Dealing with Telephone Surveys

By Bob Lewis

Sometimes the phone rings and when I answer it, there is no one there. I used to press *69 to get the number of the person calling but it was usually ‘an outside caller’ – which often means it was a survey company. Their computers automatically dial four new numbers as soon as the survey person hangs up. They talk to the first person that answers. This is a lot more efficient for them than dialing one number at a time. It might inconvenience you, but who cares? Sometimes it can be frightening for the elderly who live alone – they wonder what is happening. My mother stopped answering the phone until I explained this to her.
They will say, if you ask, that your answers help to improve products. I don’t believe this. They want to know which of their ads work, or, more specifically, which of their misleading claims worked. With the political surveys, they are trying to find out which lies you want to hear (I tend to be a little cynical).
I used to just tell them that I wasn’t interested, and hang up, but then I decided to take a new approach: They waste my time, so I waste theirs.

When you get one of these calls, DON’T hang up. Don’t say no. I ask who is sponsoring the survey. Usually, they won’t say. Then I ask if they are paying me for my time – this is when they trot out the ‘helping to make better products’ line. I reluctantly agree to do the survey, but I ask how long it will take (remember their answer).
– Get the name of the caller, the name of the company, and their phone number.
– Watch for vague terms or anything you don’t understand – question them. They will almost never explain – they just want your reaction to the question – whether you understand it or not. I suggest they put down anything they like as it will be as good as my answer. If they won’t go on without an answer, just throw one out, indicating by your tone of voice that it’s a ‘throwaway’ answer.
– Watch the time and make sure you don’t answer all the questions. About one or two minutes before the survey is finished, tell them you have to go now. They will tell you that they can’t use the survey unless it is completed. I tell them that I resent them wasting my time with unsolicited phone calls, which is why I’m wasting their time, and it doesn’t really matter that the survey isn’t finished because I always lie anyway. On rare occasions, I have accidentally finished a survey, in which case I just tell them the same thing before I hang up.

If you aren’t comfortable doing the above, or don’t want to spend the time on it, just tell them you have to let the dog out or switch off the stove, or answer the door. Then – without waiting for their response – put the phone down and leave it for a while. After five or ten minutes you can just hang it up. If they call back, I usually tell the caller that I understand that they are just trying to make a living, and I don’t want to take it out on them – it is surveys that I dislike and I try to waste their time and money as they are wasting mine.

Bob Lewis runs Sylvan’s Foremost Bookstore in Sylvan, between Thedford and Parkhill. The used book store is open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.