Dealing with Call Centers Gone Bad

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineThe majority of calls I receive are from people who want to sell me something I don’t want or need, so I’ve become adept at ending these conversations quickly. If they keep selling after I’ve given my terse “no,” I restate my disinterest, ask them to not call again, and then hang up.

My wife thinks I’m mean.

She’ll do her best to be nice even when a caller doesn’t deserve it. But then, my wife likes to talk. She can have a meaningful conversation with a wrong number.

For several months we received repeated calls for an offer to “claim our free local listing.” Sometimes the recording said the call is representing the mega company that promises to “do no evil,” and other times no company name was given. These calls arrived on a weekly basis, sometimes daily. After the recording, we could press one to claim our free listing, but there was no opt-out option. Sometimes I’d press one and ask the unsuspecting agent to add us to their do-not-call list. Usually, the agent would hang up. In retrospect, I wonder if my tactic just encouraged them to call back.

Recently the pitch changed to “lower your credit card rate.” The mode of operation, however, was the same: a recording with one option and no means to opt out.

My wife has made it her mission to end these calls. She presses one, and as soon as the rep answers, she says, “Don’t hang up!” Usually they do as soon as they realize she’s not interested in hearing their offer, though sometimes they wait until she asks to be added to their do-not-call list. That’s when they disconnect her.

Yesterday, the unthinkable happened. Not only did the rep stay on line to talk with my wife, they had an extended conversation lasting several minutes. I even overheard her laughing with the rep. When she asked to be added to their do-not-call list, he didn’t hang up on her – but he didn’t add her to their do-not-call list either. He said that he didn’t have access to it.

When my wife suggested that he transfer her to a supervisor who could access the list, he dismissed that option. He matter-of-factly stated that their supervisors are trained to hang up on people who ask to be removed.

That’s no way to run a call center – and she told him so, and then offered assurances that she wasn’t being critical of him, just his employer.

Before the call ended, he did suggest that the one sure way to stop the calls was to cancel our landline. I’m all for it, but my wife feels it’s necessary to keep it – I guess so more people we don’t want to talk to can call us.

Before they said their “good-byes,” my kind wife affirmed this young man and thanked him for talking with her. They joked some more and then ended the call. My wife was pleased over the interaction, but no closer to her goal of stopping further calls. I suspect we’ll hear from someone again before the week is over.

This column really isn’t just a rant about us receiving unwanted phone calls. It’s a reminder to all the ethical call centers who treat prospects with respect and service clients admirably: There are still some bad ones out there that disregard what’s legal and right. These despicable operations hurt us all, pulling down the entire industry with their tactics and providing a ready target for politicians eager to win support from the voting public. While many call centers operate with distinction and most do their best to perform quality work, a small minority places us all at risk, be it for more regulation or by perpetuating consumer ire.

I doubt if any of these bad call centers read Connections Magazine or even care about the harm they cause. But I suspect some of their employees may stumble upon this article, either in print or online. If so, I ask you to take action. If you can change your employer’s tactics, I urge you to do so. If you can’t change them from the inside, report them to the FCC or FTC. At the very least, find a new job, one where you can actually help people.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of  Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection Magazine September 2013]