One of the new-fangled tools that vendors of products and services employ these days is telemarketing. Few might realise that like time-share, medical transcription, online trading, flexi-time and debit cards, this has also been brought to our country by globalisation.
Telemarketers are very aggressive; it is difficult to shake them off. They are on the prowl all the time and seem to know when the prospective victim is at his most vulnerable. For, that is the time they choose to strike. It is thus that the unsuspecting victim engages the caller in a dialogue and ... well, one thing leads to another. Often, before you can say `telemarketing', you have agreed to part with a `green Gandhi' (this, we are told, is how the underworld refers to the Rs. 500 currency note) in exchange for an electric feeding bottle warmer.
As you open the parcel, your wife informs you that the principal of the upmarket school has consented to admit your only son to Class I in the next academic year. This is when you wake up to realising that in your most optimistic estimate, the first opportunity to put your newly acquired gadget to use would not arrive a day sooner than 2023!
A few people this writer knows have, over the years, developed their own devices to tackle the unsolicited and abhorred call. On realising that it is a telemarketer at the other end, you have other options than screaming `Oh! My God' and hanging up. The techniques referred to have been employed with varying degrees of success. Nevertheless, a caveat: none of them is a sure-fire remedy, because telemarketers are, as a class, a tenacious lot!
When Jose discovers that a telemarketer is at the other end of the line, he tells the caller he is busy at the moment and asks if the telemarketer would give him his home phone number. "I'll call you back late in the evening," Jose promises helpfully. When the caller explains that telemarketers cannot do this, he asks, "I guess you don't want anyone bothering you at home, right?" The telemarketer will agree and then Jose would say, "Me too!" and proceed to restore the receiver to its rightful place.
It is difficult to believe that the mild-mannered Bharathan used the trick he claims to have used. But, for record's sake, here it is. After the telemarketer had exhausted her spiel, he asked her if she would marry him. When the caller got all flustered, he told her that that the strict instructions of the credit card company were that you should not give your credit card number to a complete stranger. One way to get over the difficulty is for her to cease to be a stranger by marrying him!
Opinions might be sharply divided on the extent of sadism involved in the method adopted by R. S. Pillai. Depending on the time of the call, Pillai would say it is breakfast/brunch/lunch/high tea/dinner time, but would the caller hold. Pillai would then put the caller on his speakerphone, while he would continue to eat at his leisure. "Smack your food loudly, chew the drumstick, chomp on the meat, suck the marrow off the bones, and continue with your dinner conversation," he suggests. For added effect, clanging of cutlery and dishes is recommended. Though it is not polite to belch in public, Pillai says you could be pardoned if a telemarketer is within earshot, though in absentia.
Mohamed Yasin uses another sadistic tactic. He just says `No' over and over again. Be sure to vary the sound of each negation, and keep a rhythmic tempo, even as the other party is trying to speak. "This is great fun," assures Mohamed, "if you can do it until the caller hangs up." If it is a telemarketer of credit cards, it would be a brilliant idea to enquire whether a card would be issued to a person whose prayer for bankruptcy was being heard by the court next week, says a satisfied experimenter. This method is as effective as a cane for a child throwing tantrums.
If the caller says she is Jyoti P. Nair from XYZ Company, Kurien suggests, ask her to spell her name. Jyoti or Jyothi? Does she spell her surname as Nair or Nayar? Then ask her to spell the name of the company and describe its logo. Then ask her where it is located, how long it has been in business, how many people work there, how they got into this line of work. Continue asking them questions about their company for as long as necessary (Read, till Jyoti or Jyothi Nair or Nayar runs off to Siberia.) Ask them to repeat everything they say, several times, suggests Suresh. Tell them you are hard of hearing and that they need to speak up... louder... Louder!... LOUDER! L... O...U...D... E...R! You could also tell them to talk very slowly, because you want to write every word down. His brother Ramesh asks the unsolicited caller to fax the information, and gives the number of his former employer who gave him the unceremonious sack.
Like Alexander Fleming's invention of penicillin, it was serendipity that Saraswati Amma has to thank for developing her ruse. She got a call one morning and was greeted, "Is that you Amma? How are you today?" The voice sounded very much like her newly-married grandchild, now in Shimoga with her husband. The granny responded, "Ammu, it is your ammoomma. How dare you call me by name? But I'm so glad you called. No one these days seems to care, and I have all these problems. My arthritis is acting up, my eyelashes are sore, my cow Nandini just died.... " When the telemarketer could put in a word edgewise, she identified herself, but by then, a strategy was born!
A variant of this is to cry out in surprise, "Mohan? Is that you? Oh my God! Mohan, how have you been?" This may give Mohan a few brief moments of terror as he tries to figure out how you know him. Another avatar of this gambit is to insist that the caller is really your long-lost pal Arundhati from Kolkata, playing a joke. "Come on, Aru, cut it out! Seriously, Aru, how is aunty? And how's Doel doing in XLRI? And uncle?"
An eerie response to the caller from a company that cleans carpets would be "Can you remove bloodstains? Can you get out rabbit blood? How about human blood?" The efficacy is guaranteed, unless the caller watches X-files on the TV and reads Roald Dahl alone at midnight.
Lakshmanan has a bait that at least one telemarketer bit. He said he too worked for the same company in its Saharanpur office and was on leave for his sister's wedding. Lakshmanan can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo, but the telemarketer obviously did not want to carry coal to Newcastle.
So, the next time the telephone bell rings, and it rings for thee, what will be your ploy?