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April 20, 2006

A Quick Observation

Men, if you want to flummox a telemarketer, use the following words:

"I'm sorry, you're going to have to speak to my wife. She is the one who makes all the major financial decisions in the household."

I guarantee several seconds of silence as the telemarketer grinds his or her gears getting what passes for their brain around the concept that a man would say that his wife is the primary financial decision-maker in the house. Really, they just don't know what to do with that sort of information. Some of them (for example, the one who called me today) try to roll with it by saying "well, sir, I understand the importance of talking to your spouse..." and then try to get back onto the script. To which I say "No, you don't understand. She makes the decisions." And then we're back to stuttering and grinding. It's really kind of fun.

Want to know the irony? Some of them actually call back and ask to speak to Krissy. And in the rare case where Krissy actually asks for them to send some more information through the mail, you know what happens? The information comes addressed to me. And then it goes right into the trash, because if these people can't manage to address the person who makes the financial decisions, even after they've been told, why would we trust them to do anything right?

Anyway, endless fun. Try it sometime!

Posted by john at April 20, 2006 01:13 PM

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Ron | April 20, 2006 01:29 PM

That sounds even more fun than telling people who call on Saturday that I don't conduct business with people who would disturb my sabbath! I actually had one guy tell me, "But, sir, it's Saturday."

Shane | April 20, 2006 01:47 PM

I pretend I can't hear them, it drives them nuts.

Ian Mathers | April 20, 2006 01:48 PM

I used to work on the phones for my alma mater, and you'd be surprised how many times I experienced this. There are plenty of married couples (at least up in Ontario) where the wife makes these kinds of decisions, and I can't say it ever gave me much pause. I would just ask to speak to her.

As for addressing, that's a whole 'nother department doing that, and I hope they didn't screw the names up like that.

Steve Eley | April 20, 2006 01:48 PM

I've noticed that a lot of them say "Could I speak to the primary decision maker in your household?" or something like that.

I used to have fun messing with them with pure goofball lines. "I'm sorry, I can't take your credit card. The Galactic Council won't allow me to interfere with the economy of your planet." Or... "Life insurance? Don't need it. No, I mean I DON'T NEED IT. Ancient Egyptian curse. Long story. You don't want to know."

Lately, though, I've had less opportunity. We signed up for the national Do Not Call list, and it really has worked for us... Except for marketing surveys and political calls. The political ones are usually machines, so I can't throw down with them. The surveys, I don't even have to make stuff up. Just try explaining to the nice lady who wants to know your radio habits that you don't listen to the radio anymore, you listen to podcasts.

G. Jules | April 20, 2006 02:14 PM

Heh. Telemarketers still ask me if my mom and dad are home. (I used to tell them my parents were out, but they always called back.)

(I have a more professional phone voice for my work lines, really. But calls on my home landline are almost always telemarketers, or else my parents, who know who I am. I only keep the line because I have to to have highspeed -- everyone else uses my cell.)

Stephanie | April 20, 2006 02:14 PM

Another fun way to flummox them: ask them to mail you info on their product/service/whatever before you sign up for it. Them: "Well, ma'am, if you'll just confirm your address so I can get you signed up for the [thing], I'll be happy to mail you the [whatever]." Us: "Would you buy a car and then test drive it?" Them: "...."

Charissa | April 20, 2006 02:19 PM

You know, I've noticed that people have a hard time with women being the primary name on any official or financial document where a couple is involved. My boyfriend and I live together, and I handle all the finances. Every joint account we have is either in my name or has my name as primary contact, yet it seems like a lot of accounts mysteriously end up with his name first. Which is annoying only because mail tends to get addressed to him and he has an irritating habit of not opening his mail. In some cases, though, it's amusing, like the people from Chase, who sent us credit card offers and, because my name is first on the mortgage, mine got addressed to "Mr". Heh.

Brandon | April 20, 2006 02:28 PM

Because my name is hyphenated, and a combination of German and Polish at that, the odds that a telemarketer will be able to pronounce my name correctly are pretty much nil. So, when they ask for Mr. (insert butchered name here) I truthfully tell them that that person doesn't live here. Tee-hee-hee.

darren | April 20, 2006 02:46 PM

My wife and I have a little skit set up for male telemarketers. I start yelling that I suspect the guy on the phone is her extramarital lover. We then make slapping noises as though I am beating her, then I growl in the phone that I know where you live you SOB and I'm coming to kill you. Then hang up. Fun for the whole family I tell ya.

