Thursday, June 30, 2005

If You’re Selling Something, Say So

[rant on]

I’m going to gripe about something that’s been bugging me for years. Why now, all of a sudden? my half-dozen readers may ask. Well, mostly because it happened again this morning.

A bit of background first: the phone line I use doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to a dear friend of mine, whom I’ll call Zahava because she has a heart of gold, and is listed under her name. I’m just babysitting it until she and her husband come back to Israel—soon, I hope.

Since I use a phone line that’s not listed under my own name, it is easy to tell the telemarketers apart from those who have actual business with me. Whenever I answer the phone, as soon as I hear the telltale click of a receiver being picked up on the caller’s end and a professional voice, usually female, asking to speak to Zahava Gavrieli [not her real surname either], I can be reasonably sure that it’s a telemarketer. Once the caller gets a second or two into her script and I am satisfied that it’s not a legitimate message for Zahava, I give her my own little spiel: “I don’t donate/make purchases/join organizations over the phone. Good luck, and shalom.”

But it seems that one company’s sales writers are a bit more clever than that. Here’s how the conversation went this morning:

Rahel: Hello?

Telemarketer: Hello, is this Zahava Gavrieli? I’m calling to offer you a free examination of your water to test for metals. Our technicians are in your city today, and these are the times we’re available ...

(I confess I don’t remember the exact wording. But this was different from the usual sales spiel in that it actually sounded like an official call from a utility company, much like the notice from the gas company that I recently received—and promptly obeyed—to have my cooking gas system inspected. Still, one can never be too careful.)

R [suspicious]: Just a moment, please. Are you selling something?

T: No. We’re offering a free examination of your water system. Your water system may contain metals. What time would you like our technicians to come to your home?

R [even more suspicious]: That’s all this is? Just an examination? You’re not a company selling a product?

T: No. We’re just offering to test your water system, and then we will give you a consultation based on the results.

A consultation. Suddenly, dawn broke. I guess two straight days with a temperature had done a bit of a number on my memory, but I suddenly realized that I had gotten this exact same call a year or two ago, and in a flash I knew what was going on.

R: Oh, just a moment, I remember now. You sell water filters, don’t you? You offer to test people’s water and then you sell them water filters based on the results. Right?

T [sounding disappointed]: Yes.

R: Oh, so you are selling a product, then. Well, I don’t buy anything over the telephone. Good luck, and shalom.

I think that being rude to telemarketers is inexcusable, and I’m not at all amused by the supposedly clever but actually mean-spirited remarks some people seem to delight in making to them. After all, telemarketers are people trying to make a living, and based on the little I know of such companies, most of their workers earn low wages for performing a boring, difficult and thankless task, and are there pretty much because they have to be. So why add insult to injury? In my opinion, that’s just cruel.

At the same time, I prefer honesty. If you’re selling something, say so. If you try to hide the fact that you’re selling something until you’re inside my home, performing a test which is really nothing more than a sophisticated sales pitch meant to prove that I need your product (thus casting doubt on the integrity of your water examination even if it happens to be accurate), you will not win my respect nearly as easily as you would if you told me up front that you had a product for sale. I do understand that people need to earn a living, but I don’t look kindly on deception.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter all that much, because I don’t donate, make purchases or join organizations via telephone. Good luck, and shalom.

[rant off]

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