Telemarketer? There’s An App For That.

October 2, 2010

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Woonsocket, R.I. (FNN)  A small Rhode Island software company is about to launch a product that promises to make many consumers’ dream come true.  Avenger Software Solutions will soon be releasing its Ouch! software for the iPhone and Android.  The app allows the user to send a surge of electricity to someone on the other end of a phone conversation.

Wolf Pascal, CEO of Avenger, described his company’s product to Fake News Network.  “The basic building blocks for Ouch! were taken from the WiTricity project at MIT.  What we’ve done is adapted this technology for use with cellular telephones.  We are able to draw electricity from the user’s mobile handset and send it wirelessly across the cellular grid.  When it reaches the person on the other end of the call, they receive an unpleasant, yet nonlethal electric shock.  The intensity of the shock is based on the remaining capacity of the user’s cell phone battery.”

In a related announcement, Avenger’s hardware division announced that they will be producing high capacity batteries for several smart phones.

Ouch! has drawn criticism from several telemarketer advocate groups, who fear that the software is unsafe at any speed.

“This software clearly has the ability to cause serious and permanent brain damage.  Avenger must be stopped at all costs,” commented an angry Graham Bell, head of the Center for Telemarketer Acceptance.

We spoke to Avenger’s head of testing, Frank Milgram.  He steadfastly refuted the claims made by Bell and his colleagues.  “Our testing has led to believe that there are absolutely no long term effects.  Would you like some coffee?  Our testing has led to believe that there are absolutely no long term effects.  Would you like some coffee?  Our testing has led to believe that there are absolutely no long term effects.  Would you like some coffee?”

While cell phone users will soon be reaping great benefits from Ouch!, the fact remains that the vast majority of telemarketing calls are made to landline phones.  Might a similar product make its way to landline users at some point?

“We’re definitely working on that,” replied Pascal.  “We have a prototype hardware device that could be attached to a landline phone.  However, at this point, we don’t feel that we could bring it to market at a price point that would be acceptable to consumers.”

Ouch! – coming to an App Store near you.

Brought to you by FNN – Feral, unbalanced.

A small victory

May 12, 2009

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Senators Charles Schumer and Mark Warner have announced that the FTC is close to filing a lawsuit against companies that use deceptive telemarketing techniques to sell extended car warranties.  Additionally, these companies are often in violation of the federal Do Not Call list.  I receive at least a few of these every year – interestingly, the representatives can never tell me what type of car I own.

I try not to get overly political in The Soap Boxers, but I ask you to contact your Senators and Representatives not only to voice your support for this lawsuit, but also to urge them to pass more stringent rules regarding telemarketing.  I have a couple of specific recommendations.  Feel free to suggest additional rules in the comments section.

A total ban on robo-calls and auto-dialing.  Many states already have bans on these computer-assisted techniques.  I would broaden this ban to include political calls.  If your message is important, hire a human to tell me about it and add some jobs.  If you can’t afford this, the your message really isn’t that important.

Impose stronger penalties for violations of the Do-Not-Call list.  Send some executives to prison.  Many telemarketers I speak to have no concerns about DNC violations, and a couple have feigned ignorance of it.  This must stop.

I hate telemarketers

April 11, 2009

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On Thursday, I was fighting a virus and trying to get some much needed sleep.  Thursday morning,  my sleep was disrupted three times by the phone.  The first call was from my dentist’s office, which had not received the message I had left the previous night, informing them that I needed to cancel my appointment.  I was OK with this disruption, as it was a legitimate call.  

The other two disruptions were from telemarketers, and I was not OK with those disruptions.

The first call was from some company promising to lower my credit card interest rate.  I have repeatedly asked these scammers not to call back and told them they are in violation of the “Do Not Call” list.  However, their business must be very profitable and allow them to easily pay the FCC fines, as they continue to call back.  How do I know that they are not affiliated with one of my credit cards?  One time in the past, I asked which bank they were affiliated with.  After evasive answers (“We represent Mastercard and Visa”) they were unable to name a specific issuing bank. 

The next call was from congressman Steve King of Iowa’s 5th congressional district.  Steve’s robocall wanted me to participate in a survey.  I didn’t stay on the line to determine what the survey was actually about.  I have a pretty good guess, though, and if I am correct, it is an issue on which I do not agree with Steve.

The more disturbing aspect of the call, however, is that fact that I am not in Steve’s district.  I am not even close to being in Steve’s district.  I am really not sure why he would waste his resources calling me.  I’m curious how Steve’s constituents would react if they knew that he was using the resources of their district to make annoying telemarketing calls to voters whom he does not represent, instead of focusing those resources on something that could help his district?  I’d bet that some of them would accurately deem this to be wasteful government spending.

Friday featured a lovely call from a lady who seemed quite clueless about the “Do not call” list.  She said that I wasn’t on their list, but that she would add us.  When I clarified that the DNC list was a list maintained by the federal government, she proceeded to treat ME like the idiot, asking what part of her comment I didn’t understand.  My further attempts to educate her were cut off when she hung up.  Seriously, we don’t actually have telemarketers who are unaware of the DNC list, do we?  Not surprisingly, no information was available via call ID.

