Telephone Wars - first it was Junk Mail - now it's Junk Phone Calls Junk Faxes and Spamming
Junk phone calls are the worst since you have to stop what you are doing to answer them and are held at least 15 seconds while the caller gets through an immaculately scripted preamble.
My mistake is probably that I wait for them to finish out of a sort of curiosity to see who it is this time.
In some cases, you know fairly quickly as is the case with:
Every month we used to get a call from those nice people at Bowater Zenith to check whether we own our house and whether the double glazing we told them about last month has somehow miraculously evaporated leaving the way clear for them to swarm in with their team of specialists.
Every month we would ask them to put us on their list of lost causes but no, eternal optimists that they are, they would ring again in exactly 22 days time to ask us exactly the same questions. What was particularly puzzling was that we had a deep and abiding suspicion that it was always the same person.
We tried all sorts of approaches from politely enquiring whether they suffered from short term memory loss through advising them that they could save themselves a lot of time by crossing us off their list. Being nice, polite people, we refrained from abuse.
Nothing worked until we had the following conversation:
Hi, is that Mr Jones.
Hello Mr Jones, this is Tracy from Bowater Zenith. Tell me, do you own your house?
Just a moment, Tracy, I'm going to put you on hold. (Put the receiver next to a tape recorder and switch on "The Best of Leonard Cohen").
30 minutes later, replace the receiver. Result - no more calls.
I never used to like Leonard Cohen. I always used to think that opening a vein was a viable alternative to listening to one of his records but I have since come to the firm conclusion that he is a real star.
I was in a bar in Glasgow a few years ago and they had a Leonard Cohen tape for background music. They had obviously discovered that this would cause people to drink faster in an attempt to remain cheerful.
As a disincentive to nuisance calls, he is unbeatable. Blues singers use the E-Minor Pentatonic Scale extensively. Leonard Cohen uses the E-minor Catatonic and the effect is devastating.
Incidentally, if you ever do wilfully buy double glazing you will be subjected to a lot of hard sell - specially if you get three estimates since each company will be intent on slagging off the others.
Once we had made our decision, I thought that I should do the decent thing and let the unsuccessful salesmen know that we were not going to go with their offerings.
In each case, amazing discounts were offered if I would only cancel my order with the successful company and both salesmen wanted to come round to go through their sales pitches a second time. The only way that I could disentangle myself was to say that the reason for our decision was based on the product's appearance. This worked like a charm - no salesman has yet found a way to argue against a prospect's preferences as to colour or looks.
Bowater Zenith - Update
Since this page was first posted in 1998, Bowater Zenith topped the list of nuisance callers and still does as you will find if you follow this link
However, I have recently been advised that they have since gone out of business, making several hundred call centre staff redundant. What is interesting is that they are just down the road from Anglian Windows. Anglian Windows do not seem to be so agressive but so far as I am aware they are still in business. Maybe there is a moral to be drawn here.
British Telecom apparently used to have a sacred duty to ring me on a three-monthly basis to inform me of the services that they were able to offer, from ring-back to all sorts of other features that I didn't know about and, if I agreed to try, always forgot to use.
Their calls are so tightly scripted that it is always interesting to see whether you can break the flow of the script:
Hello Mr Jones, this is Tracy from BT.
You aren't the same Tracy that used to work for Bowater Zenith by any chance are you?
Er….no Mr Jones
Are you sure?
I have never worked for Bowater Zenith, Mr Jones.
What is your surname?
I'm not allowed to give that out, Mr Jones
Security? You have already introduced yourself to me as Tracy as if we are old friends - why can't you tell me your surname? Wait - I know - it's because I might be able to find out what your telephone number is and subject you to nuisance calls- is that it?
Amongst other things, Mr Jones.
That's hardly fair since you obviously have the ability to subject me to nuisance calls.
In any case, if I was to try it with you, you could always ring 1471. Do you know about 1471 - its this great service offered by BT where, if someone rings you and you don't know who they are, you ring 1471 and a voice tells you what time they rang and what number they are calling from - tell you what - I'm going to ring off now and see if 1471 tells me what your number is.
Of course, if it all gets too much, you could try going ballistic but, although it may relieve your frustration, people may doubt your sanity.
Here is an excerpt from a recording made of a BT "Courtesy" call which was widely circulated by e-mail some time ago and which also featured in a recent TV programme about Call Centres. (I hasten to add that this is not me I'm far too nice.)[click here for a sound byte]
The best thing about this is the brave way the BT caller remains on message in the face of extreme irritation.
