. These are typically 0905 or 0906 very expensive premium rate numbers. If you get such a call, make a note of the number, don't phone it, and instead phone ICSTIS. In the code of good practice, premium rate numbers must be declared in the sales material to cost however much per minute they are.

* The use of phone robots. The early forms of these were just recorded messages that would come in and interrupt you. Annoying, as the companies doing this would be wasting your time without committing any of their human resources to the call. After the first type which usually started out by enthusiastically saying "Congratulations!", a second type was invented which sounded as if someone was just phoning you in a laid-back way to tell you something, like a kind of leisurely bank manager telling you your savings were doing quite well. The idea is presumably to fool the customer into just listening and believing they are listening to an actual person phoning them "live". To get around this, as soon as someone calls, say something which they need to respond to. Robots are not yet (as of 2004) clever enough to do this, and you can catch them out every time. Usually the robot will ignore you and/or restart from the beginning of the message. Sometimes these things are a scam designed to get you to phone an expensive premium rate number. Solution: Do not phone the expensive number, but make a note of it and then phone ICSTIS (uk) or other phone watchdog. State accurately the precise phone number given, and truthfully and reliably say whether the message informed you of the potential cost of the call or whether this was neglected. This is important.

* Irrational decrying of the customer's possessions, house, facilities, etc. This is sales by insult. By making unfounded claims about your current property, the idea is to sell you something to feel less ashamed of. You should avoid falling for this by being aware of it in advance, and by commonsense. If you were to believe some sales reps, even reputable quality goods which have stood the test of time would suddenly just rot away, or suffer mysterious failure as if a curse has been put upon them, and the fact that a sturdy installation has remained since it was put in over thirty years ago is not relevant, and it could crumble away to dust at any moment.

* Phone rings and there is no-one there. They've just mithered you for nothing. This is bad practice, and might be considered inexcusable, but it is not inexplicable. See powerdiallers

* Argumentativeness. If you find a sales representative refuses to accept "no thankyou" as a response, you have a right to make a note of their name, company name, and head office complaints number, and put the word in to the Trading Standards Authority and to petition the company's own head office. If there is no saying no, and no room for discussion, the answer is simple: NO SALE. In some reps' view there is only one thing, the pursuit of sales, like some reckless crusade. This is very upsetting in itself. When you're at home you should not have to be drawn into an "oh yes it is, oh no it isn't" kind of thing like auditioning for a role on the stage of a Punch and Judy show. Nuisance commercial phone calls can be reported to Ofcom (in the UK) Phone 0845 456 3000. Although they don't (as for 2004/12) investigate individual complaints, you should still get your complaint lodged. Unlike with politics, every vote counts.

* Possible staff problem. It is my opinion and speculation that the staff at some phone spam marketing companies are being made to work too hard. It is a difficult job and very stressful for the staff having to be cold calling people. Some of the customers are probably rude to them. It is not a nice job. Although I am polite to sales reps, it's clear to tell that some customers are rude to them. There is no need for this. Sales reps have a hard job to do. It's not their fault they are working for a company that treats them so badly. My response: When they phone, tell the sales people that they deserve a better job, and that they should ask for a pay rise and better working conditions.

* Customer Gullibility Bonus. This is a technique with some sales reps do when confronting the customer in person, but I have sometimes heard the technique used on the phone. The customer is given an ultimatum where they must sign up right NOW or lose the bonus offer, which is available only if they sign rashly up front, rather than thinking about it calmly at their leisure. This kind of thing should be regarded as immediately suspicious, and if you are offered such a thing you should regard the offerer in a similar way to if they unexpectedly offered to sell you a cheap watch, or asked to borrow some money from you on the promise that they'd pay you back double the amount tomorrow. (The sign-up-now gullibility technique has to some extent been outlawed in the UK to protect the supposed vulnerable native population, so for such things as switching your electricity supply etc, you are allowed to have a "cooling-off period" and to renege on the deal after the fact!).

* Phone number deception. Obviously some people have got their home phones set up to reject incoming calls where the caller-number is withheld. (Anonymous Caller Rejection). So, what some companies to do cynically get around this is to reveal the caller number, but when you try to do a 1471 to phone them back, you get "This number is not accepting incoming calls". As this has been set up in advance, it's possible with a bit of imagination to surmise it's a deliberate spam filter countermeasure, rather like the deliberate misspelling of the word "mortgage" in mortgage spam.

* Using the "Telephone Preference Service" as the company's opt-out. Ie, "If you don't want to receive any more calls from us, go on the Telephone Preference Service, so you won't receive ANY commercial calls from ANYONE". If you have some sense, maybe you can see how dodgy this is, and how it is inherently SLASH AND BURN MARKETING. For more about the questionable problem of this tactic, see Using the Telephone Preference Service as the company's opt out

* Scams. Beware of some callers not being who they claim to be. One recent scam (2004) involves someone phoning you and pretending to be your bank or credit card company. (it's like a telephonic equivalent of the Bank Hoax e-mails). They then tell you they are doing a security check of some sort and that you must tell them the number on the back of your credit card. Don't! It doesn't matter if the caller knows your address, they could have got this from the phone book. The important thing to remember is: Banks and card companies should never ask you for information which they have already got.

* Contempt for the customer. Some telemarketing companies have an instilled attitude that "the customer is the enemy". Not all, of course, but in some cases you don't have to be psychic to tell that there is a general unsympathetic attitude towards customers. I have heard that some places used to have staff training that was like a fundamentalist religious indoctrination. If you ever encounter this, try to be sympathetic, and then sow the seeds of doubt.

* Hanging up on you. Besides being rude, telesales that do this are "slash and burn marketing" as they are damaging the reputation of all telephone sales.

Incidentally, one way to defeat telemarketing is to change your name. Then when the telesales people phone and ask for you by name, when you tell them you have changed your name, they will hang up. That's because telemarketing systems are not programmed to cope with people changing their names!

* "You've caught a virus" phone calls. These are generally a scam! See Phone Virus Scam

Note: Even if sales people cold-call you and interrupt you in your life and try to sell you stuff that you don't want, it's best to be nice to them. Be polite, friendly, and reasonable. Telesales is a difficult job and it's not the person's fault. Remember that they are not personally the company; they are people who are being paid to make phone calls. If you feel like being rude or unkind because you dislike the company, don't take it out on the sales staff. Instead, be friendly to the people and suggest that they deserve a pay rise, and/or that they should go on strike, or should get a better job that has better job-satisfaction. Also see How To Complain

Extra note: I have friends who believe the whole telephone cold-calling business (telemarketing) is wrong and a misuse of the telephone system. I take a different view, and that's why I don't join the "telephone preference" list. In a free capitalist society, it is reasonable for businesses to offer to sell to you. However, the problem is that where such marketing is threatening or annoying, it IS NOT GOOD. Not only does it upset people, but it DESTROYS THE MARKET, as people will refuse to listen to ANY selling. It's SLASH-AND-BURN MARKETING.

This page is hosted by Vivostar - an ISP proud to support freedom of speech online.

To end this page on a positive note, it IS possible to have a telesales campaign that has good practice. More sales are achieved by having the sales staff being polite rather than aggressive. Also, honesty is the best policy in the long-run, especially if you want to still be in business in years to come.