Don’t Mess With Robodialer

I’ve often wondered if the autodialer companies have a way of tracking just how fast I can hang up as soon as I detect that I’m getting an automated call — it’s lightning-fast, and I imagine that they’re analyzing printouts of data which tells them: “Wow — THIS gal only got through SIX syllables of the recording before she hung up! What reaction time! Amazing!” Yes, I hate getting those dreadful automated marketing calls as much as you do — otherwise known as “Robocalls” — and I manage to shut the calls down with ever-increasing speed, long before the option to “opt out” comes at the end of the recording.

The fact that I’ve *voiced* a fair number of them in my career so far makes it even more comical and ironic that I have such a low tolerance for them, but I — along with most of the general population — view them as an interruption; practically an invasion of my day. They disrupt work, and the most unctious aspect of them is the interruption of dinner or the preparation thereof.

The reason they are so prevalent, of course, is that they are an incredibly efficient way to reach a startlingly large number of potential customers simultaneously, with practically no overhead and very little in the way of set-up.  And some dialers serve some very practical applications (utility companies calling entire grids to inform them of an anticipated power outage) and even some humanitarian uses (I did a very successful fundraising autodialer voice-over for the American Red Cross to raise funds after Hurricane Katrina) — all too often, however, they are used merely as an advertising vehicle, and in additional to their reputation as a device through which to shill, autodialers also carry with them the stigma of  none-too-reputable conduct: in one of the best-known violations of their use, in May of 2009 the FTC shut down a telemarketing campaign which had been inundating consumers to sell them service contracts, under the deceptive guise that their auto warranties had run out. At 1.8 millions dials per day, and an estimated $40 million amassed before it was shut down, this mere single dark incident in auto-dialer history proved to be a highly profitable — albeit short-lived venture.

Do Not Call lists allow the FTC to levy hefty fines if there are violations of the act (ie: someone is autodialed when they have clearly registered their desire to *not* be called) — and the laws vary from state to state as to just what type of companies are allowed to call (in some areas charities and political campaigning by autodialer are the only circumstances allowable), and the stipulation of specific times at which they are allowed to make their calls — but in other areas, where the laws are still fairly relaxed — Robodialer reigns.

In voicing the occasional dialer (I don’t actively pursue work in that milieu — it finds me occasionally) — I’ve learned that newer laws require that anything in the guise of a “survey” might successfully manuever around the autodialer laws — so even scripts which, for all intents and purposes, have all the usual components of an auto-dialer script, can get by so long as I say something along the lines of: “Please press 1 to participate in a “survey” about your current health plan”. I’ve carried some heavy guilt about dialers I’ve voiced which persuaded the recipient of the call to take advantage of amazingly low interest rates on their mortgage (how many got in over their heads do to my urging?),  and I’ve always struggled with the serious, almost “emergency-like” tone some clients have requested from me to increase the rate at which the callees press through deeper into the bed of options — the more serious; the more dire — the more apt the consumer is to seek more information. And that’s where they get you.

I gave some thought about whether or not I’d feel differently about Robodialers if they actually enhanced life — what if they imparted messages about getting mammograms? Not just broadcasting partisan political messages promoting any one party — but messages communicating the importance of voting in the first place? Autodialers with messages about recycling? Volunteering?

Nah — I think I’d still resent the use of my own phone line as a way for someone else to market to me. I’d still see them as a bump in my concentration; an unwanted disruption, an opportunity to get another flour-laden handprint on my receiver; and as much as we all universally loathe them — like it or not — they’re probably here to stay.

Next week, I’ll start a multi-part series of articles based on the joys — and pitfalls — of home recording. I’ll be interviewing a couple of colleagues of mine with similar home sound labs about the pros and cons of working where you live!

Thanks for reading!



  1. As a telephone service provider, I have the same personal misgivings about providing service to companies that call people to sell them something. When we recently made a decision not to accept any more outbound telemarketers as clients–based on the fact that this customer type has a terrible payment record–I have to admit to some personal satisfaction in not having to think about this any more. Absent that I’d feel equally hesitant to simply dismiss an industry that is generally operating legally and ethically, so I understand why you continue to work with them.

    This was thought-provoking as many of your articles are.

    Can’t wait to read about home recording. I sometimes record customer prompts or internal stuff, and the dogs know this is their cue to bark madly at nothing.

    • voicegal Said:

      Carlos —

      Thanks for the insight — bang-on, as always. We’re actually pondering getting a dog, and have been strongly cautioned against getting a “barker”! I had a cat who used to ruin takes…I can just imagine what a dog can do…..

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