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If It Was My Call, I Wouldn’t

June 2, 2011
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‘No thanks, not interested.’

Believe it or not, those words can be music to the ears of a market research telephone interviewer. It’s so much more pleasant than a gruff ‘What do you want?’ or a strident ‘Do you know what time it is?’

Yes, I know what time it is. I’m sitting in a fluorescent-lit office at eight pm while you’re cozy at home. I didn’t choose to call you at your dinner time just to ruin your evening. In fact, I didn’t choose to call you at all. The automatic dialer chose to call you because your number was next in a list of thousands. So abusing me for calling you at dinner time won’t make any difference. Trust me.

All you need to get rid of me are those four magic words, ‘No thanks, not interested.’ That’s known as a ‘hard refusal’ in the market research business. Definite. Negative. Unequivocal.

Here’s a tip: Don’t say ‘Now is not a good time.’ That’s a ‘soft refusal’, and I’m trained to say ‘When would be a good time for you?’
If I don’t say this, and my supervisor is listening in (which they might be at any moment) I’ll be called over to their desk for feedback. Enough of those and I’m called into the office for an ‘observation’, where they go over my statistics – calls made per hour, refusals per hour, interviews completed, time spent away from my desk – and make suggestions on how to not get fired. So I’ll keep hassling you to make a time. Sorry.

And you’ll sigh and prevaricate and finally suggest another time, and I or one of my colleagues will call you back then and you’ll put us off again, and maybe three calls later you’ll finally say ‘Look, I’m just not interested.’ Then we’ll leave you alone.

Or assume you agree to an interview. Most of the questions require a response from zero to ten. Even if I want to, I can’t put down anything else you say. Even if I secretly agree that the question is stupid or ambiguous, or that the whole survey is a waste of time, I still can’t put down anything but a number. And no, I can’t ‘just put down ten for everything.’ Then I’ll definitely get fired.

Yes, I know I said this would only take ten minutes. That’s how long it takes if you don’t argue about the questions. You’re just making this needlessly painful and difficult for both of us.
I know I’m a nuisance. If there was any other way to support myself while studying, I’d be doing it. Between calls, while staring at the blank screen and listening to the drone of the automatic dialer, I mentally tally my other options. I’ve been fired from every retail job I’ve ever had, and my temping skills are rusty. No, it’s market research or the dole. Sometimes both, when the centre shuts down for three weeks while they redesign the surveys.
The only way to get a non-casual job is with a degree or diploma, which I don’t have yet. Actually, since I study creative writing, the diploma probably won’t make that much difference. I’ll probably be working here until I’m dead.
So I’m afraid we’re stuck with each other. Now, from zero to ten …

First appeared in The Age: My Career on Saturday, 20 November 2010

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