The funny thing is that I don't seem to have had any more calls from Tracy or anyone else from BT since that e-mail was circulated.
Timeshare - how many prizes have you won lately?
One source of nuisance calls that used to be particularly irritating was the Timeshare scam - you have won a major prize and all you have to do to qualify is to submit to being locked into a hotel room with 60 other "winners" until you sign up for a time share. This flood seems to have abated somewhat of late - maybe because they have realised that the public is not as stupid as they thought.
The most satisfying conversation I had with a Telephone Timeshare Tout went as follows:
You don't know me Mr Jones. My name is Sean from Horizons Unlimited with some very good news.
(Excited) It's not a holiday is it, Sean?
How did you guess, Mr Jones?
Call it intuition. The trouble is Sean, it isn't such good news as you may think.
Well, with the cruise that I won three weeks ago and the Trip of a Lifetime I won last week, I have used up my leave entitlement for the year. I don't suppose it can be postponed to next year can it?
I'm afraid not, Mr Jones.
I don't suppose there's a car as an alternative?
I hope it's a small one.
Why's that, Mr Jones.
Well, Sean, we have already had to build a double garage to accommodate the Porsche we won last month and the Escort we won last week - we could just about get a Mini onto our driveway but it would be awkward because of the cars my son has won in the last three months.
I think you are taking the piss, Mr Jones.
Quite likely. Do call again when you have another prize for me.
Insure against further Insurance calls.
Obviously the Leonard Cohen method described earlier is supremely powerful in most cold calling situations but this method works well and is more fun - you may even look forward to your next cold call to be able to try it out. You will either need the co-operation of your partner or a carefully edited tape.
You: Grunt…gasp ..... Yeess.
Hello Mr Jones, I'm Gordon from Lovegrove Financial Services
Partner: Oooh don't stop!!
You: Hello Gordon grunt grunt
Partner: Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!
Mr Jones have you ever considered the need to provide for your retirement?
Partner: Yes! Yes!!!! Yessssssss!!!!!!
You ( Aside): Just a second, Darling: Its Gordon from Lovegrove Financial Services - he wants to tell me about providing for my retirement - it could be really important. Grunt grunt.
Partner: Don't stop now or I'll kill you - aaaaah! Oooooh!
You: Hello Gordon, I'm going to ring off now otherwise I may never make it to retirement. Byee.
Of course, if you make it too steamy, you may start to get other nuisance phone calls.
.....If you do, Gordon could be your prime suspect.
Another Method that you will enjoy
This one is hilarious but the only trouble is that eventually those nice people will stop calling you which is a bit of a shame.
Caller: Mr Jones
You: Is that you, Jeff?
Caller: Mr Jones?
You:(Louder) H E L L O! Is that you Jeff?
Caller: Mr Jones?
You: Hello Jeff, you'll have to bloody shout, mate - the bloody dog's gone and swallowed the old hearing aid - I can't hear a bloody thing.
Tell you what mate, I'll call you back when I've got it back - trouble is it'll take a couple of days - the poor old bastard's been a bit constipated lately.
Now that you have caller ID do you stand a chance of having an undisturbed evening?
Caller ID is an obvious help in deciding whether or not to accept a call in the middle of something rather more interesting than fielding a weekly call from Homeserve to tell them that you still don't want to take out their insurance against something that will never happen. (They now have taken over from Bowater Zenith in the cold calling amnesia stakes)
Unfortunately, it is not the complete answer as many companies have telephone deals that do not reveal the caller id on outgoing calls. This means that when you ring home from work, your partner may not know whether it is an urgent call from you or just another nuisance call.
If you know that calls that you make from the office show up as "Number Withheld", your partner can soon learn to filter out the nuisance calls by lifting the receiver and saying nothing. Because so many nuisance callers make batches of calls and will engage with the first one that speaks, your partner will simply hear the sound of a call centre and will be able to replace the receiver immediately. When you phone home from the office, you will hear the silence as your partner waits for you to identify yourself.
The bulk of nuisance calls that we now get are shown as "International". Since we are never expecting calls from overseas, it is a simple matter to ignore them. Someone suggested that it could be our bank calling us since many banks use Indian call centres but whenever we have tested this, there is no-one at the other end with one exception where the caller's accent was so thick that they couldn't be understood anyway - there was a time when proponents of Indian call centres made much of the training and recruitment procedures which would ensure that callers could be clearly understood. Unfortunately, this ideal was never realised and at least one bank, First Direct, has returned its call centre to the UK.