Call Centres, Street Theatre, and Guys Named Bubba

The phone rings and I check Caller ID. There’s no name shown and I don’t recognize the number, but it’s a local call so I pick up the receiver. There’s a suspiciously long pause and then the line clicks open to that distinctive tinniness of jumbled voices in the background. Ah, my favourite: a call-centre call.

Before I can drop the receiver — my reaction times are off, I admit it freely — a voice speaks.

“Hello madam, this is A-One Duct Cleaning Services.”

Ah, the duct-cleaning calls: a sure sign that autumn is upon us once again. Never mind that Caller ID shows an Ottawa area code: These calls originate from India. That’s good news and bad news, I guess.

The good news is that if they were Right Here, they might be Right Down the Street and headed to my doorstep, like the annual spring infestation of asphalt-driveway-resealing crews. Over the phone, I am at least spared whatever the duct-cleaning equivalent would be of the amateur theatrics I get from two beefy, unshaven guys shaking their heads over the sad state of our driveway.

“I dunno, have you ever seen anything like it?”
“No, Bubba. It’s sure gonna give them some big trouble next winter.”

The bad news is that as a foreign business, A-One Duct Cleaning Services is apparently beyond the purview of our national Do Not Call List. My registration with that federal service is useless in this case: My only defence is to screen calls. If only A-One hadn’t thought of that. Dagnab it.

Displaying a different number than the one you’re actually calling from is beyond my telephonic skills: I admit it freely. It’s like something you’d see on TV’s NCIS, where sophisticated criminals use electronic relays or somesuch to prevent the call from being traced by computer experts working intently, nay, feverishly, to do that very thing. You know, exactly the way you’d work if your boss were inclined to slap you on the back of your head for any failure to meet expectations. (I have to say, the more I watch office shows on TV, the better my own office experience looks.)

But as seductive as it can be to get caught up in related but not entirely relevant thoughts . . .

The practical limits of our regulations
in this global environment . . .

The undeniable limits of my technical skills
in any environment . . .

And the regrettable tendency for unacceptable
management behaviours to become the norm
in too many environments . . .

. . . nonetheless, I must not delay any longer. Buddy is waiting for me to say something. And so I do.

“Thanks, we’re not interested.” And hang up quickly, without waiting for an acknowledgement. Not very polite: I admit it freely.

I used to engage a little longer and ask them to stop calling, but after taking 20 calls or so last year I now just stop the call. I still can’t quite bring myself to hang up without saying anything. For one thing, I know the caller is only trying to make a living. For another, I can’t be sure he doesn’t know someone local: someone named Bubba. So I try to stop short of being rude, just in case.

As I hang up, I wonder what these global call-centre-ers sell when it’s not duct-cleaning season, here or anywhere. When it’s not those few weeks of the year when the furnace fires up again after a long period of disuse and the aroma of toasted dust pervades the house.

But before I can explore this question in detail, I am interrupted. The phone rings and I check Caller ID. There’s no name shown and I don’t recognize the number, but it’s a local call.



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8 Responses to Call Centres, Street Theatre, and Guys Named Bubba

  1. Jim Powers says:

    I think the Do-Not-Call list has become a giant invitation to telemarketers.

    I let my machine answer all my calls. It’s more polite than I am.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim P – Letting the machine answer? There’s a country song in there somewhere. It makes me wonder what messages we might all leave for general consumption.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    I feel sympathy for the people who have to make these calls; I feel none for the companies who hire them. I wish there were some way to get past the call centres, so that my loss of patience could be communicated directly to the managers or directors who inflict cold calling on us.
    Jim T not Jim P

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T not Jim P – Yes, I know what you mean. It’s not a very happy business model, at any level. All I can see to do is not reward it. But it must be working well enough, or they’d knock it off.

      • I’ve heard they get a response rate of less than 2% — imagine calling 98 people before somebody is interested. It is too, too soul destroying for me not to have sympathy for them. Do they work on commission?

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – 2%? Good grief. I have enough trouble with a success rate of 1/3 on sales proposals (mind you, the effort is a bit more substantial). I guess that empathy is part of what goes into toning down my reaction to the actual caller.

  3. John and I each have a listing in the phone book (remember them?). Years ago telemarketers called by names & not numbers, ringing our number twice (different last names).

    One day, I answered the phone, and a young woman asked if we would like to get information about a pet cemetery. I said, no, as we didn’t have any pets, but good luck with her next call…

    I put down the phone and within a few seconds it rang again. I knew it who it would be. I said, in a disguised, menacing voice, “If this is about a pet cemetery…,” and before I could go on, she screamed and dropped the phone. The line went dead. I hope I didn’t kill her.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – LOL. Too funny. I also hope you didn’t kill her. The closest I have to that was getting my father’s name removed from the mailing list of charities he no longer wanted to support. I talked to several people, and then hit the same voice on back-to-back calls. So I asked whether she could fix all of them for me. Turns out not.

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