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“I am Calling from the Windows Department”: #Telemarketing Basics

November 28, 2011

Now that I’ve got my own business, I’m spending a lot more time working from my home office – and spending a lot more time fielding telemarketing calls, including plenty of dodgy ones.

The one thing these calls have in common is that the agent making the call is usually not very well briefed, and isn’t prepared to handle a wide variety of responses or scenarios that might eventuate. There’s a good reason for that – they are probably only after the poor sucker who swallows every word uttered as the truth.

However, the scammers might be more successful if they were prepared for the conversation to take a different course to the one they expect.

One call I got last week is one of my favourites (I’m taking some liberties with the transcript – shortened for illustrative purposes) –

“Am I speaking with Mr Aungle?”


“Excuse me sir, I am calling from the Windows Department. We have been notified that your computer has a security problem.”

“Really? How did you receive this notification?”

[At this point, we already have a problem with the direction the conversation is taking. The agent relies on repeating the original message.]

“Well, I am calling from the Windows Department. We have been notified that your computer has a security problem.”

“OK – but what sort of security problem was reported?”

[Now I’m starting to have a bit of fun, and I figure that the longer I can keep the person talking, the less time they have to scam someone else. Again, the agent has no option but to repeat the same story.]

“Well sir, we have received a report that your computer has a security problem.”

“Sorry – What was the company that you said you were calling from?”

“I’m calling from the Windows Department.”

[Wow – that doesn’t even sound like a company. After a few more attempts to get past me, the agent abruptly hangs up.]

For what it’s worth, putting a more developed telemarketing script in the hands of the agents might lead to a better success rate for the scam. That said, the business plan behind the scam is probably based on targeting only the most gullible, so I’m sure in the script it says “if the person seems even vaguely to know what he/she is talking about, hang up immediately!”

I did receive a second, slightly less dodgy telemarketing call last week. Again, here’s an edited transcript of what took place:

“Good morning, I’m wondering if you can spare a minute to answer a short survey on your children’s education.”

“Maybe. Can you tell me what the survey is for?”

“We’re doing the survey to gather information so that we can improve the education services your children are receiving.”

“And who are you doing the survey for?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Who commissioned you to do this survey?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

[At this point, warning bells are going off everywhere. Here’s somebody ringing people up for a survey, and they don’t understand the basics of how legitimate surveys are usually conducted.]

“Are you doing this on behalf of the government, or a private organisation?”

[Not great, when the person you are calling starts to give you help.]

“The survey is for A Better Chance for Kids.”

“What is that – a government organisation, a company or a charity?”

“A Better Chance for Kids is helping to improve the education services your children are receiving.”

“No thanks – I don’t want to be part of your survey.”

[Call ends.]

Now, that might have been a legitimate call from a not-for-profit or a government organisation, and I gave the agent plenty of opportunity to convince me.  However, at no point did I feel confident that I knew what organisation (if any) the caller was representing. Also, some of the really basic stuff that most people in the community know – that surveys are usually commissioned – should have been factored into the scenarios in the telemarketing script.

OK – so these two calls are at the extreme end of bad telemarketing practice, but it’s scary to think how successful scam telemarketing calls might be with a little more thought and effort put into developing a range of scenarios to ensure that the calls continued on the path towards their original goals (whatever they might be – I’m not going to be the one to find out!)

The moral of the story is, if you are trying to increase the success rate of a telemarketing campaign (hopefully an above-board one!), make sure that you:

  • Spend more time and effort up front in fine-tuning your telemarketing script;
  • Cater for as many potential scenarios and conversation paths as you can; and
  • Train your agents on the script, so they are confident in their responses and keep the conversation on track towards the call’s ultimate goal.

(Pictured: “B&W – Classic Telephone”, lioliz, available under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.)

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