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Essay

The Last Days of Telemarketing

Don't Blame Me for Interrupting Your Dinner

August 29, 2004|Denny Dormody | Denny Dormody of Glendale is a full-time telemarketer by day and comedy screenplay writer by night.

I've made more phone calls than you've had hot lunches. I'm a telemarketer. We may be living on borrowed time, but The Beast is not, and it probably will never be out of a job.

The Beast is an automatic dialer that calls three home phone numbers simultaneously. The Beast never tires. Never falls asleep. Never takes a paid vacation. The Beast senses the first home to answer the phone and connects the caller in a New York heartbeat. The two other home phone numbers will be called back soon. Very soon. But now, it's Showtime. It's pitch time.

The Beast has opened the door, which is all part of the telemarketing act. And if this isn't acting, I don't know what is. These are one-act plays with a script not written by Shakespeare. I slurp a Starbucks as I mute my headset microphone, gulp more air and do the next pitch. Scene I, Who: I'm calling to save the spotted aardvarks. Scene 2, the story pitch: We need more money. Scene 3, the conclusion or close: Can we count on you one more time? Whether it's charity fundraising, pitching home-repair appointments or subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal, it's all about ignoring the relentless rejection.

Hello, this is ... click. Hi, sorry to disturb your evening. Click. Mrs. Slowbotnick I'm calling from ... click. You couldn't buy this entertainment. I smile and dial. Click. Click. Click. I try not to take it personally. I don't want to be found back by the water cooler, sobbing in the fetal position.

Sometimes I sit next to Beth. Beth weaves magic with her sultry vocal styling. Beth is an artist. Mrs. Slowbotnick, this is Beth. The anonymity is broken. Beth is a real person with a real name. If you think I like to come in here and bother you on a Saturday morning, then you're mistaken. I'll be brief. Beth is assertive, a New Age woman. Mrs. Slowbotnick wishes she were Beth. Mrs. Slowbotnick, there's a spotted aardvark dying every 30 seconds. We know you're a great supporter of our animal friends, that's why I'm calling you. We don't just call anybody. The Beast has chosen Mrs. Slowbotnick from a database of maybe 30,000 animal people. Last time you donated $20. You've done this before. Let's do it again. Beth, the closer. Can you make it $30 this time? $35! That's wonderful, Mrs. Slowbotnick.

You know, I have to make over 200 calls today, and I pray that everybody is as pleasant as you are. (Now they're buddies.) Is that a dog I hear barking in the background? What's his name? Rasputin! What a charming name for a dog. (Now they're animal buddies.) You know it would help us out and would move your donation faster today if you could use your credit card. (One sister helping another.) What's better for you, Visa or MasterCard? The close.

Beth winks at me as she enters the 16-digit credit card number into the software bowels of The Beast. I know I'm in the presence of greatness. When she pitches Greenpeace, tears come to my eyes.

Between calls Beth keeps her pipes in tune with scat singing that sounds like Ella going for a Grammy. This is a tough gig and Beth's work songs help make the time pass as we labor on this modern-day electronic plantation.

The smiling and dialing are slowly being strangled by the juggernaut one-two punch of the national no-call list and other state codes and more pending legislation. But membership calls and office-to-office business calls are still fair game. We may be in the last days of telemarketing as consumers rise up to stop the calls, but you sitting at home, you see it only from your end.

From our end, in the search for new business, this is brutally efficient marketing. The Beast filters the most likely prospects according to demographics, past donations and homeowners most in need of home repairs. It's all about numbers. It's all about calls. Sometimes, more than 250 a day.

I like to think Beth and I have something working for us. Like style. Like substance. Pitching a great product like the Wall Street Journal or the National Park Foundation is pitching something good. I'm sorry, but most of the telemarketers interrupting your dinner are untrained amateurs--call today; gone tomorrow. Don't tar me with the same brush.

I smoke through the calls. The pay is relatively low. The most I've been able to make full time is a busy signal short of 40K. Still, I admire the tenacity of these wonderful actors, actresses, writers and working stiffs that make magic happen call after call. It's a great day job. I avoid the 405 gridlock and driving all over creation making sales calls. I let the technology do the door-knocking. It's all about business. It's all about feeding The Beast.

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