COLORADO SPRINGS, CO—Late in the afternoon, the warm, cheery sound of a ringing telephone fills the home of San Diego housewife Sandy Morris. "How are you doing?" asks the caller, her voice calm and friendly on the line. Pleased with the caller's good-natured, neighborly inquiry into her well-being, Morris warms to the conversation, and the two women quickly establish a rapport. Before the conversation ends, Morris has agreed to purchase a two-year membership in BudgeTravel USA, a discount-airfare club, for $129.95.
A typical suburban scene—or is it? According to a study released Monday by the Center For Marketing Ethics Research, a Colorado Springs consumer-advocacy group, telemarketers like the one Morris spoke to may not actually care how you are doing.
"Asking how the customer is doing creates a 'personal touch' that makes it more difficult and awkward for the person being called to hang up—it's that simple," CMER director Rupert Wardley said. "These people are not, as their employers would have you believe, actually interested in how the weather is where you are, or how your day is going, or any of the other conversational niceties with which they pepper their remarks upon initiating a telephone relationship with a potential customer. No matter how nice they seem, the fact remains that to them, the whole conversation is nothing more than a job. And it's a job with only one end goal—to make the sale."
CMER's report is sending shockwaves through the nation's telephone-using community, eliciting reactions ranging from outrage to stunned disbelief.
"I, for one, am simply at a loss for words," said Olympia, WA, resident Hope Skrepenak, who in the past year alone has purchased a discount-coupon booklet, an auto-service membership and a March Of Dimes charity raffle ticket from telemarketers. "I feel betrayed, emotionally. If we can't trust telemarketers to show genuine interest in our well-being, then how can we trust our families and friends?"
CMER's researchers said the shocking allegations are the result of over three years of extensive interviews with both customers and telemarketers alike. Among those interviewed was Jahil Neobab, an employee of the Queens, NY-based TeleNet Marketcorp International.
"I work for Mr. Mendoza five year," Neobab said. "He pay me six dollar hour, six day week to call numbers on list. I have sheet with what to say. 'How you doing?' first thing on sheet, then I ask question two, then sales pitch. If don't make sale, go to sheet number two. If sheet two no work, say thank you, hang up, call next number on list. Mr. Mendoza say I very good worker."
If CMER's claims are true, telemarketers like Neobab may in reality merely be mouthpieces, reciting information they did not write, making sales they do not care about, and—worst of all—calling people about whom they are not actually concerned.
"The telemarketers themselves are not to blame for the duplicity," Wardley said. "Barely employable and lacking any marketable skills, they are merely following the orders of their supervisors, who type out precisely what the telemarketers are to say ahead of time. Our research indicates that this occurs quite often—perhaps in a majority of cases."
According to Wardley, the telemarketers' feigned interest in how you are doing is largely motivated by their need to fill "quotas"—daily or weekly required sales totals a telemarketer must meet in order to remain employed. Worse still, he said, these quotas mean that when telemarketers are unsuccessful in making a sale, they are required by their employer to call somebody else—even though, in reality, they don't care how that person is doing either.
But despite the preponderance of evidence supporting the CMER findings, many Americans are refusing to accept the group's report.
"I've spoken to over 200 telemarketers, and they've all asked me how I am doing," said Mildred Carver, 84, of Pompano Beach, FL. "I don't care what anybody says, I know these callers care about me. It's something you feel in your heart. Laqueesha wouldn't lie to me."