Most people cringe when the phone rings during dinner, knowing it's likely some lackey is calling to harass them with the latest scam. They resent the interruption, the obligation to answer and the need to be polite to someone they would rather strangle.
Not me. When the phone rings around telemarketing time my eyes light up with evil glee, like the villain in a B movie. It's time to have some fun.
I'm not always a cruel person. I believe we should all strive to make the world just a little better, every day. Frustrating telemarketers makes it more likely they'll quit and find honest work. Every minute you keep them on the phone is another minute they're not ripping off someone else. Wasting their time is one of my favorite ways to improve the world.
Most of you recognize the preceding paragraph for what it is - absolute bullshit. Being mean and cruel to telemarketers requires no apology. They are barging into our homes uninvited, with the express goal of ripping us off. They want to switch our phone service, con us into overpriced magazine subscriptions, collect donations for charitable organizations that don't exist or sell us light bulbs even dimmer than they are. More people are ripped off on the phone than anywhere else, with the exception of lawyer's offices. Anything you can do to make the caller's life miserable is justifiable. Besides, it's fun.
My phone has been listed under my wife's uncommon maiden name forever, providing me with early-warning telemarketer radar. "Hello, Mr." - I can hear them struggle with the pronunciation - "In horn?" I immediately respond with a gruff, "What are you selling?" to throw off their timing.
It's even better when the phone rings in my office, on the line that's only used for data and an occasional outbound call. I don't give that number to anyone, so when it rings I know it's an unwanted sales drone. Instead of answering "Hello," I pick up the phone and shout, "What are you selling?" It's great fun to hear them stammer and try to regain the upper hand.
Time is a telemarketer's only asset. The more calls they complete per hour the more commissions they earn, so wasting their time is the most effective way to make them miserable. If I'm pressed for time, or just not feeling imaginative at the moment, I'll tell them I'll be with them in a minute, but there's someone at the door, so could they please wait? Then I set the phone down and go do something until the "phone is off the hook" beep comes blaring through the receiver. They usually give up after just ten minutes or so, but it's better than nothing.
When my kids were five years old I got them into the act. I'd tell the huckster, "That sounds interesting. I'd like to talk to you about it, but I'm in the middle of cooking something. Here, talk to my kid for a minute." Before they could object I'd hand the phone to one of my daughters, who I'd trained in the art of telemarketer torture. She would tell the caller about her day in great detail. Slowly. "Hi. Are you having a good day? I'm having a good day. First, I got up. Then, I went to the bathroom. I had to wait for my sister, though. Then I got dressed. Then I had breakfast. I like Rice Krispies, but we were out of Rice Krispies, so I had to have Kix instead." When one kid got tired of the game she'd hand the phone off to her twin sister, and the tale of the day started all over again. They were careful not to engage the caller in a conversation - the goal was a mind-numbing monologue. They did it quite well, except for the times their delight at messing with the caller's mind overflowed into giggles. I was so proud.
When they got older they still enjoyed participating in the torture. We still talk about the call that came in the middle of their fourteenth birthday party. A con man claimed he was collecting contributions for some charity. "I usually give to you," I lied, "but I'm in the middle of a birthday party. Can you hold on a minute while I get my checkbook?" I set the phone down where he could hear the party sounds, gave my kids the thumbs up, and let them party around the phone, whispering to their friends about how their dad loves to torture phone solicitors.
He was still there when I checked ten minutes later. "I'm really sorry, but I can't find the checkbook. Do you take credit cards?" He assured me he did, and even sounded a little excited. "Great. I've got to find my wallet, and bring out the kids' cake, and then I'll be right with you." When we brought out the cake everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to the girls and the caller.
All the kids were in on the joke. Mine even put on a little verbal show for the caller, talking about how their dad made too many donations and gave away too much money. Again, I was so proud. It made it even more fun with I picked up the phone for the final blow, relishing the fact I had wasted nearly a half hour of this sucker's time.