What can we do about telemarketing calls?  First, I would eliminate the computerized “robocalls”.  Either pay to have someone staff the phone lines (creating jobs) or don’t bother making the call.

Second, force politicians to abide by the “Do Not Call” list, or create some other way to allow voters to opt out of these calls.  Political calls are the worst sort of telemarketing calls; why should they be exempt?

Note that some states have taken positive steps toward these two goals.  More states must follow.

Finally, I am in favor of charging telemarketers a fee for each unsolicited call they make (even those that are not forbidden by the “Do Not Call” list).  This fee would be credited to the account of the phone number that is called.  This would be a nice way to compensate people for the annoyance of the call.  If telemarketers feel that this would make their business unprofitable, then perhaps they could spend some effort targeting their audience more affectively, rather than using a “shotgun” approach.

TV Guide

February 3, 2009

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I got a phone call last night. Here is the gist:

Me: Hello?

TVG: Can I speak to Melonie?

Me: Who? [wanting to verify that I heard them correctly]

TVG: Melonie.

Me: Oh, you mean MeloDy. Is this a telemarketer?

TVG: No, I’m not a telemarketer. I’m with TV Guide.

Me: We’ll resubscribe when we feel like it.

TVG: Can you put her on the line?

Me: We will resubscribe when we get around to it.

TVG [in a demanding tone]: Just put her on the line.

Me [in an agitated tone]: No. You’re not going to tell me what to do.

TVG: OK, I’ll just call right back.

Me: If you do that, you’ll be in trouble.

TVG: Trouble? What kind of trouble?

Me: Yes. I’ll file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s office.

TVG: What sort of complaint?

Me: Harassment by means of repeated phone calls.

TVG [laughing]: How do you even know who I am?

Me: You already told me you were with TV Guide, moron.

[I hang up]

I’ll admit, the moron comment was unprofessional

However, let’s break this down the other side of the conversation.

1) Make an effort to get the customer’s name right.

2) This was the second call we have received in the last few weeks regarding our TV Guide subscription. It expires in August. When we got the first call, we told them not to call back – that we would just renew manually when it got close to renewal time. Yes, we understand that there may be a price increase in the future. We’ll take that risk.

3) Don’t demand to speak to someone in my household. You do not have the right to speak to them. If you’re a law enforcement professional, I will listen to your demands. If not, I’m going to decide who can or can’t talk to. That’s just the way it is – the person who answers the phone is a gatekeeper. (Note: I did know, for a fact, that my wife didn’t want to take this call. If this was the sort of call she would want to take, I would have given it to her, of course.)

4) Don’t lie about being a telemarketer. You’re trying to sell (market) a subscription renewal on a telephone. Tele + market = telemarket.

5) If you don’t think the FCC or AG’s office can track you down specifically, you’re wrong. Call logs (external as well as your employer’s internal logs) can be used to determine exactly which telemarketer made a specific call. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like getting nasty with a customer.

6) Oh, hey, guess what? In the course of this call, you managed to put a really bad taste in our mouth about TV Guide. Honestly, the product has gone downhill recently, anyway. The listings have gotten very generic (“NFL Game” instead of listing the teams, for example) and the new larger format of the magazine has been a change for the worse. The onscreen guide on our TV (free with our digital cable subscritpion) is considerably more accurate than TV Guide anyway. We plan to let our TV guide subscription lapse when it expires. My wife has been a subscriber for 10 years or more.

Golden rule of telemarketing: don’t annoy your existing customers.

This gets even better (worse)
They called again tonight.  When my wife said that we had asked them not to call again, the telemarketer’s response was “waa, waa, waa” (the sound of fake crying).

My wife was not rude and didn’t provoke this, so it was very bizarre and unprofessional.  How do these people keep their jobs?

I wrote up a nice 300 word summary of the problem and submitted it through TV Guide’s “contact us” function.  I suggested that they retrieve the call logs for calls made to our number and listen to them (if they record the calls).  I also suggested that firing these people might enhance the customer experience.

The chance of us renewing our subscription dropped from about 3% to 0.01%.

Soy Sauce

November 17, 2008

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I got a call from a telemarketer last week. It was one of those calls where you can chop the interest rate on your credit card. I decided to tell the caller that they were in violation of the “Do not call” list and that I would refer subsequent calls to the attorney general’s office – so I hit the button to talk to a human.

Then the call got weird.

I hear a woman in the background. “Can we get some soy sauce with that? A lot of soy sauce. We both like soy sauce. Can we get like ten each?”

The conversation goes on like this for a bit – clearly she is using her cell phone to order lunch while she is supposed to be answering calls. Eventually, my one year old daughter makes a sound in the background. The call realizes what has happened and focuses her attention on me in the only way possible.

Yep, she hung up on me. Hopefully this was one of those calls that is being recorded for training purposes.