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...)
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."
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...)
Him: "Would you like use to send you a single DVD, with deferred payment and a full money back guarantee?"
Him: "May we call you back at another time?"
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.