Coevolution in Telemarketing

Coevolution in species (predator-prey, for example) is a commonly occurring phenomenon. The same thing, loosely, can apply to many other things like criminal behavior and how it coevolves with law enforcement techniques.

An interesting place where you see coevolution at work is in telemarketing. If you think about it, they are the predator and you are the prey. Their objective is to get you to pick up the phone and then not put it down. Your objective is to not pick up the phone.

Before Caller ID, you were losing the battle. You had to pick up the phone. You didn’t know who was calling.

After Caller ID, it was better, but not if you were prepared to ignore every call except the numbers that you recognized. Also, the telemarketers adapted and started blocking Caller ID. But then you started avoiding calls with no Caller ID. And then they switched back to numbers but no names or innocuous names. And so on.

Then came the National Do Not Call Registry in the US. That tilted the balance decisively in your favour. It still left the non-profits who are exempted from the DNC stipulations. You were still having to walk up to the phone when the local charity called and you didn’t want to donate this year. But then you got that new phone which can read out the name on the Caller ID. And that was that. End of the telemarketing nuisance.

Not quite. Last year I started getting robo calls on my mobile phone from a company selling extended warranties for cars. I pick up most calls to my cellphone, even if I don’t recognize the number. It was very irritating. I actually lodged a complaint with the FTC about these guys. Apparently many others did too. Thankfully its been turned off. The people behind it must have figured that whatever they were doing was worth flirting with FTC for. Or maybe they don’t even live in the US. Who knows.

I still get a moderate number of telemarketing calls. If you are of Indian origin, like me, you may still be getting calls from India. With telecom costs between India and the US dropping sharply in recent years, the call activity is going up as well. We regularly get calls from DirectTV and Airtel. The latter in fact has been calling from a Delhi cell phone to my cell phone (where did they get my mobile number?).

The companies that call from India use Caller IDs in different ways. Some of them send out a US number which I think is a losing strategy (one of them sends out a toll free number). Some of them block Caller ID, which, I believe is a better strategy. With almost no calls from telemarketers in the US, you are probably losing your old aversion of picking up a call with no Caller ID. Or maybe, I have a special situation. A friend of ours we regularly talk to had blocked her Caller ID at one time.

This is known to occur even in predator-prey coevolution where a defence that the prey had developed in response to a certain predatory tactic is lost through the millenia. When the predator evolves the same trait again, the prey has no defence against it.

Callers from India seem to have the ability to put just any old number in the Caller ID. Like say “2222”. Or use an Indian number. I will pick up any call with an Indian number on it. Which is why I get snagged often.

But it doesn’t end at Caller ID and getting you to pick up the phone. Since the dialing out is typically done by a dialer which connects an agent only after you pick up the phone, there is a lag before someone starts speaking at the other end. Most people will realize it’s a telemarketing agency and put the phone down. This must cost a lot in agent time at the other end.

Which probably explains, in a crazy way, the latest Caller ID tactic. Yesterday someone called us. The Caller ID name said “Telemarketer”. We didn’t pick up the phone. But if someone does, you can be sure they want to talk. And it could be the beginning of an honest, trusting relationship.

1 Comment

  1. Instead of "Telemarketer", they should probably say "Need Insurance?" on the ID. Maybe that'll be the next step in evolution.
    In India, most telemarketers have switched to using cell phone numbers to get better call pick up.

    But SMS is probably the better move – I get on an average 5-6 telemarketing SMSs everyday. I do like some of them – like computer service, pest control, insurance.. so I store them because you'll need them someday. I just don't like talking to them when I don't need it.


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