All right, I give up. I’m a broken man — I held out as long as I could, but telemarketers have simply left me no choice. Today my home phone joined the 2.4 million other Australian numbers on the national “Do Not Call” register.

Call me naïve, but for a long time I thought I didn’t need to join the register. I shouldn’t have to, I reasoned: market forces would take care of it. Marketing organisations using outbound calling as part of their communications mix would be forced to improve by negative customer responses and competitive pressure.

So despite the relentless deterioration in the quality of calls, I’ve put up with the crap and I’ve offered constructive feedback.

I’ve agreed that I am Mr “Down-ez” (the Spanish branch of the family, perhaps) when no-one other than call centre operators ever seems to have trouble with my name.

I’ve coached badly-spoken and poorly-trained local callers with their appalling manners and scripts. I’ve warned others that they are probably in breach of the Trade Practices Act when they lie that they are “just doing a 30-second survey” and that they’re not trying to sell me anything.

I’ve refrained from getting angry with the charity callers who launch straight into the story of “little-Johnny-whose-one-dying-wish-is-to-meet-a-real-Test- cricketer” told at breakneck speed without pausing for breath, so I can’t decline without seeming like a heartless bastard.

I’ve given off-shore callers a chance to pronounce the name of the organisation they represent twice or even three times before regretfully telling them that I can’t understand what they’re saying.

But I was wrong. Telemarketers just got worse. The final straw was when they brought in the big guns… the Yanks.

Twice in 15 minutes yesterday I answered the phone to a recording of a gushing Californian female voice.

“Con-GRAT-choo-LAY-shuns. YEW’ve won a HAH-la-day at a re-zort of yur choice,” she said the first time (or words to that effect — it was hard to hear the last few as I slammed the phone down).

The second time, I didn’t even get any content: “Please hold the line for an important call,” was all she said.

Clearly we have passed the “tipping point” in the life cycle of telemarketing. Take 2.4 million numbers out of circulation, and it’s a fair bet that those remaining will get a greater number of calls. But with a smaller pool of prospects, instead of concentrating on increasing call quality to improve success rates, direct marketers are opting for even lower costs: more off-shore origination, poorer scripts and training, lower-grade technology and — finally — pre-recorded spiels.

Things are really crook when marketing organisations decide that prospective customers phoned in their own homes don’t even merit a real human being. In terms of sophistication and respect for consumers, this now ranks telemarketing right alongside email spam.

Stephen Downes lectures in the postgraduate advertising program at RMIT University and is a market researcher with QBrand Consulting.

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