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The occasionally-updated blog of M. Scott Smith

From the Less Mature Files: Dealing with those Phone Solicitors 🔗

As an undergraduate at Drexel University in the mid-90's, I served as a columnist, contributing weekly bits of satire in an effort to amuse others or at least myself. I'm dusting off some of those columns and reprinting them here, in raw, unedited form.

This column was one of my all-time favorites among readers, for reasons I never fully understood. I didn't find it particularly challenging to write, or particularly clever -- I whipped it out on a deadline and sent it to my editor. But I suppose the subject resonated with readers, and sure enough, around that time battles were raging between the "big three" phone companies.

Two friends from college, Brian and Brad, were able to successfully switch back and forth between AT&T and Sprint multiple times, each time getting cash vouchers as high as $100. I seemed to be the only one that wasn't getting calls and lucrative offers from the phone companies to switch.

This column provided a checklist of responses that could be given to annoying telemarketers, guaranteed to end the call in a hurry. Hey, I bet they'd still work today.




There are some things in life that are guaranteed.

Chances are, PECO will remember to send you an electric bill this month. You can also count on the IRS eventually finding out about those two houseplants you claimed as dependents in Fiscal Year 92. If you are reading this near a telephone, there is a high probability that someone from AT&T, MCI, or Sprint will call you in the next 10 minutes in an attempt to get you to "switch over."

I can't help you with your IRS problem (they'll find out about you writing off your Drexel education as a loss, too), but I can help you with the telephone dilemma.

How many times have you just sat down to a meal of Coquille of Lobster Savannah accentuated with Escargots Bourguignonne and Sweet Corn and Anaheim Chile Pepper Relish, only to have a "courtesy call" from the phone company interrupt you? Just think of how many times you've been on the brink of discovering a new element, or proving Fermat's Lesser-Known Second-To-Last Theorem, only to have the telephone ring? I can't count the times. But keep reading, and I'll supply you with an arsenal of ammunition to use in fighting off the "big three."

Good, you're still here. The easiest way to solve this problem is to simply instruct the phone company to remove your name from their calling list. By law, they're required to do this.

Of course, the law doesn't say anything about having thousands of duplicate lists. And the assumption that they can remove you from their list also assumes that their programmer added a "delete" option to their database, which we know isn't true.

Upon receiving a call urging you to switch long distance networks, here is a list of replies that might be suitable in bringing a prompt end to the call.

Reply 1: "I'm sorry, this is a payphone."

Chances are, Sprint will pause for a few seconds and then apologize profusely. If they question you further, simply put your roommate on and have him say "yeah, this is a payphone, man."

Reply 2: "I don't have a telephone."

It is best to hang up immediately following this statement, so as to discourage any questioning.

Reply 3: "I, uh, don't exactly live here, and probably should be going."

Be sure to sound really nervous.

Reply 4: "I'm afraid I'm not well versed in the English language, and your utilization of metaphors and candid applications of slang English vernacular are altogether confusing and perplexing to me. Perhaps if you could only speak in the second northwestern variant of the ancient Zulkan lingo, I would be better able to comprehend you."

Any additional comments by the telephone company should be replied to with: "que?" or "alfalfa?"

Reply 5: "Hey, you just called me not two minutes ago!"

This is a useful technique for making the caller think they've gone insane.

Reply 6: "I'm sorry, but this is McDonald's."

Chances are, the caller is only interested in talking to residential customers, and will assume his/her list is incorrect. If they press on, however, you might wish to say that they would have to talk to the manager, but the manager is currently assisting a fellow employee who accidentally fell into the oil vat, receiving multiple first degree burns while destroying an otherwise perfectly good batch of french fries. Pause, then casually and quietly mention that you don't think it was an accident.

One variant of this technique is to pretend you're an AT&T office, if MCI or Sprint calls. A "you know, this is the Marketing Department of AT&T" should suffice.

Reply 7: "Thank God you called. I've been waiting all night to hear from you. I have longed to hear your sensuous, encouraging voice. I want you to meet my friends. I want to spend more time with you. I want us to go to Idaho and start a farm. And we can raise Canadian Geese, and dress up potatoes like literary figures as we pretend we're critiquing Broadway musicals while standing naked on top of a burned-out Volkswagen. And I want my brother Bo Billy Bob to be there too, with lots of yogurt-covered pretzels and his twin chihuahuas."

Presumably, the telephone representative will have hung up by now. If they haven't, it would be wise to promptly hang up yourself and move to a new address.

Reply 7: "I already have AT&T/Sprint/MCI, and I am thoroughly satisfied with the high level of service and competitive prices you provide me."

You're almost guaranteed a baffled apology with this one.

There are some alternatives to short replies. They include:

Response 1: Ask MCI if they don't mind being placed on hold for a second. Proceed to vacuum your apartment. If you don't hear a dial tone when you're done, continue your housework by doing dishes and laundry. Feel free to hum softly as you work, or to sing off-key at the top of your lungs.

Response 2: After a couple seconds, apologize to Sprint, saying you have call waiting. Ask them to hold for a second. After a few seconds, inform Sprint that AT&T is calling, and that you need to take the call. Alternatively, simply hang up.

Response 3: After a couple seconds, mutter "oh dear," run across the room, and flush the toilet. Then say "I've gotta hang up now."

Response 4: Listen attentively for a few moments. Then turn on the garbage disposal and begin letting out screams of pain, yelling "my hand! My hand!" Then, hang up.

All of these techniques should prove fairly effective in warding off the evil AT&T, MCI, and Sprint courtesy callers. Techniques can be combined, and can also be applied to courtesy callers in general. Unfortunately, Bob the Telemarketing Computer is immune to all of these techniques.


- By M. Scott Smith, May 8, 1995. All rights reserved.

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