Giving the cold caller the cold shoulder.

I love my job. I carry out painstaking linguistic cosmetic surgery on scientific articles,  correcting and rephrasing here and there to make it squeaky clean and ready for publication; the linguistic equivalent of transforming David Cameron into Winston Churchill (although the English I correct is rarely that bad). My nose glued to the screen, I sniff out the mistakes like Lindsay Lohan on the scent of a line of coke. Concentration is a must – the house is silent as I batter away on my keyboard and repeat sentences out loud until they sound right. So when the phone interrupts my progress through the thrills and spills of biophysics, turtle genetics or decision-making in primates, I always get up muttering incantations. Only the news that Dr Evil is holding PF hostage in his office would be deemed urgent enough to interrupt my scientific soliloquies.

BT Artbox - Padded Cellphone Box

So I generally stare at the phone and try to work out who it is before picking it up. It’s not an easy mission. The screen of my phone has finally given up the ghost after too many failed bungy jumps out of paint, chocolate or cake-mix covered hands. Its display panel now looks more like a half-finished Tetris game than a line-up of numbers. So when it rings, I can never see who is calling.

If I ignore it,  I generally miss a call announcing that Rugby-boy has redecorated the school corridor with vomit, that my long-awaited parcel has gone back to the post office because I didn’t reply when he called, or that P.F. has missed his bus and is stuck in the most unpleasant part of town whilst bored teens with shaved heads lob pebbles at people getting off the tram.

So it goes without saying that when I pick up the phone expecting one of the above situations, there is in fact a brief silence followed by the droning voice of a disinterested human robot who tells me that he or she is delighted to have me on the line before embarking on a ten-minute long speech about roof insulation, window replacements or newfangled technology that will turn my home into the most sexy, ecologically sound joint in the universe.

At the beginning, I listened patiently, before telling them that I didn’t have time. Oh, yeah? No problem, they’ll call you back. Oh, it’s dinner time? No problem. They’ll call you later – just after you’ve brushed your teeth, for a goodnight kiss to your bank account sent all the way from a call centre in India. The next few times, you gratingly explain that it’s very kind of them to think of you, but you don’t need their solar-cycle-powered water heater even if it is the best thing since sliced bread. They insist, and are getting your back up now. No, honestly, you really don’t need their services, and yes, you are still fully capable of making your own decisions without the help of a complete stranger who has just interrupted your afternoon of work/shower/quiet five minutes of reading on the loo (the only place the kids  don’t track you down within seconds). No, you don’t need the insulation replacing, and no, unless he has a camera stuffed down the phone line, he cannot presume that your roof has more holes than Jamie Oliver’s sieve.

Six months later, you have had it with being polite with people who won’t take no for an answer. You angrily tell them that if you had said “yes” to them all, your house would currently be in the process of being demolished and rebuilt, and you would be up to your eyeballs in debt to pay for the installation of technology that will be out of date within two years anyway.

You take to acidly informing callers you are not the person they asked for, because they have massacred your name so badly that you don’t even recognise it as your own. Then you really get narked, and start slamming the phone down on them. I did it last week – I had got to the point of no return. I soberly admitted to my pillow that I had been rude; I had compromised both my values and my education.  But did I have to waste time listening to all their drivel for the sake of politeness?

I therefore got working on a few solutions that would safeguard my legendary British cool. Here are my favourite new techniques for cold callers; I’ve been trying them out this week, and am proud to say that they work beautifully.


Uncharitable thoughts (Photo credit: rubygirl jewelry)

Firstly, immediately interrupt their spiel asking sweetly who they are (Nathalie who? How do you spell that?) and what company they are from. Then tell them they have 30 seconds to tell you exactly what they want to sell you. Asking them to cut to the chase not only takes the wind out of their sails, but also irritates the pants off them when you don’t behave as planned on their sheet.

If this doesn’t put them off, move in for step two. This one has four possible levels.

Level one. (Annoying but unaggressive caller.) Method: Quietly put the receiver down on the table and get on with whatever you were doing. They generally get bored with speaking to the plant within minutes.

Level two. (Insistent caller who refuses to stop machine-gunning you with his pre-printed sales patter.) Method: Inform them that you are passing them on to the household decision-maker. This makes the more chauvinistic callers purr, “Ah, very good wife, you are passing me to Môôsieur.” Then plop the telephone in Smelly Dog’s basket, point to it and say “eat”.

Level three. (Aggressive caller telling you that you will hear them out, or they will call you back.) Method: place on carpet beside vacuum cleaner. Switch on said appliance on highest possible setting. Repeat as necessary.

