Allison Smith

Don’t Mess with Robodialer

I’ve often wondered if the autodialer companies have a way of tracking just how fast I can hang up as soon as I detect that I’m getting an automated call. It’s lightning-fast, and I imagine  they’re analyzing printouts of data that tells them: “Wow — THIS gal only got through SIX syllables of the recording before she hung up! What reaction time! Amazing!”

Yes, I hate getting those dreadful automated marketing calls—otherwise known as robocalls—as much as you do, and I manage to shut the calls down with ever-increasing speed, long before the option to opt out comes at the end of the recording.

The fact that I’ve voiced a fair number of them in my career so far makes it even more comical and ironic that I have such a low tolerance for them, but I—along with most of the general population—view them as an interruption; practically an invasion of my day. They disrupt work, and the most unctious aspect of them is the interruption of dinner or the preparation thereof.

The reason they are so prevalent, of course, is that they are an incredibly efficient way to reach a startlingly large number of potential customers simultaneously, with practically no overhead and very little in the way of set-up.  Some dialers serve some very practical applications (utility companies calling entire grids to inform them of an anticipated power outage) and even some humanitarian uses (I did a very successful fundraising autodialer voice-over for the American Red Cross to raise funds after Hurricane Katrina. All too often, however, they are used merely as an advertising vehicle, and in addition to their reputation as a device through which to shill, autodialers also carry with them the stigma of  none-too-reputable conduct. In one of the best-known violations of their use, in May  2009 the Federal Trade Commission shut down a telemarketing campaign that had been inundating consumers to sell them service contracts, under the deceptive guise that their auto warranties had run out. At 1.8 million dials per day, and an estimated $40 million amassed before it was shut down, this single dark incident in autodialer history proved to be a highly profitable, albeit short-lived, venture.

Do Not Call lists allow the FTC to levy hefty fines for violations of the act (i.e.: someone is autodialed when she has clearly registered her desire not to be called). Laws vary from state to state as to just what type of companies are allowed to call (in some areas, charities and political campaigning by autodialer are the only circumstances allowable), and specific times at which they are allowed to make their calls, but in other areas, where the laws are still fairly relaxed, Robodialer reigns.

In voicing the occasional dialer (I don’t actively pursue work in that milieu, but it finds me occasionally), I’ve learned that newer laws allow anything in the guise of a “survey” to successfully maneuver around the autodialer laws. Even scripts that, for all intents and purposes, have all the usual components of an autodialer script, can get by so long as they say something along the lines of: “Please press 1 to participate in a survey about your current health plan.”

I’ve carried some heavy guilt about dialers I’ve voiced that persuaded the recipient of the call to take advantage of amazingly low interest rates on their mortgages (how many got in over their heads due to my urging?),  and I’ve always struggled with the serious, almost emergency-like tone some clients have requested from me to increase the rate at which the callees press through deeper into the bed of options. The more serious and dire, the more apt the consumer is to seek more information. And that’s where they get you.

I gave some thought about whether I’d feel differently about robodialers if they actually enhanced life . What if they imparted messages about getting mammograms? Not just broadcasting partisan political messages promoting any one party, but messages communicating the importance of voting in the first place? Autodialers with messages about recycling? Volunteering?

Nah! I think I’d still resent the use of my own phone line as a way for someone else to market to me. I’d still see them as a bump in my concentration, an unwanted disruption, an opportunity to get another flour-laden handprint on my receiver; and as much as we all universally loathe them, like it or not, they’re probably here to stay.


Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, having voiced platforms for Sprint, Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Bell Canada, Vonage, Twitterfone, Hawaiian Telcom, and the Asterisk Open-Source PBX. Her Web site is