15 July, 2003

Rise of the Telemarketers

Brace yourselves people: the post-apocalyptic world of Terminator or Planet of the Apes is on the way. And what will be the downfall of humanity? Hyper-intelligent computers? Nuclear war? A third installment of "American Idol"? Nope. The newly enacted national do-not-call list.

That's some pretty heavy stuff.

The problems are compounded, Searcy says, when you consider the kinds of people telemarketing attracts. The industry hires an unusually large number of single mothers, people who are just getting off welfare programs, and people with physical disabilities; and most of its call centers are in rural areas, places where jobs are already scarce. When telemarketers lose their jobs, they'll have a hard time finding something else.

"There are towns where the largest single employer is a telemarketing firm," Hamilton says. "The local McDonald's only needs 10 or 15 burger flippers. It can't absorb thousands. Where are all those other people going to go? They're going to go on welfare."

First sign of trouble: An increase in the number of single, crippled mothers from rural areas on the welfare rolls.

And while one is loath to defend them, these faceless, fast-talking people who call us during dinner, perhaps it's time someone did. Telemarketing isn't a crime. It's a profitable business responsible for legitimate employment. Yet it's just been regulated out of existence, and the country is applauding.

So is the tabacco industry. I also don't want people blowing smoke in my face.

Bulmash is right: The industry does see us as a source of revenue, but that's probably because we are, despite our complaining, rather too quick to buy stuff over the phone. On average, says Searcy of the American Teleservices Association, an American household makes three purchases per year in response to sales calls.

Amazing what you can do with averages. What they don't mention is that in reality, it's actually twenty households buying all of this crap.

The national do-not-call list, however, will destroy the industry -- everyone in the telemarketing business seems to agree with that assessment. Experts provide various theories about why this will occur, but the fundamental reason seems to be this: Americans think they don't like telemarketing calls, but they're wrong. Americans believe they want to be on a do-not-call list, but their past actions -- namely their purchases -- betray their true feelings. The FTC says that the do-not-call list is justified because it merely gives people a choice over whether they'd like to receive sales calls; according to that theory, the people who actually do buy things from telemarketers won't add their numbers to the registry, and the industry will not suffer at all. But that analysis is faulty, the industry says. In the abstract, everyone hates to be sold to -- you hate it when commercials interrupt your favorite TV show, you hate the "intrusive" ads displayed on your favorite Web site, you hate being handed pamphlets on the street, and you hate being called by a telemarketer who promises "a fantastic deal."


The national do-not-call list, says Hamilton, makes it exceptionally easy for Americans to exercise a choice that they probably cannot make rationally.

Or, to sum up: Consumers are stupid. They will do as we say. It does not matter they think they want, we know what they really want.

If you don't care about the plight of these workers, there may be one other reason for you to consider putting up with the annoyances of telemarketing -- it probably makes many services cheaper for you. If companies that currently market their services over the phone are forced to now get to you in another, costlier way, there's a chance that the price you pay for goods and services will edge up slightly.

SWEET SASSY MOLASSY! The price I pay for goods and services might edge up slightly. Quick, tell Congress to start repealing laws!

What Bush did not mention, though, is that under the new regulations, he and every other politician will still have the right to call you whenever they want to ask you for money or votes.

Shit, he can call all he wants. Ain't gonna get a dime of my money...well, outside of the money the gov't fleeces from my pockets.

Anyways, go ahead and read Chicken Little's Farhad Manjoo's article. It's most entertaining.

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