Tuesday, February 03, 2009

When the telemarketers call, let it ring

In the recent furor over telemarketing and the use of the new do-not-call list for nefarious purposes, I’ve yet to see mention of the most obvious solution to the problem: Quit buying from random strangers who call you up uninvited.
There’s nothing wrong with doing business over the phone. It’s handy to be able to use the phone to bank, order products, report your stolen credit card, start and stop subscriptions, or any number of other useful services that have become part of the consumer landscape.
But an out-of-the-blue sales pitch from a stranger who bought a list somewhere with your home phone number on it - well, that’s a whole other thing. I hate being rude to people, but I’ll hang up on a telemarketer without hesitation. A particular pox on the companies who think I’m stupid enough to stay on the line for their taped sales pitch.
If they’re motivated to keep calling, though, that has to mean that at least some of the people they’re calling are buying. No company would run a telemarketing operation if they didn’t think they could make money at it.
So it’s us consumers who actually have all the power when it comes to doing something to stop telemarketing. As the potential buyers - “prospects,” as we’re known in the industry - we could wipe out the whole ugly business simply by refusing to be part of it anymore.
Telemarketing is part of the “telephone call centre” industry, which has exploded in the past decade in Canada and around the world. That’s the result of a deregulated telecommunications industry and a massive expansion in cheap data-transmission capability.
Most of the work of the sector takes place in call centres, like the xxx West Corp. facility in Central Saanich. Canada has become something of a global hub for call centres, in fact. A 2007 research report into international call-centre trends found that three countries had a disproportionate number of them: Canada; India; and South Africa.
Borders don’t matter when business is done by phone, and up until recently Canada’s favourable dollar and weak regulation made it a choice location for call centres under contract with U.S. companies. Provinces with chronically high unemployment have been more than happy to welcome American-owned call centres to their communities.
Twenty years ago, 20,000 Canadians worked in call centres. Today, there are 155,000, including untold thousands calling up people like you and me in every corner of the world.
Most of that commerce doesn’t have anything to do with unwanted phone solicitations, of course. Typically, only 20 per cent of a call centre’s phone work involves “outbound” calls - the ones that drive us nuts (22 per cent in Canada). Still, that’s a whole lot of unwanted phone calls when you consider they can come into your home from any call centre in the world.
Polls into how we feel about telemarketing typically find 90 per cent of those surveyed ranting about the practise. In the weeks leading up to the introduction of tougher telemarketing laws last fall, two-thirds of the Canadians polled said they were planning to register their phone numbers on the federal do-not-call list.
The Canadian Marketing Association, a staunch defender of telemarketing, admitted to the CBC last year that the practice is “by far and away the leading source of calls and complaints” the organization receives. The CMA has even had to step up security at its front entrance.
Canada’s new legislation adds some additional layers to the discussion, starting with a number of exemptions that let certain groups - political parties, charities, opinion pollsters - keep phoning even if someone is on the do-not-call list.
Then there’s the problem of the list itself, as reported in the news last week. Telemarketing firms need access to the no-call list to know who not to call, but that means they’ve now got your number. How handy.
Companies risk a $15,000 fine for calling people on the list. But how will Canada enforce that when calls can originate from anywhere in the world? How long before a “listings broker” gets their hands on all those verified phone numbers - a golden find in the telemarketing industry?
And yet the solution is so simple. If we refuse to buy from telemarketers, they’ll quit trying to sell that way.
Yes, it makes things a little tougher for the charities and businesses that rely on phone solicitation, as it tars everybody with the same brush regardless of whether they deserve. But so it goes.
Don’t feed the beast. Flex your muscle as a consumer and just hang up.


Anonymous said...

I thought you might like to know that Africa is a continent, not a country

Jody Paterson said...

Oops. That was supposed to be South Africa. Thanks for pointing that out - I corrected it.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be too critical cause you know, I never make mistakes ;o) but that one was just too good to pass up. I'm new to your site and I like it. Keep up the good work

Andrew Simpson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Simpson said...

Hello Jody,

I run a small furnace and chimney cleaning company and I use the phone to call my clients and give reminder calls, like the dentist or car repair service. Lumping us all into that category (telemarketer who is out to get your money) is wrong. I work 9am to 5pm on the road. I then come home and phone my clients 5pm to 8pm. Telling people to not pick up robs them of my reminder call for something that is crucial to their safety such as my service. People do forget to get their chimneys or furnaces done in their busy lives. My call reminds them of the service with a no pressure approach. A lady I called tonight, (a regular customer) told me she wasn't going to pick up till she saw the name on her call display because she had 5 other calls this evening from telemarketers. She was happy to recieve my call and we booked an appointment. It's a sad day when the small guy gets beaten up because of massive call centers.