Level four. (Very aggressive and tenacious caller who no doubt spends his or her evenings sticking pins into the wax effigies of those who refused their calls, before melting them over scented Ikea candles.) Method: Place telephone beside speaker. Switch on Bigfoot’s AC-DC. Turn up volume.

Do you have any good techniques that I have not covered here? Are you a cold caller, and if so, what have you been subjected to by reticent homeowners?

27 thoughts on “Giving the cold caller the cold shoulder.

  1. LOL! I don’t need to concentrate during the day but still hate being interrupted at the most inconvenient times by some mechanical blurb being rattled off at some great speed…..I just usually let them rant then tell them ( in a very heavy accent) that I don’t speak French and haven’t understood anything.I invite them to call back saying my husband speaks French a little bit better than I do so it’s possible he may well understand them…(.they don’t have to know he’s bilingual!!) They rarely call back!!

  2. Love it. 🙂

    We live in the middle of the countryside and land lines haven’t been invented here, so no house phone. We do have a handful of mobile phones, when vodafone or 3 call, I only have to say “sono inglese” and they hang up.

      • With a dongle.
        Do you remember the early days of mobile phones, when you had to stand on your tiptoes, near a window just to get a signal?
        I have to do this with my laptop. It is very difficult to type whilst standing on a chair near the south facing window just to capture the signal. 😦

  3. I just say I rent (true) which stops most of them immediately. 🙂

    There is also no monsieur at home – that’s another call-killer, and I don’t pay over €3000 in tax – another call-killer. The other day I was told had ‘won’ a meal in a restaurant with my partner if I was over 50, so I said I wasn’t (true).

    Otherwise, I just say I have to go, bye, and put the phone down. No reason to worry about being polite. The phone caller is an interloper chez toi who you have not invited. If they don’t leave quietly, I have no compunction about killing the connection. 🙂

    • I remember the “you’ve won a prize” line. I was told that I had won a leg of cured ham, and Monsieur had won a drill as we were both over the age of 50. I told her i preferred being 40 to having a leg of ham.

  4. Awesome! My lack of Italian means I always make my wife answer the phone… she hates it. I’ll pass these strategies along to her. Or maybe I should just start answering it in English. That should throw them!

    • I’d be careful about presuming they don’t speak English; the incentives for them no doubt merit the investment in a few English lessons so that they can call you back. I forgot another very good method: pass the phone to a child under the age of five. They can talk for hours and the cold callers don’t dare to hang up on them.

  5. I used to put the receiver down and continue with whatever I was doing before being interrupted…but I did that to bores and inlaws as well….
    No cold calling out in the boonies of Costa Rica…the companies reckon that if you live in the wilds you don’t have any money to buy anything anyway…

  6. Joanna, just do like me : when hearing a voice from Vietnam, India, Morocco, Senegal, trying to sell me anything from solar panels to an health insurance, I reply with a very shaky voice : “No, thank you, I’am too old now to buy anything but a casket”.
    Very efficient.

    • I’m never hard on real people who call for serious issues. But people who deliberately try to pass themselves off as my electricity provider in a bid to make money off my back don’t get a second of my time 🙂

  7. Years ago when I managed a large office I found cold callers that walked in an annoyance and I did try to kindly and quickly dismiss them, always thinking to myself what a hard job that must be. I thought they were low paid and inexperienced bottom feeders. I find myself very sorry to have mentally compartmentalized them in this way.

    Move forward 5 years and I find myself as a Manufacturers Rep for an International Company. I have a BA and a Degree in Art. I am expected to find my clients (via cold calling and visiting) develop the relationship through additional phone calls and informational emails, and eventually do a presentation for the Architect and staff. Usually one is met with a quick dismissal bordering on rudeness or an eye rolling victim that feigns interest and then never takes my return call.

    Every so often, and I would guess its twice a week, out of hundred’s of phone calls and visits, I will encounter a kind and empathetic person. Perhaps he or she has held a position like this so they are genuine and interested and will frequently put me in touch with the decision makers. These people I hold in high regard as random kindness is rare and just makes my day, week and month. I have made some wonderful contacts and for these people I rejoice! I have found that the people at the top are usually the kindest but it’s breaching the walls to get to them. Many important people are insulated with an insecure staff that truly and sincerely believe they are “protecting” their boss, leader supervisor from the likes of me. When in fact, my product is brand new technology to the USA and can save thousands of dollars for an applicable firm.

    When a cold caller crosses your path I would like to suggest that we all remember that person is doing their job, making a living and has responsibilities and feelings. I will never get used to talking to plants or being on hold for 20 minutes yet I persevere for the few that can see the bigger picture and the fact that with one good interaction I can make fantastic money.

