Wednesday, February 02, 2000

Too many hang-ups

Perhaps it's some sort of cosmic payback for all the times we've hung up on telemarketers: Now, they're starting to hang up on us. No sales pitch, no asking after our well-being, no offer of incredible savings--you say hello, and all you get is "click." Man, that must be making somebody feel good.

Apparently now, we have to race to the phone for the privilege of talking to a telemarketer instead of a dial tone. The culprit is something called predictive dialing, by which a computer dials up far more numbers than a single human can possibly speak to; whoever answers first has the honor of getting pitched to, while the rest are unceremoniously dumped. Now, perhaps you've gotten these hangups and thought a burglar was casing your house, or your spouse was fooling around, or your teenager had a secret admirer, or someone's fax machine was trying to reach you. But no, it was just telemarketers, finding new and exciting ways of being annoying.

The Direct Marketing Association (motto: "Hey, we're not really trying to find new ways to be annoying. They just seem to come to us.") is asking its members to stop this practice of overdialing at once! No, just kidding, they don't want to stop it, they just want marketers to be responsible in setting the number of hangups that are allowed. The Association recommends dialing only five percent more numbers than you can possibly handle. That way, you only tick off five percent of your customer base at a time by not speaking with them. Of course, the other 95 percent you tick off by speaking with them, but that's another story.

But many telemarketers feel that alienating five percent of their customers with no effort at all is too modest a goal. They set the dial-and-hang-up rate at 40 percent--that's almost half of all numbers called, hung up instantly. Customers interrupted during dinner for nothing, no chance to hear an amazing offer, no chance to accept another terrific credit card or magazine subscription, no chance to donate to a good cause, no chance to chew out the salesperson or ask to be taken off the phone list or blow a police whistle. Oh, the humanity! If we're going to be disturbed, we should at least have the pleasure of doing the hanging up.

It's certainly human nature to want the last word. Which is why you can't tell me that those telemarketers who are turning that dial up to 40 percent aren't doing it with a certain amount of glee. Hang up on them? They'll hang up on us first, and our loss! Next thing you know, they'll start sending us empty envelopes instead of solicitations, preemptively throwing the contents away before we can get a chance to do it ourselves. Soon, they must think, we'll all be clamoring to get in on these incredible deals that are being heartlessly snatched away.

Don't hold your breath, boys.

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