Mike | April 20, 2006 02:52 PM

I actually used to work as a telemarketer for a while years ago. (I was evil back then.) I got an idea from an older gentleman I actually got on the line. He was old and lonely, and went on an on telling me about his prostate problems. When I get a telemarketer on the line now, I will tell them I can't go get the credit card, etc. because I'm in the bathroom because "I have a prostate as big as a grapefruit." (Actual quote from the old guy.) I love hearing the suppressed laughter on the other end, or the completely uncomfortable silence as the drone looks for a script page to deal with this.

diddidit | April 20, 2006 03:04 PM

I generally handle the money in our house, but my wife does an annual contribution to her alma mater. That contribution was put in deep jeopardy when they started addressing things to her as Mrs. diddidit. There were a couple of insistent conversations with what was almost certainly a bewildered freshman on a work-study program before mail started to actually come in her name.


Jon Marcus | April 20, 2006 03:47 PM

Great, I'm gonna try telling the next telemarketer that Krissy Scalzi makes the financial decisions in my household.

Of course I might run into a little trouble with my wife, who actually makes those decisions. John, you think it's tough getting that through to a telemarketer? Try explaining that your wife has a different surname. That reduces the chance of properly addressed mail to something less than infinitesimal.

kevin r | April 20, 2006 03:54 PM

If I say more than two sentences to a telemarketer, I consider it a failure.

When I had a dialup modem back in the old days (you know, when I lived in a shack and it was always winter and wherever I went I had to walk uphill both ways), and they asked to speak to [whoever], I'd say "Just a moment", set it down, and have the modem pick up, treating them to the sweet sounds of a modem handshake.

Lis Carey | April 20, 2006 04:22 PM

"I'm on both the federal and state (Massachusetts) Do Not Call lists. You're breaking the law."

When the state Do Not Call list first went into effect, somewhat before the federal one did, I got a few calls from idiots deliberately testing the robustness of the law and the gullibility of those on it, with convoluted arguments about why they were supposedly exempt. The MA AG is a grumpy coot; it stopped fairly quickly. Now, even if I get a call from some organization that really is exempt, they still apologize and offer to put me on their Do Not Call list.

handdrummer | April 20, 2006 04:52 PM

I tell telemarketers in an anguished voice that the person they have called is dead. Usually works quite well.

Roger Victoria | April 20, 2006 04:59 PM

It sounds like not much has changed. My mother decided that she needed to get her name as the primary or solo on all of the accounts. She would send an application in with her name and no mention of my dad/her husband. Dad's name would magically appear. Both of them got a little frustrated since they were looking ahead to the real possiblity that mom would outlive dad and she needed a credit history.

anghara | April 20, 2006 05:07 PM

Heh. I AM the wife who makes the financial decisions...

If I say "no", I mean no. ANything that comes beyond that, if it isn't "thank you, goodbye" will get the phone put down on it in mid-stream. I mean no. Go away.

My favourite was the one who, back when I was working freelance, left a name and a phone number when I was out. Just that, a message. Well, I didn't recognise either, but I was freelancing and this might have been a potential client. SO I called back. This woman says, "Oh yeah, you weren't home so we left a message. We are a charity that..."

Cold-calling is bad enough. But making me CALL YOU BACK so that you can troll for money is beyond the pale. I asked her for the precise name of her organization and then told her that the reason I wanted it was to make ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that I never donated anything to them, even by mistake.

John H | April 20, 2006 05:36 PM

I just let everything go to the answering machine - if it's someone I know, or more precisely, if it's someone I want to talk to I will call them back.

But if I did answer my phone I would definitely use this. Especially since I'm single.

"The wife makes those decisions"

"May I speak with your wife?"

"I'm not married."


Mris | April 20, 2006 06:07 PM

Them: "May I please speak to Mr. Mark Gritter?"
Me: "What's this in regards to, please?"
Them: "This is a courtesy call."
Me: "Then please have the courtesy to tell me what it's concerning."
Them: ...
Me: "Is it a business matter or a personal matter?"
Them: ... [while they try to figure out which]
Me: "Because I'm his wife, and I'm the person in charge of the household finances, so unless you work for his employer or a related concern, I'm the person you want to talk to."
Them: ... "Can you tell me when he'll be home?"
Me: "He's home right now."

