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Business Casual: Robo-Calls And Dealers

The most irritating of the uninvited “frequent phoners” who clog my voicemail with recorded messages these days are trying to frighten me into home security expenditures.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I have hit “play” on a blinking home answering device, to be greeted by a cheery voice reeling off a statistic on home break-ins and offering a free alarm system to protect me from such happenings.

“Not interested!” is always my response. “I don’t buy stuff from machines.” This is usually shouted in the direction of the phone, even though I am really barking at a robo-caller who has probably gone on to harass 100 others since leaving the message.

This particular “alarmist” is the most persistent, but there are other callers and other messages. Theoretically, you can make them stop if you actually pick up the phone while the message is recording and press the right button; but that hasn’t worked for me.

No matter what you do, they always seem to come back. It’s like lighting a bug-repelling candle on your deck on a muggy summer evening to discourage mosquitoes. For every one you drive away, there are a dozen more that will find you.

In my admittedly limited circle of friends and acquaintances, I know lots of people who get these kinds of calls, but I don’t know anyone who buys what they are selling. (And of course they are selling something. If there are no free lunches, you can be very sure there are no free alarm systems.)

Sure, there are occasionally “live” donation-solicitors or salespeople with a pulse who call several times a week and leave gibberish-y messages or who are so busy talking to the four other people they dialed at the same time that they don’t respond even when you pick up. They rank pretty high on the annoyance list, too.

Not long ago, I posted a small rant on Facebook, whining about this very matter and saying that I would not support any cause, no matter how worthy, that uses robo-calls or annoying solicitors who tie up my phone or my phone line. I was astonished at the response I got – “likes” off the chart, many supporting comments. People with widely divergent viewpoints on politics, religion, music, food and other divisive topics were united on this one.

One friend said she is considering dropping her landline to get away from these people. Another said he makes a point of calling politicians who employ robo-callers to tell them they will not be getting his vote.

It was nice to discover that I am not alone. I didn’t even get any cranky reminders that I should be glad the callers are gainfully employed and should not begrudge them the chance to do their jobs. (I am. I don’t. I just wish they’d call somebody besides me.)

The sheer number of calls and the persistence of the callers seems to offend on both a personal and impersonal level. It’s personal, in that you have to stop what you’re doing to answer the phone or check your caller ID. If you don’t pick up, it’s likely the caller will try again – and again and again. If you do answer, you are interacting with a seller who couldn’t even be bothered to hire a “real” person or one who managed to hire a real person who is nearly as aggravating as a recording.

During the course of a day, most of us spend more time than we’d like to on the phone, so a marketing call is not a welcome diversion.

I’ve wondered how telephone polling accuracy might be affected by this apparently widespread aversion to calls from strangers. Who is it who actually takes the time to respond? Lonely people? Bored people? Insomniacs? And do those readily available people form the basis for a reliable polling sample?

So far, most of the robo-callers have used my home line – but there are a troubling few who have my mobile number, which is another problem that will probably get worse before it gets better.

And lest we forget, the world of telemarketing is quite capable of taking us down a peg. I actually had a phone pitchman hang up on me when I declined to buy his product. He said, huffily, it was obvious he was wasting his time.

Exactly my point.

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