    Sermon over! Thanks for reading another perspective.

    • Thanks for sharing your side of the story – it’s great to see what happens at the other end of the phone. It must be a stressful job. I’m guessing that your calls are purely aimed at companies who could use your exciting invention. (Is it a machine to take over the universe? There should be takers, surely!). It is a step up from the crowd I’m talking about – huge call centres who try to sell anything from windows to retirement packages to Mr Ordinary in his own home, several times a day, at any time of the day or evening. I used to be polite, and ended up with someone being aggressive and pushy on the other end of the phone. Now I refuse to say anything rude, but I refuse to spend hours justifying myself too, as I work at home. You seem to be much more humane and approachable that the cold callers I’ve dealt with- maybe you should set up a training group for better sales practices 😀

  8. Loved this, MM. 🙂 In the UK it’s mostly DH who answers the phone, simply because he’s usually nearer and it’s more often for him. He just listens for a few seconds, says ‘no, thank you’ politely but firmly and puts the phone down. If they ring back he gets firmer and if they still don’t get the message, he hangs up on them. We’re registered with the Calls Preference Service which weeds out UK-based firms pretty well, but as you say, most call centres are now outside Europe, so no way of opting out of them.

    In France, I usually answer as my French is better than DH’s and if I have any problems I just do the “Je suis anglaise, je ne comprends pas” bit and that mostly works…..

    • In France you can put on the “liste orange”, which is half-way to ex-directory and means that cold-callers can’t use your number. We are on this list and still get hassled two or three times a day- when I wrote the post, it was after being disturbed five times within the same hour!

  9. I have a simple solution. I never answer my landline, letting the answer machine kick in. Friends know this and leave a message knowing I’ll call them straight back. Cold callers just hang up

    Likewise, I never answer my cell-phone if I don’t recognise the number.

    P.S. Punching an unknown number into google search bar usually identifies the cold caller and if that fails keeps a database of nuisance callers. Course that’s not much good if your display screen is all gunged up and you can’t read the friggin number 🙄

    • Hello, Duncanr, and thanks for following the blog and for commenting 🙂 Your solution unfortunately doesn’t work for me, as I have to answer my landline – I have three school-age children, and a husband who misses the bus on a regular basis 🙂 I will soon be investing in a new phone so that I can spot the word “SECRET”: the sign that the caller has hidden their identity, meaning that it is a cold caller in 9 cases out of 10. I’ll be checking out methods to limit cold calls as the France Telecom filter doesn’t seem to work.

  10. Some excellent advice there! 🙂 I have been known just to put the phone down if they are too insistent and won’t listen to my polite assurances that I do not need their advice/product/help. Or,,, if they ask to speak to me by name, I just say that I am not at home and could I take a message for me! 😉
    Cold callers who actually come to my door are another problem… Especially the ones who open by saying “Don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything”. ;(

    • Hello Elaine, and welcome to MM’s humble pad 🙂 Thanks for the great tip – I’d forgotten that I could actually say I’m not in. Clever you 😉 We don’t get anyone at the door – we have the advantage of having eccentric elderly neighbours who leave huge piles of junk outside as they don’t believe in throwing anything out. They’re lovely people, but they scare off the rare reps who make it down the lane, which suits me fine 🙂
      Yesterday I tried out being polite and explaining that I preferred not to answer the lady’s call, and SHE hung up on ME. Lol. They’ve now moved on to a new tactic: calling PF in the evening, as they have now labelled me as a no-hoper. Depending on PF’s mood he either puts on a chinese accent and claims he doen’t understand, or tells them that when he gets home from work, the only two minutes he has are for his children, before putting the phone down. Swooooooon 🙂

  11. Needed a chuckle so decided to look back on one of your posts from before I ‘knew’ you!… I do one of two things, either tell them I’m in rented accommodation or, more often than not, I answer all bright and breezy and then pretend I’m not me! 🙂 Was that ‘cell-phone’ pic taken in Covent Garden by any chance?

    • Hi there TAC! Glad you’re checking out the archives- there are a few fun things to dust down and read. I do say I’m not there now, it cracks the kids up! Can’t say for the phone pic, I’m afraid…. it came from the WprdPress photo stock. But I’d quiet like one in my kitchen to cool off when I get mad 🙂

      • I know! I saw it in my reader just before I had to go out to pick up my son and when I came back to settle down for a read it had disappeared! Thought I was going doo lallie! Thank God it was just the cyber munchkins at work again! Will check it out after morning mayhem is over.. if it’s still there! 😀

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