Sigh. That always makes their heads explode, but how hard is it, really? not to pass off the phone to someone who would just have to pass it back?

Smurf | April 20, 2006 07:16 PM

I like blowing my referee whistle into the phone on the SOBs.

If I'm feeling less sadistic, I just say "hold on...let me get my Mom." I then just leave the phone off the hook for like a half hour.

Smurf | April 20, 2006 07:16 PM

I like blowing my referee whistle into the phone on the SOBs.

If I'm feeling less sadistic, I just say "hold on...let me get my Mom." I then just leave the phone off the hook for like a half hour.

James Cooper | April 20, 2006 07:27 PM

I read an article some time ago reporting that while most telemarkers will assume the male head of the household is the financial decision maker the target of most of their advertising will be to the female head of the household. Initially it seems like the product of outdated conditioning and stereotypes but the article went on to say that marketing agencies spend millions yearly researching the effectiveness of working by those assumptions.

It probably still does come down to conditioning and stereotypes, but as long as the research keeps coming back the same I expect the telemarketers will keep expecting the men to handle the money and the women to be easy sales. In the meantime, attempting to flummox the telemarketers is an occasional source of prime entertainment.

Shane | April 20, 2006 08:29 PM

Another thing I like to do involves a cheap Emerson phone -- model EM2248. It's a lousy phone, I can't hear through it about half the time. It's main advantage is that it has music-on-hold. It contains a sound chip that plays an electronic version of 'Fur Elise'. Just a few bars, over and over, badly. Unfortunately, it plays through the speakerphone at the same time. However, this can be dealt with by turning the speakerphone volume down.

Mary | April 20, 2006 11:40 PM

I did market research off and on in university, with the best stint EVER being the two weeks in the summer where we abandoned our phones and were vanned from house to house to do a beer survey.

Beer survey. In Toronto. During a glorious summer.

We were the best loved people in the country, I think, as we entered almost every house where someone nineteen or older was home. They invited us in with huge smiles, sipped one of the two unlabelled beers in the brown cordoroy bag, nibbled crackers to cleanse their palette, sipped the other beer, then patiently and eloquently responded to the 10 page questionnaire.

Going back to the office to ask people about breakfast cereals just wasn't the same after that.

Malcolm Tredinnick | April 21, 2006 12:53 AM

Each time you post about interactions with telemarkerters, John, I keep wondering the same thing: do you really get so much value out of the services offered that it is worth the interruption? I work from my home office and whilst I don't mind phone calls of relevance (such as people offering me work), the interruption and general waste of time that results from a telemarketer call drives me up the wall. And I suspect I (living in Australia) do not get anywhere near the number you do.

So are you just maintaining the necessary good humour, since you have to answer the phone anyway? Or has life with random marketing people on the telephone been a net gain for you? I suspect the latter, since you ask them to call back and you don't seem to have a suicidal "make life unpleasant for Krissy" bent.

John Scalzi | April 21, 2006 12:59 AM

Malcom Tredinnick:

"I suspect the latter, since you ask them to call back and you don't seem to have a suicidal "make life unpleasant for Krissy" bent."

Well, the large majority of them I say "not interested, don't call back." In this particular case it was for a service I know Krissy was interested in, so it was worth telling them to try to reach her. It's a pick and choose thing.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little | April 21, 2006 02:24 AM

Not exactly cold-calling, but has anyone else experienced the telemarketer-like creatures associated with magazine subscription retention?

Now, I just wanna make clear, I am not blaming Realms of Fantasy for the interaction I am about to describe. I'm fairly certain it's merely the unsavory sort-of-strong-arm tactics of whoever they contracted to track down lapsed subscriptions. I *heart* RoF, OK? But this...

Well, see, I'd decided I wasn't keeping up with reading it, so I let my subscription lapse. So then I get this phone call:

"Yes, we're calling about your past-due subscription. You owe $X.XX--would you like to pay that now by credit card?"

"Er. Owe? I signed up for one year. I paid for one year. I did not ask for or pay for a second year. What exactly do you think I owe?"

"Well, we show you as still receiving the magazine--"

"Yes, and that puzzled me, because my subscription lapsed."

