Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Telemarketing for Hollywood Values

So SIW got a call from a telemarketer, and then a followup call, about values in Hollywood movies, and how it is bad for the children, etc., and so he posted about it. He complained that in the first call, the telemarketer's end of the conversation seemed not to match exactly what SIW had answered, and furthermore, that they didn't realize in the second call that he had been referring to his neice and nephew in the first call. Further, at the end of the second call, they tried to sell him a subscription to their film service.

I worked for a while in the Telemarketing industry (as a programmer), so perhaps I can lend some insight to exactly went on here.

The reason the telemarketer's end of the conversation did not match with SIW's responses so well was that the telemarketer was reading from a script. This is either a computer program or a stack of paper from which the telemarketer reads. Depending on the callee's response, the telemarketer goes to different pages and question numbers and reads a specific canned response. The script prevents telemarketers from fumbling, and thus guides the conversation from beginning to end. So of course the telemarketer partially ignored what SIW said. He found the closest match, followed the directions to go to question X, and read that response.

Why the two calls? Because of the Do-Not-Call List. People can sign on to this so as not to be bothered by telemarketers selling them stuff, and this is enforcible by law - companies that violate this can face stiff fines.

However, there are two relevant exemptions. The first is that if you have a prior relationship with the callee, you may call them and not face a fine. Thus, for example, if a customer sends an email asking a question, he may be called back, even though he is on the Do-Not-Call List.

Secondly, there is an exemption for people conducting surveys. Both presumably those people conducting surveys cannot sell you something at the end.

Thus, call centers set up a clever way to get around the law. They divide their energies into two campaigns. The first calls you up and asks if you want to take a survey. If so, they give a short survey. Here, it was a 90 second pitch and a few questions if you agreed with it.

They don't really care about the answers. They care about converting your number to a kosher number. (This they do even for people not on the Do-Not-Call List, so that they don't have to keep track.) They ask if they can call back for a follow-up. When you say yes, they have established a prior relationship, and you have agreed to take their call, so your number is now kosher for them.

In the second call, they look up whatever information was put into specific fields in the database. They would just write down how many kids - not specific relationship to said kids, unless there was a field for it. The purpose of this second call is to sell you something, which they are now allowed to do. To keep up the pretense, they begin the same way they did before, but at the end of the call, they try to sign you up.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, you satisfied what I wanted to know... something bugged me about this...and they are using computer generated voices, btw...very good ones with expressions...but I actually asked the computer if he was one and I guess the standard response for an unexpected response is the "we don't have millions like Disney..." ... I objected and asked again and got a live person who laughed, admitted it was a computer and asked if the call could continue.

Seemed like a pretense or a deceptive practice to me, and no call should be no call....

Adam Thornton said...

Thanks for the explanation! I got a "Feature Films for Families" call as well, and you've explained some of the weirdness.

I think they're using a combined software/human approach. The human asks you a question, the software listens and tries to categorize your answer, the software displays a response, and the human reads it off.

Their hard sell at the end of the call was really obnoxious.


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