(Cold) Call me maybe
|July 30, 2012||Posted by Dan Peacock under satire|
Picture this: it’s a warm Tuesday evening and I’m relaxing in the bath with a nice book. (Okay – don’t picture it too much. Just enough to get the gist of the situation.) All of a sudden the phone rings. You might think that the normal reaction here would be to either a) ignore it, and stare determinedly at the words on the page until the noise goes away, or b) to frantically run downstairs in a towel and answer it, leaving wet footprints everywhere and, in accordance with Sod’s Law, picking the phone up a nanosecond after it stops ringing. You’d think these were the only two choices. No. Instead, I opt for c) say a naughty word very loudly. An overreaction, you might think, except that this is the third time the phone has rung in 20 minutes, which really defeats the purpose of a nice relaxing bath-read. Why is my family so popular, I hear you ask?
Let’s backtrack a little. The year is 2012 and somehow, somewhere, somebody has got hold of our number. The first time the phone rings and the man on the other end asks us if we’d like to invest in triple glazing, we politely mumble that we’re not interested and gently put down the receiver. Then it rings again. The days and weeks go by and the constant piercing sound of the telephone ringing echoes through the house. We’ve been cold-called.
Anyone who’s familiar with cold-calling will know how annoying it is. You’re cooking or eating tea, or sitting down to watch The Million Pound Drop, and the phone rings. Expecting a friend or relative, you pick it up only to find it’s Mr Patel from New Delhi trying to sell you some tornado insurance. Virtually everyone has had one of these calls, but when one of the big companies gets your number, you sure as hell know about it.
From what we can piece together, some telemarketing company has got hold of our number and then given it to some number of other telemarketing companies. Asking who is calling, please, offers a different answer every time, and therefore asking them to remove us from their database (something I’d hardly trust in anyway) is pretty much a null and void request in the grand scheme of things.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at one point we pretty much stopped answering the phone. At all. Ever. If you were near the phone, you lifted it a centimetre from the cradle and put it back down, like silencing a screaming victim. If you were upstairs, or just lazy, you let it ring. Sure, a real person might occasionally call, but the probability of it being a solar-panel salesman from Mumbai was so high as to not bother risking it.
We told friends and relatives not to call the house, to call our mobiles instead – and now we conclusively know that every time the phone rings, it’s Them. They (capital T), the all-knowing, all-powerful entity that knows exactly when you’re going to sit down with your dinner and cackles insanely as it dials your number again and again and again, watching you turning the volume up on Come Dine With Me and pretending not to hear it.
The phone rang during that last paragraph. It’s enough to drive a guy mad.
A short aside from the autobiographical tales of woe to make a serious point: how the hell do They make money from this? Surely everyone either puts the phone down or mumbles that they’re not interested? Who on earth replies with “Why yes, I was mis-sold PPI! Tell me more!”
My mother’s partner often works night shifts, so from the point of view of his body clock, the calls are often coming in at our equivalent of midnight through to 4am. Imagine that. How are They allowed to get away with it?
I used to remedy the ulcer-inducing rage by playing Them at Their own game. A favourite trick of mine was to nod and “uh-huh” through the standard introduction and then ask Them to tell me in more detail about Their company and what it is They were selling, before placing the receiver down gently on the table and walking away from the phone. I’m fairly sure this is the grown-up equivalent of playing hide and seek with a gullible child and never actually going to look for them.
Recently, though, They seem to have implemented an ingenious new method of calling that makes them even more teeth-grittingly irritating. (Speak of the devil: the phone just rang again.) The standard method, where the generic Indian call-centre worker sits on the phone and calls you, has been replaced by a computer system that methodically calls everyone on its database with the operators standing by should anyone pick up. From Their point of view, it’s much more efficient. From our point of view, though, we now have to endure about five seconds of silence, shouting “Hello? HELLO?” down the phone while the system puts an operator on the line for us. The sheer cheek of this absolutely staggers me. To call us up constantly and relentlessly, and then make us wait for Them to pick up? Objectively, it’s a work of genius; subjectively, it makes me want to hit things with a crowbar.
The pure bloody-mindedness of this new approach, though, quickly becomes apparent. By completely removing the human element from the call itself, They never get tired. Ever. Whereas a human call-centre worker would think after about 30 seconds of ringing, “They’re not going to pick up. Let’s try somewhere else,” the computer seems to have no concept of time. Which means it rings. And rings. And rings, until someone picks it up. The age-old method of Sit And Ignore It Until It Goes Away no longer works, and now we have to resort to actually going and picking the damn thing up to silence it before we go slowly insane like torture victims in Guantanamo Bay, driven to the brink of sanity by white noise on a loop.
Once, when I was alone in the house, the phone rang and I decided to conduct a little experiment to see just how long it would ring before some in-built program decided to disconnect. Surely, I thought, there must be one? Otherwise the phone would theoretically ring for hours on end, and still be ringing when we got in from work. I looked at the time on the little clock in the living room and waited. Waited. Soon a minute passed. Then another. By this point my ears were beginning to hurt. One of the cats was howling, unsure if they were being attacked by some shrieking demon. Three minutes. I found myself swaying in time with the rings and abruptly stopped myself. Insanity is a slippery slope. As the fourth minute loomed I broke and ran to pick up the phone. Holding the receiver to my ear, I heard… silence. Fucking silence. After a few seconds a thick Indian accent began the first syllable of “Hello” and the receiver found itself being slam-dunked back into the phone.
How is it legal for people to do this? How can They make a profit from paying hundreds of call-centre workers to sit on the phones when nobody ever buys anything from them – and more importantly, how do they sleep at night?
It’s a mystery, all right. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the phone’s ringing. I’m going to go and fix it with a hammer.