Hanging on the telephone

Recently I was helping a friend set up his new call-centre business selling alarm systems: He has a larger-than-life character and his approach to selling is old-school; brash but likeable. It seems that whilst that tack may work at senior level, phone sales-forces now have to employ a range of more subtle psychological tactics to get a proverbial foot in the door.

The most successful member of the team is a softly spoken man who is so sweet sounding that, in the midst of a stressful day, you can imagine it would be rather nice to receive a call and have a calming chat with him, and, since the objective of the telephone team is purely to get an appointment for a home visit (where the harder sell takes place) it would, supposing the rest of the salesmen to be just like him, be quite difficult to refuse.
The team leader is also a charming chap who opens with the line ‘I do hope I’m not disturbing you or interrupting your day am I?’ It’s generally in our polite nature to unwittingly negate this and provide him with his inroad where he endearingly strikes with a self-deprecating manner, a jolly laugh and an apparently sincere desire to ensure your home, all the people, contents and even pets inside are safe.

The Asian man who has assumed an English pseudonym to increase his chances of people talking to him has bizarrely yet likeably chosen not a standard Chris, Steve or Jim but the name of a Shakespearean warrior. It seems this is a deliberately more memorable option and also has the benefit of acting as a conversation starter.

The systems do seem to be a genuinely good deal with excellent safety aspects that would be extremely useful in any household, however it is the finely developed script that uses carefully selected language to reference a safety awareness campaign, current legislation, up to date knowledge of other systems available and even contains a cheeky joke to end on that is the masterclass in sophisticated direct sales techniques.

I’m fairly selective and proactive about my significant purchases and therefore generally feel justified in curtly dismissing cold-callers although, at times, I do wonder if I should make more of an effort. It was therefore some comfort to experience the verbal wrigglers from a different perspective – such feeble on the spot escape attempts as ‘I’ve got an alarm system already’, ‘I don’t have any money’, ‘It’s not my house’, are met with expertly crafted possible solutions thanks to the ‘objections’ crib sheet.

As the majority of calls I receive seem to start with them in the midst of a conversation with a colleague or, even worse, a robotic voice telling me that the call may be recorded prior to any kind of introduction whatsoever, followed by an immediate plough into a non-flexible script, continued incorrect use of my name in spite of several corrections, mostly conducted in a shouty or difficult to hear voice, I figure my response will remain largely unchanged, however, I’m sure all involved would find it a more pleasurable and mutually respectful experience if they employed the good humour, politeness and dexterously intelligent tactics of the team I met yesterday and possibly sales might even increase which, I’m not so naive to understand, is what it’s really all about!



I know that I definitely haven’t said thank you enough to my parents over the years – the habits of childhood creep unwittingly into adulthood and before you know it you’ve accepted another £15,000 loan and they are having to reduce their holiday plans. At times like these ‘thank you’ hardly seems sufficient and without getting into a 16-page letter listing all the nuances that are implied in a gesture such as this and which are compounded by the smaller unmentioned acts that have stemmed from pure unconditional love for their child, it’s difficult to explain how very much I appreciate the love and support of my parents. I just know that I am very very very lucky.
If I ever have children of my own, I can only try to offer them the same complete reassurance that at all times they are loved and supported.

However, it’s a bit more complex when you’re not the biological parent but accept a parental role by proxy of a partner: No matter what state their relationship is with their ex, they are the two people who have ultimate responsibility for the child. When in your care, hopefully you can develop bonds of trust with the child, ideally they’ll listen to you as someone who they believe has their best interests at heart and is acting as an extension of their parent. It is possible to love them, want the best for them, hope, dream, share in their successes and sorrows, but does it ever get to that same unconditional love that a parent has for their child?

I realise not everybody has that from their parents in actuality, because we’re complex beasts, but surely that love between a parent and child stems essentially from a biological place rather than any cutesy kittening about; a need to perpetuate our genes and therefore do anything to protect them from harm and to give them a set of circumstances during which they will thrive.

So without that biological bond, what is the best one can hope for? I suspect it’s taking the rough with the smooth, trying to be consistent, supporting your partner in their decisions publicly (and, if you disagree, conversing diplomatically later in private), not alienating the other parent and above all trying to have as much fun with the child as possible. One of the benefits of being in this situation is that you do always have that great opt out clause, if things are getting sticky and you’re feeling like the under-appreciated slave kept around only to wipe snotty noses (or some age-appropriate alternative) you can always retreat and, depending on how much of a row you want to instigate later, your choices are somewhere on the spectrum of ‘They’re not my bloody kids anyway’ to ‘I think it’s really important you spend time alone with them darling’.

Nuff respect to step-parents (and those that haven’t even got the stability of a stephood) all over – it’s a tough job but hopefully the additional dimension you provide enriches those children’s lives in ways that one day they’ll be silently grateful for – and that’s the most that any parent can expect isn’t it?