"Well, if you'll just give me your credit card number, we'll get you up and running again--"

"No, no, no. I let it lapse on purpose. I decided that I no longer wanted to subscribe, OK? When did this become an opt-out procedure? If y'all keep sending me magazines even though I didn't ask y'all to, that doesn't mean I suddenly owe you money for them."


"Look, when I want to resubscribe, I'll call you. Not the other way around, OK? Goodbye."

So what I want to know is, is this standard procedure for magazines in general, or at least for the calling centers they contract to call you up? Treating you like you've accrued debt when all you did was decide not to buy in for another year? Beginning to send you magazines as if you'd signed up for another year, even though you didn't ask them to do so, and then telling you that you owe them for it? Whassup-wit-dat?

Petter Hesselberg | April 21, 2006 03:02 AM

The Norwegian government is considering a complete ban on telemarketing (link to Norwegian-language page). It sounds too good to be true, though; I don't really expect it to happen.

At any rate, these no-call lists have it bass ackwards. A much better approach would be a please-call list, which you'd actively have to sign up for. (And as a happy side effect, this would probably kill off the telemarketing industry for good.)

Euan | April 21, 2006 04:58 AM

@Nicole (and apologies for dragging the thread off-topic)

I also had an irritating experience with the subs dept of RoF. I asked for the free sample from the website, filled in the subscription form that came when the magazine (finally) arrived, then sat back and waited.

Then the overdue notices started arriving. Each one I sent back (on my own dime as the prepaid postage doesn't cover international mail) with my cc number. I *wanted* to subscibe. But the overdue notes kept coming, and getting more and more strongly worded. So I started emailing--and still got no response.

I finally managed to get through when Douglas Cohen emailed me to say that he was sending one of my stories on to Shawna McCarthy. (It fell at the last post--damn you, cruel fate!)

Apparently, not only had asking for the free issue put me in RoF's debt, but they then wouldn't listen when I wanted to give them money!

Mind you, I got my second issue of RoF today, and they managed to get the address right--which is more than F&SF managed to do; they ended up sending most of my issues to a random address. It was in Thailand--they got that much right--but where they got the rest from, I have no idea.

Anthony Cunnigham | April 21, 2006 05:48 AM

Way back when I set up home with my then fiancee the phone was registered in her maiden name. People used to phone up and ask if they were speaking to Mr. Milner. That was a dead giveway that it was a sales call and my clue to bail.

BTW, any update on if/when OMW will be available in the UK?

David Klecha | April 21, 2006 07:00 AM

Do I get extra Karma points if it's actually true?

John Scalzi | April 21, 2006 07:53 AM

Anthony Cunningham:

"BTW, any update on if/when OMW will be available in the UK?"

I do believe Tor is in some sort of discussion with a UK publisher. Tor own all English rights to OMW, so the rights go through them in this case. I will of course let you all know as soon as I do. I do think the Hugo nom might help in this case to convince a UK publisher to give the book a try.

Brian Greenberg | April 21, 2006 01:12 PM


If I didn't know you went to the U. of Chicago, I'd accuse you of plagarizing this. In what is perhaps the most popular course at the University of Pennsylvania, entitled "Managing People," a professor named Charles Dwyer (one of those "should have been a stand-up comic, but was too smart" professors) spends around 20 minutes discussing tele-marketers, and ends the discussion with *exactly* what you just suggested.

I know it's very satisfying to assume that these people are sexist idiots who can't fathom the idea of a female making the financial decisions, but that's (probably) not what's going on. These folks are typically young, inexperienced workers (how much do you think telemarketing pays?) who are reading directly from a script. Not only that, the script literally has a decision tree printed on it. If they ask you a Yes/No question (e.g., "Are you happy with your long distance service?), there's a line that says Yes on it which points to the next question, and one that says No that points to a different question. If you say, "I don't know, my wife handles all of that," they literally have nothing to say to you. And since these scripts are meticulously worked through by the marketing firm, they are strongly discouraged (sometimes to the point of being threatened with termination) from saying anything that's not on the script.

So you've unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly?) put them in a situation where the script has nothing for them to say, and they risk getting fired if they say anything that's not on the script. They're young, inexperienced, and now terrified.


Shawn Struck | April 21, 2006 04:19 PM

I think it's awesome that telemarkets are still an accepted group to be jerks to!

