There is an escape from the clutches of a hawker
“Hello, is that Mrs Brooks?”
“No sorry – she hasn’t lived here for about nine years.”
“That’s OK, this isn’t a personal call. If I can just have a moment of your time…”
And so it begins: one of those irritating telemarketing conversations that makes you wish you’d picked up typhoid instead of the telephone.
Nineteen per cent of Australian households no longer have a landline, and something like a third of young Australians don’t set up a landline when they leave home to get their own place.
And is it any wonder, when nine out of 10 people who call home phone numbers these days are generally trying to flog you something?
I once shared a grubby flat in East London with an aspiring actor who eked out an existence with a telemarketing company while he waited for his big break.
He’d come home with hilarious horror tales of unassailable sales targets, outrageously rude ‘customers’ and days spent dosing at his desk behind dark sunglasses.
It’s his demoralised face I see whenever the phone rings during those telemarketing torture-hours of late afternoon.
It’s his wretched voice I hear when I’m asked to take part in some harmless survey I know will end with a sales pitch.
It’s his empty wallet I recall whenever I’ve thought about surrendering my phone number to Australia’s Do Not Call Register.
But with seven million numbers now registered – including just over half of Australia’s fixed line home numbers – my resilience is waning.
It seems the more others bail out, the more we suckers left in the system get targeted.
And someone, somewhere, has just unearthed an old telephone number database – because I’m suddenly being asked at least twice a day if I’m Mrs Brooks, who sold us the house back in 2003.
It’s OK if they’re polite. But often, they’re not. It’s OK if they take no for an answer. But increasingly, they don’t.
A few weeks back, I was asked to take part in a survey about the quality of Adelaide’s water. Recalling the wretched voice of my former London flatmate, I said yes.
At the end of the conversation, of course, I was entered into a free competition to win a “heavily discounted” water purifier. A week later, of course, I “won”.
So I tried to politely decline, saying I needed to think it over and would call if I decided to go ahead. (I happen to like Adelaide water, especially when I compare my healthy fluoride-fuelled teeth to those of my UK-raised husband).
The salesman insisted. And insisted some more.
The third insistence call went something like this…
Me: “I’m sorry but I’m really not interested.”
Him: “OK, but before you go can I ask why not?”
Me: “I’m happy drinking tap water. I’m not interested in a purifying system.”
Him: “But aren’t you worried about all the chemicals in the water?”
Him: Really? Wow – we don’t get that [italics] too often.”
His final two sentences were uttered with such disdain that I would have slammed the door in his face if he’d been a door-to-door salesman.
I should have let him have it. I should have told him how disgusting I think it is that water filter companies are allowed to peddle crap that would have us all believe Adelaide tap water isn’t fit for human consumption.
I should have said that telemarketers like him make me resent even the nice charity people who ring up selling lottery tickets (wish someone had told me these donations aren’t actually tax deductible).
I could have told him that phone calls should only ever be one way (from customers to suppliers) and Telstra is doing a huge disservice to its landline clientele – and ultimately, I’m sure, to its landline business – by not better protecting us from aggressive telemarketers.
But I didn’t. I thought about my London flatmate’s empty wallet and lamely said, “Oh well. Sorry,” before hanging up the phone.
Then I went online, to the Do Not Call Register, and registered my home and mobile phones.
Apparently it stops some, but not all, telemarketing assaults for five years.
The silence will be music to my ears.
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