Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Robocalling Means For Your Business

"Hi, I'm Steve Pagliuca. I'm sorry for this recorded call..."

Such were the words that greeted me from my answering machine upon arrival home. In my mind, the next best possible words that could have followed would have been, "but you'll be hearing from me less frequently in the future." That wasn't what followed. What followed was a thanks for all of my support over the past months in Pagliuca's Senate campaign, and a general holiday greeting.

If I know nothing else about Pagliuca's campaign, it's that he has a lot of money to make robocalls (note the Wikipedia section header "Heavy use of robo-calls"). His campaign has called my home number just about every day for the past few weeks. Robocalling can be an effective tool--but only when used properly. This often means sparingly.

Recorded voice calls are often the most infuriating kind of call, short of the pushy telemarketing type. I very rarely listen to one all of the way through, unless it's a dentist's office reminding me of an upcoming appointment and I've forgotten the exact time of it. Using robocalls for appointment reminders is a great use of automated telephony. It's a quick piece of information, low cost, and useful to both the dentist's office and the patient. The dentist's office gets chance to confirm the appointment, and the patient gets a reminder for an appointment likely made six months ago.

Other good uses of robocalling are followup calls from services. For example, the last time I called Verizon about line trouble, I got a robocall from the company a few days later telling me that my service ticket had been addressed, the resolution, and the exact number to call in case the problem was not resolved. I didn't have to stay home to find out if the repair person had been by; I got a notice via the phone. Once again, a low cost, automated piece of technology that gives the customer piece of mind, and saves the company time.

Stephen Pagliuca, on the other hand, isn't reminding me to get my teeth cleaned, or letting me know that my phone line has been repaired. He's calling to ask for my vote, and this is something that isn't best accomplished via the robocall. People vote based on party affiliation, the candidate's position on issues important to the voter, past performance, and often charisma. Pagliuca needs to create a story about how he will act in office if elected Senator, and as a Bain alumnus and Romney protege´, he's running his campaign like a businessman, not necessarily a politician.

For a business-minded person, robocalls represent a way to blanket people with a message in a quick, efficient way. Props to Pagliuca for investing in good sound equipment; he has a much better sound quality to his messages than most robocalls. But even though people are hearing his name, they aren't hearing from Pagliuca himself. Robocalls are canned, impersonal, and don't put people in touch with the sender. People vote for people they feel a connection to, not someone who exists as a disembodied voice on the answering machine.

So, after yet another robocall tonight, I decided to call Pagliuca to ask to have my name taken off his calling list. (I'm pretty sure I'm on that list because I'm a registered Democrat and of the proper target demographic.) Here's where I found some worst practices in his contact system:

1) No number on the caller ID.
My caller ID lists the robocall has having come from "Out of Area" with no traceable number to call back to. This is a big no-no. What if I wanted to call and send him a donation?

2) No one answers the phone.
I looked up his campaign website and called the number on the "Contact Us" page. No one picked up, just an impersonal robo-voicemail system asking me to dial a given extension or 0 for the operator. Since there are no specific people listed as contact points for the campaign, or any extensions given on the web page, I dialed 0.

3) Unprogrammed voice mail.
After pushing 0, I heard a click, several rings and then the robo-voice, "Mailbox for Reception Area doesn't answer. Please leave a message after the tone." If you're not going to answer the phone, it's always important to program a message to answer. I would suggest something along the lines of "Thank you for calling the campaign headquarters of Stephen Pagliuca for Senate. We're out of the office for the holiday, but will return on.... If you need immediate assistance, please call our Public Relations officer at..." etc.

So I am left with the impression that Stephen Pagliuca can call me all he wants, but I can't call him. I heard on WBUR the other morning an interview with Pagliuca, and he was pushing a slogan of "Pags means jobs." I think it might be more appropriate to say, "Pags means robocalls." And if anyone does actually get through to Pagliuca, please send me his number. I have some advice for him.