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little | April 21, 2006 05:45 PM

Heh, Euan, if we collect a few more stories like ours we'll get "The incompetent marketing subcontractors with strangely abusive policies, and the brilliant magazines that hire them" on Oprah. Or Ellen. Or something.

gordsellar | April 21, 2006 07:29 PM

Huh, amusingly enough here in Korea the woman in a couple is expected to be the one who makes the ajor financial decisions, or, at least, the one who manages all the money on a day-to-day basis. When I buy dinner, they *always* give the change to my girlfriend.

Of course, I flummox telemarketers by simply answering the phone in English. Problem is, I flummox most other Koreans by doing the same. (Fortunately, most of the "telemarketing" that hits my cell phone is SMS message spam, and clearly marked as such so it can be deleted on arrival.

Branko Collin | April 21, 2006 07:31 PM

"If you say, "I don't know, my wife handles all of that," they literally have nothing to say to you."

And so the decision they then take of what to say will show more clearly than anything else whether they are sexists or not.

mythago | April 21, 2006 07:33 PM

Eventually you're going to get one who addresses stuff to your wife.

The amusement value of harassing telemarketers is not worth the time investment; better to just say "Not interested, thanks" and hang up.

David Goldfarb | April 22, 2006 02:26 AM

At work we often get calls from people trying to sell phone service of various kinds. I recently got fed up with them, leading to the following dialogue:

Me: Image Graphics, this is David, can I help you?
Telemarketer: I'd like to talk to the person in charge of your SBC Telephone account.
Me: We don't have telephone service.
T'marketer: ...
Me: [takes the opportunity to hang up.]

Dane | April 22, 2006 01:34 PM

I hand the phone to my four year old son. He is by far the most reliable decision maker regarding the products and services offered through telemarketing. By the fourth time he asks them their name and tells them about his favorite hotwheels car, they hang up.

Rhyna | April 23, 2006 09:18 PM

I'm currently doing telesurveying and worked on telemarketing before and I've never had any problems with being told that the lady of the household is in charged - got that response the first day I was on the job in fact.

I've found that men are slightly more likely to hand the phones/decisions to their wives than vice-versa. Furthermore, women are generally more likely to answer the phones anyway because there are still more stay-at-home moms than stay-at-home dads. I'm actually more likely to assume that women are the financial head of house since many cultures (I live in a very multicultural city) have women looking after the household finances.

I'm honestly puzzled about how anyone is struck dumb by the fact that the woman makes the decisions.

Nick Kiddle | April 24, 2006 10:36 AM

I'm legally Miss Kiddle, and my dad is Mr Kiddle. So I assume anyone who phones up asking for "Mrs Kiddle" must be a telemarketer too stupid to get the name right and say "There's no Mrs Kiddle here."

Of course, this causes hilarity when it's actually someone who has an existing business relationship with my dad and guesses that I must be his wife, or, as happened the other week, when the doctor's receptionist guesses that my daughter's mother must be called Mrs Kiddle (these day, how is either a safe assumption?)

Demented Michelle | April 24, 2006 10:58 AM

My husband and I have taken to speaking Slovak whenever a telemarketer calls.

I'm not a native speaker, so I'm limited to the phrases I know best, which are, of course, the swear words.

Since Slovakia was historically an agricultural state, most of their profantiy centers on doing things with farm animals. Primarily with goats.

I'm kind of sorry the telemarketers don't understand Slovak.


Buck | April 24, 2006 02:00 PM

My Mom lives in a senior citizen's apartment building, and she says that telemarketers frequently target the whole building. She's in her mid-70s and sharp as a tack, but puts on a feeble and confused voice and says, "My children make all my decisions for me." She said that it's generated a marked decrease in the number of calls.

John | April 25, 2006 05:41 PM

In fact, I have a much funnier piece on dealing with telemarketers, which I will post one day (my blog is thetroublewitheverything). But, everyone misses the mark: that telemarketer is just some sap in a low paying job trying, in the words of the eloquent GW Bush, to "put food on his family." Why not dream up some delicious revenge/nuisance tactics against the companies doing atrocious and annoying telemarketing... I don't know... Mail them a giant sequoia, without sufficient postage... Send them a voodoo representation of their company with a big pin in its ass... Find out the names and phone numbers of the company president, VP and so on, and call them at 2 a.m.

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