Telemarketers: Give those babies a quick kiss-off

March 26, 1998|By Kevin Cowherd

IT'S 9: 10 IN the morning when the phone rings and it's some woman named Robin trying to interest me in a Shell MasterCard.

This is the latest alarming development from the ever-annoying subculture of telephone solicitors.

It used to be that these people would only annoy you at dinner time.

Then they expanded their hours of annoyance from roughly 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Now they annoy you all day long, from the time you bite into that first English muffin to the time you fall asleep with Leno or Letterman.

Anyway, my approach to dealing with these people is right out of the Idi Amin Handbook:

You have to cut their legs out from under them right away. You have to crush their spirit from the get-go. You have to make the light go out in their eyes immediately.

Because if you let these people get going with their sales pitch, they won't shut up. And they don't take no for an answer.

So as soon as I hear a tiny, disembodied voice say: "This is Robin for the Shell MasterCard ..." I spring into action.

"Not interested," I bark.

Then I slam the phone down.

Nasty, brutish and short -- that's the only way to be with these people.

Otherwise, I'm listening to 20 minutes on the joys of a Shell MasterCard, the convenience at the gas pumps, the opportunities to save millions of dollars and take 20 trips to Tahiti every year and blah, blah, blah.

Look, I don't have time to listen to all that nonsense, OK? I've got things to do, places to go, people to see.

My wife, on the other hand, has a completely different approach to dealing with these people.

The Mary Poppins approach, is what I call it.

For one thing, my wife will actually hear them out. She says she feels sorry for them. She says it's a tough way to make a living.

I'm telling you, she's a real bleeding-heart on the subject. A real weeper. If you're a telephone solicitor and you get my wife on the phone, you've got yourself a day at the beach, pal.

Anyway, when these telephone solicitors call, she'll stand there and listen to their spiel for two, three, four minutes. She won't interrupt them even once, either.

Finally, when they're through, she'll say politely: "Well, thank you. But I'm just not interested."

Now to me, this is even crueler than my sub-Saharan dictator approach. Because by actually listening to these people, you're getting their little hopes up.

Pretty soon they're thinking: "Hey, she hasn't slammed the phone down! I might have a sale here!"

Then they start getting all worked up about that new coat or big-screen TV they're going to buy with their commission.

So when you finally do tell them you're not interested, it's like a backhoe dropped on their head from 10 stories up.

You see what I mean? They're devastated.

Here they thought everything was going along great, the two of you were bonding, you seemed kind, concerned, sympathetic, ready to open that checkbook. And then you just snuffed out their hope like a cigar butt.

At least when I slam the phone down on them, they know where they stand right away.

To me, it's like a mercy killing. Why make these people suffer?

I tend to be the same with people who call with surveys.

Me, I don't have time for telephone surveys. I'm a busy man, Jack. I have to get back to that NCAA basketball game or the Orioles or that "Rockford Files" rerun.

So if the phone rings and it's an eager young marketing intern from the U.S. Dairy Council with his freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil poised expectantly over a pristine, 50-question survey sheet that begins, "How often do you and your family enjoy a refreshing glass of milk?" I'm going to blow him off in a hurry.

"No time. Sorry. Gotta run," I'll say before the phone comes crashing down, Idi Amin-style, once again.

Whereas my wife, she'll take any survey they throw at her. Radio station surveys, dental care surveys, real estate surveys -- doesn't matter to her. She's unfailingly courteous and patient with these people, too.

"Drop the backhoe! Drop the backhoe!" I yell, but she never does.

It really gets on your nerves after a while.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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