Thursday, July 05, 2007

Feature Films For Families: Savvy Telemarketing

Last week I got a phone call from somebody doing a "survey" about family entertainment. She was a real, live human being and she actually responded to my questions, but it was obvious she was fronting for "Feature Films for Families," as she asked if they could call me for my opinions about family entertainment. Sure, I said. Either they were genuinely producing good, value-driven films for kids, in which case I'm supportive, or they're a sugar-coated evangelical organization, in which case I'd be up for an argument.

Today I got a call back from a pleasant person who spoke in measured, reassuring, obviously-scripted tones. The strangeness started almost immediately. Here's a slightly shortened transcript.

Him: "Which children under 16 are you involved with?"
Me: "My nephew, who's about 16."
(Beep, then long pause...)
Me: "Hello?"
Him: "Could you please say that again?"
Me: "My 16-year-old nephew."
Him: "I'm glad to hear that. Are you aware that Disney is refusing to make family films that do NOT contain a certain amount of profanity?"
Me: "Wow, I hadn't heard that."
Him: "Well--"
Me: "Can you give me a source or a reference for that? I'd like to check it out."
(Beep, long pause...)
Me: "Hello? You keep--"
Him: "I'm sorry. Do you agree that more films need to reinforce traditional values?"
Me: "I think--"
(Beep, long pause...)
Me: "You keep cutting out."
Him: "Could you please repeat that?"
Me: "Listen, are you a computer or a real person?"
Him: "Ha-ha-ha. I'm not that bad, am I?"
Me: "It's just--"
Him: "I assure you that this is not a computerized call, though it is being monitored for quality assurance purposes."
Me: "It's just that you keep cutting out. Okay, I got distracted, what was the question again?"
Him: "Do you agree that more films need to reinforce traditional values?"
Me: "That depends on the traditional values. My idea of 'traditional values' isn't necessarily the same as yours."
(Beep, short pause)
Him: "I agree. Based on our discussion, I'd like to recommend two movies to you: 'The Penny Promise' and 'Who Stole My Voice?' Each DVD is $19.95. Can we arrange payment and send these films to you?"
Me: "I'm going to check out your website first, and then if I choose to order a movie, I'm sure I can do it through the site."
Him: "We understand that you don't know much about us. Unlike Disney, we do not have millions of dollars to spend on advertisements."
Me: "Your phone call is an effective advertisement. Thanks for calling, and I'll look at the website."
Him: "The telephone is not the best way to communicate, and we may not have called you at a good time. We can send you the DVDs and defer payment for thirty days."
Me: "No, I will check out your website first, and do any ordering from there."
Him: "Security is always a concern. We assure you that no sensitive payment information will be sent over the telephone."
Me: "The hard sell doesn't work for me, it just annoys me. You're getting really obnoxious."
(Beep, long pause...)
Me: "Hello?"
Him: "Would you like use to send you a single DVD, with deferred payment and a full money back guarantee?"
Me: "No."
Him: "May we call you back at another time?"
Me: "No."
Him: "Thank you for taking this call, goodbye."

This exchange was essentially a Turing test for me, and I'm still not 100% sure whether I was talking to Eliza or a human. I don't think he was an incredibly sophisticated computer, unless voice recognition software has progressed since I last checked. Maybe some sort of software was being used during the beeps and pauses -- that would explain why a simple "yes" or "no" caused a swift response -- but I assume he was mainly reading a branching script which he was absolutely FORBIDDEN to deviate from.

These scripts produce the strange feeling that you ARE talking to a computer, since the responses can never QUITE match your answers. It all felt very weird, and I was fascinated until he started aggressively selling to me. In my world, "no" really DOES mean "no."

The "Feature Films for Families" religious ties are also ambivalent...I've done a lot of Googling around, but their "traditional values" seem to MAINLY be -- gasp! -- honesty, effective problem solving, and respect. Some of their DVDs have religious connotations, but if the others do they've made darn sure not to set off any alarm bells. In any case, even if I DID have a child, I would NOT buy ANYTHING from a company that so forcefully (and deceptively) tried to sell me their product.

For more about this telemarketing technique, get it right from the horse's mouth. Several people have blogged about these weird calls from "Feature Films for Families," and it sounds like their script hasn't changed in years.


Anonymous said...

That was a really bizarre phone call!

You sure have more patience than I do. At the first hint of a survey, or selling, or religion, I hang up immediately. Not interested.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I do brush them off at any hint of selling or proselytizing, but until now I've been taken in by surveys.

Now that I realize that a survey is a tricky way of getting around the "Do Not Call" list, I'll be more sceptical.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, "survey" can mean the same thing as "selling". It is a sneaky way of getting past your gate guard. I don't have caller ID, so I get more annoyed when I answer the phone and some body trys to sell me something, asks me to take a survey, or wants to talk to me about the Bible.

I live in a tiny apartment, I don't need a full home security system. If you want me to to take a survey, pay me for it. My time is valuable. I already know all about the Bible. I read it cover to cover. Twice. I became an Atheist.

thinkulous said...

Amusing and bemusing phone call, Muffy. Thanks for the entertaining transcript. I think the creepiest part is those long beeps...!

VanillaJ said...

By 'traditional values' I would think they mean depictions of women and children's lives & wellbeing revovling entirely around a single dominant male in a nuclear family structure. You know, the good ol' days.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Well, that's what I was wondering; "traditional values" meaning...which "tradition?"

Anonymous said...

I laughed at your call and thought you may want to know that the call was a combination of both computer and Human. At feature films they have each computer loaded with the script that you hear and then each key on the keyboard has a response as well (such as the laughing you heard and the reassurance that it was not a computer). The agent then pushes the buttons to make the computer talk. The long pauses were probably an inexperienced agent who couldn't find the right key.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

So THAT'S how they do it. What jerks. I suppose the best way to weed such calls out is to ask a question that you know they don't have ANY response for.

"Hey computer, what's the capital of Switzerland?"

"Ha-ha-ha, I'm not here to play trivia games with you."


Sean said...

I realize that most of these posts are several years old. But I have dealt with Feature Films For Families and in fact had a rather lengthy visit with the owner a number of years back as I showed him around the Disney Animation Studios.

I can assure you from first hand experience that he is a religious man that is motivated to a large degree by his religious faith. That is why he feels so strongly about producing film entertainment that is "wholesome". Unfortunately, while lacking offensive content, his productions often lack any real quality of filmmaking and storytelling. They have distributed some classic films that are great. For example, my VHS copy of "It's a Wonderful Life" came from them. The organization is not, I repeat, NOT a proselytizing arm of any religion or church. It is a business to sell movies. Unfortunately, the practices and techniques that they employ in their telemarketing are absolutely deplorable. I will no longer do any business with them.

Telemarketing services said...

Bizarre phone call indeed. I think this post is a very important topic. I will going to share this to all of my friends. I am so sure that they would love to read this post.

Danielle said...

That was really a bizarre phone call. Patience is really a virtue. Without it, you can never face be patient enough to handle that phone call. I hope that the officials could then promote the Do Not Call list they wanted to promote. You're promote was very much appreciated. Thumbs up!


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