Saying Goodbye to Hello Direct

by Matt Deatherage

I spend most of every day researching and writing, and the rest of the time I'm either taking care of the back end of my business, or sleeping. Most of the time, I keep the ringer on the phone off, because interruptions can be costly. I go to bed late and get up late because it's easier to write at night, so I don't want calls from the office forwarding through in the morning hours anyway. We have 24/7 voicemail if any of our customers find that e-mail really won't do.

Back in October, I started getting phone calls from some out of area number. The name was something spammy, like "marketing" or "research". The callers never left voicemail, and usually called between 9AM and 10AM every day, before my reliable waking hours (most days, I go to bed at 4AM). Sometimes I'd get 2-3 of these calls per day. Sometimes I'd get calls I'd have to answer before I'd be at work, so I'd have to forward calls to ring at home -- and then it would be these annoying mystery callers. I'd hear the phone ring at 8:30 or so in the morning, so I'd wake up but couldn't get to it before voicemail picked up and they'd hang up.

Naturally, this drove me crazy. Lack of answering did not deter them from calling 7-10 times per week, for a week, then another, then another. I was also really sick during October, with a cold or flu that only went away when I saw a doctor, so I was working less already without dealing with this.

After about ten days, I finally gave up. One morning, when I was in the office early, I turned the ringer on. Sure enough, they called around 10:30, and I recognized the caller ID info. I answered and demanded to know who it was and why they were calling a number on the national "do not call" list.

It was Hello Direct, or a firm purporting to represent them. In 1996, I bought a small line filter and a telephone recording device from them. I hadn't bought anything from them in nearly 10 years, although I continue to get 4-5 of their catalogs at each of two addresses (physical, P.O. Box) each month. I very curtly told the caller that this number was on the "do not call" list and that I did not want them to contact me again for any reason, and then I hung up while the caller was trying to protest and sell me something.

The calls stopped -- for two days. Then they started up again. Twice more, I left the ringer on so I could answer the phone and tell them to stop calling me. Each time, the calls stopped for only a day or two, and then they started up again.

By now it was November, and I was long past any patience I had for these people, repeatedly interrupting what work I could do while I was sick and refusing to stop calling me. On November 1, at 1:45 PM, they called again, and I let the poor caller have it with both barrels. I told "Irene" that I had told her firm three times to stop calling me, that the number was on the national "do not call" list, and that I was filing a complaint with my state's attorney general that very afternoon.

Irene very matter-of-factly informed me that because we had a "prior business relationship" they had any right to call me, whenever they wanted, as many times as they wanted, and it was perfectly legal -- the "do not call" list did not apply because of the "prior business relationship." I told Irene in no uncertain terms to remove me from the calling list, and she told me that she couldn't do that.

Yeah, that didn't help.

When I told Irene that I would put her name on the complaint to the Attorney General's office, and use it in any "harassment complaint" we also chose to file with the authorities, I suddenly got escalated to "Tony" -- the manager. (Remember, these people were calling me.) When I mentioned the state attorney general and harassment lawsuits to Tony, he said that he would place my number on their own internal "do not call list."

He then told me that should take effect "within 30 days," and until it did, they might continue to call me if they felt like it. I mentioned "harassment suit" again and he said he'd "see what he could do."

They haven't called back.

More importantly, I am never purchasing anything from Hello Direct again. When I flat out told them I didn't want them bothering me just because they had my number, they made it clear they didn't care -- if I bought something from them in the past, I was fair game. I now take great glee in throwing their catalogs away, sometimes after shredding them. It astonished me that a company selling telephone technology for a living would be so callously indifferent to harassing their customers over those same telephones, but at least I know I won't be funding that practice anymore.


Matt Deatherage is the publisher of MDJ and MWJ, journals for professional Macintosh users.

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I agree that Irene is a victim, too, but I have had a company repeatedly call me up to 20 times a week for weeks. I repeatedly said that I was not interested. It took calling the company and talking to someone in charge. It was a nightmare until we got the phone calls stopped.

We need to go after these companies that exploit telemarketers like Irene and violate the sanctuary of our homes.

What part of " may take approximately 30 days for your name to be removed from telemarketing lists" did you not understand, Matty?

Oh yeah, that's right - you weren't listening, were you? You were most likely too busy screeching with righteous indignation, or lamenting about being "tortured" by phone calls answered (that's right ANSWERED, NOT DIALED) by an underpaid, undertrained and exploited "TSR", calling "with" or "on behalf of" Hello Direct. Or perhaps you hung up before the previous Irene's could inform you that it does indeed take up to 30 days to to remove your name and the number dialed from their list.

As for Irene's response to your moo's about already being on the national do-not-call list, either you misheard her "I'm already on the DNC list" response, which is provided by client and read verbatum, or Irene's remembrances of the 20 minutes of training on the Hello Direct campaign, and/or reading skills was skewed a bit by dealing with your tantrum.

In this case, I'm betting it's your listening skills. But either way, the point is: save your complaints for client.

Client hires telemarketers because they make an incredible amount of money for client. Client (and state/federal law, of course) sets guidelines for the TSR's on what they can and cannot say and do. For instance, TSR cannot leave messages on your voice mail and answering machine. Also, guidelines are set for how many times a number can be dialed, how many rebuttals MUST be made, what is said to you when you ask to be taken off list; claim you're already on the dnc list, what's said to you at the end of the call, etc. ALLLLL client and various regulations.

Not Irene.

Irene's job is to sell you something, or offer you a "free trial" on Hello Direct's newest "must have" for those who make more money in a day than Irene makes all month. Irene's job is to sell a lot of it, or Irene will soon find herself out of a job. Irene must make the sales quoto that client sets for her and then somehow convince the people on the list client provides for her to take that extra special HD offer! ;) And she must do so while being as vague as she possibly can about the shortcomings of various products --- all the while, attempting to maintain the charade that she is actually a "communications specialist" with HD, not their sales monkey.

And why? Because that's what client wants, expects and demands. So Irene sells 10-12 $300 items a day for client and earns roughly $60-$70 for doing so. And as an added bonus, she gets the joy of dealing with hysterical cry-babies like Matty, who should have taken his complaints to the proper dumping ground. Or better yet, he could have acted like a sane, reasonable adult with better things to do than belly-ache about marketing calls and simply said: "NOT INTERESTED" and then hung up the phone.

Irene moves on to Hello Direct's next potential sucker.

Your experience with Hello Direct doesn't sound like them at all. I'm inclined to go with your phrase "or a company purporting to be them."

I'm in phone sales, and bought a headset from HD in 1997, which I still have. Ten years later it continues to work beautifully, cutsomer service is always wonderful at helping my solve the few problems I've had, and they've replaced parts immediately when something has become worn out.

I've NEVER received a marketing call from them, and since my experience with them has continually demonstrated their professionalism, I'd be surprised to learn your telemarketers were actually HD.

But that's just my experience and opinion!

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