"OK, I'm ready," I said. "I've got my credit card right here. You do take Visa, right?" He did. The party was now silent, as a room full of adolescent girls waited for the punch line. "OK, great. I've got just one question to ask. Answer this correctly and I'll make a huge donation. Ready?" He was. "OK, now, listen carefully. Does this sound…like I'm hanging up?" Click. The laughter in my room was loud, but I imagine the scream in his was louder.
"Does this sound like I'm hanging up," is my favorite line for ending long conversations with telemarkerters. Magazine salesmen are especially fun. I'll request obscure and non-existent magazines until they begin to suspect they're being put on. Then I'll agree to subscribe to one real title and start all over again.
"Do you have 'Model Railroader?'"
"How about 'The Antique Shoe?'"
"No sir, but we do have. . ."
"Wait, how about 'The Incontinence Companion?'"
"The 'Incontinence Companion?'"
"Yes, it has very short articles." By now they're getting suspicious. "How about 'Sports Illustrated'"?
"Yes! We have 'Sports Illustrated'"
"Great, I'll take it. Now, do you have 'Amateur Gynecologist?'"
I can usually keep this going for about twenty minutes before I do the "One more question...Does this sound like I'm hanging up?" routine. Sometimes I think I can hear a faint scream in the distance.
For variety I sometimes switch to the rant technique. I get often get calls from "The Saratogian," a pitiful local newspaper. They always start with the line, "We're just calling to see if our paper boy delivered your copy of 'The Saratogian' on time today."
"Don't con me. You're just calling to try to sell me a subscription, aren't you?"
"Why should I subscribe to your paper? It sucks! I'm surprised you don't just put pictures in it for your readers to color. My dog refuses to pee on it. It's the most pathetic excuse for a newspaper since..." and I'm off on a rant too loud and obnoxious for them to interrupt. When I finally take a breath they usually apologize for calling and hang up.
I don't get upset when I receive calls from places I've done business with before. I've bought Sears service contracts for large appliances (although I should know better), so I don't get upset when they call looking to sell me another one. I figure it's my fault. I still try to put them through at least a bit of torture, but the last caller was a woman who would have none of it. Despite my best efforts I couldn't enrage, embarrass, or faze her in the least.
The warranty was about to expire on my Sears lawn mower. She was calling to sell me a service contract/extended warranty. The three-year contract cost $250. A new lawn mower went for $199. It was a fun conversation.
"But wait, this will cost me two hundred and fifty dollars, right?"
"But I can buy a brand new mower and save fifty dollars. I could use that fifty dollars to buy beer. I like beer."
She was trying not to laugh. "But if something breaks we'll fix it with brand new parts."
"If something breaks I can buy a brand new mower and all that beer! Wait, if it breaks, will you come and pick it up, and deliver it when it's fixed?"
"No, sorry sir, that's not covered."
"Then I have to bring it to your store, leave it there, come back a few days later and get it, and that's two trips. If I go buy a new one I only have to make one trip. That gives me a whole extra day, which I can use to drink beer, which I bought with the fifty dollars I saved! And if it doesn't break, I can buy two hundred and fifty dollars worth of beer. That's a lot of beer."
We went around and around several times, but she never lost her cool, never got rude or short tempered, and never gave up. She seemed amused by the whole thing and I had to admire her persistence. I finally realized I had met my match, so I thanked her for the entertainment and said good-bye. If she had been a waitress I would have left her a large tip. But she was the exception - two days later I nearly reduced a caller to tears, and enjoyed doing it.
The next time you get an unwanted sales call have some fun with it. Feel free to use some of these tricks, or better yet, come up with some of your own. (Don't use the line "Can I have your phone number" - it was funny the first time Seinfield did it, but it's old now.) Get them to say they're sorry for interrupting you, then suggest they find a job they don't have to apologize for. Talk dirty to them in a low, lecherous voice. Burst into uncontrollable sobs. Use your imagination. It's likely they already hate their job - do whatever you can to make them hate it more. It's fun, it's free, and it's better than getting upset with them. Don't let them ruin your evening - ruin theirs.
© 1999 Dave Hitt
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