How to Torture a Telemarketer

Listening to my husband on the phone with a telemarketer is like watching a cat play with a mouse. You know the outcome is inevitable, and you can clearly see the mouse dangling limp in the mouth of the satisfied cat. But the process—the swatting back and forth, the jabs, the pokes, the pins to the ground and the final capture—is yet to come. The cat could just pounced on the mouse and kill it in one swift blow. But no. The cat likes to show off, to have fun, to prey. In the same way, when a telemarketer calls, you could act swiftly by closing down the call with such statements as, “It’s not a good time,” “We’re in the middle of dinner,” or “I’m not interested in what you are selling.” Or you could just hang up. In fact, many people do just that when they are irritated by disruptive telemarketers who always manage to call at the most inopportune time. But not my husband. He doesn’t hang up. He is more like the cat. Just as many people enjoy cocktail hour before dinner, we enjoy our little ritual called Torture the Telemarketer.

I can always tell when there’s a telemarketer on the line, as my husband holds the phone in a sort of dangling way and listens intently to the pitch. And while he listens with such interest, they think they have the sale. But this is really just the first swat.

Then he repeats back what he has heard the telemarketer say, but in two seconds rather than a minute, and it sounds something like this, “So, if I understand you correctly, you want me to re-sign up for a service I’ve been extremely dissatisfied with for the last two years. Is that correct?” Dead silence on the other end of the phone. The jab.\

“And because you’re making a ‘special offer’ I should be pleased? Is that right?” I can hear the discomfort across the room and the caller scramble to recover. Does the telemarketer want to continue the call or hang up? Though their instinct may be shouting, “danger” they are well trained and plunge forward on automatic pilot. The poke.

Then my husband delivers the final tortured tutorial.

“Did you ever think of asking me if this was a good time for this call? Did you think of asking for permission to have this conversation? Do you have any idea of what is important to me? Do you know what I want?” The pin to the ground.

Then…the final capture:

“Let me take down your phone number so I can give you a call at home during your dinner and ask you a series of meaningless questions and talk to you at a speed you can hardly understand and try to sell you something you don’t want. What do you think about that? Now, would you like to start over or should we end this call now?”

The telemarketer’s response is always the same: “Have a good evening sir.” Click

And my husband is the only person on the planet who is actually offended when the telemarketer hangs up on him!

While you may think there’s nothing you can learn from a telemarketer, the fact is that they are giving a presentation via phone. So here is some advice for telemarketers (and everyone else for that matter):

  • Before giving your pitch, ask permission. A simple, “Is this a good time to talk?” is courteous way to begin.
  • Ask a few meaningful questions to uncover the customer’s needs and listen carefully to their responses.
  • Take a few deep breaths to calm your nerves, as any selling situation can be stressful.
  • Speak slowly and if reading a script practice until it sounds natural.
  • Take “no” gracefully. Don’t be pushy and keep trying to sell, sell, sell once the person has given you a clear answer.
  • Don’t take rejection personally. Although people may be annoyed to get a sales pitch when they didn’t initiate one, in the end they are rejecting your product or service, not you as a person.

Above all else, don’t call our house during dinner…unless, of course, you want to end up like the poor mouse dangling from the mouth of the hungry cat. Meow!