Not a Trivial Pursuit

by Kenneth B. Lourie

All right. I admit it. I snapped. Not 30 minutes ago, after getting home early from work, I became Ozzy Osbourne and bit the head off a telemarketer.

Iím not proud, just POíd.

Normally, Iím not mean and insensitive. As an adult who makes his living telemarketing (I use the phone a lot) to businesses in Montgomery County to advertise in The Connection Newspapers, I usually take pains - some literal - to let my fellow telemarketers speak their words. Almost always, except for today.

I treat all callers to my home in the manner in which I, as a telemarketer, would want to be treated: respectfully, patiently, openly. As such I typically listen to their pitch, then after four balls take a walk, figuratively speaking, thank them for their call, and encourage them to call back at another time when perhaps I might be more interested. Because if thereís one business whose demands I can truly understand and appreciate, itís the sales/telemarketing business, so I strive to remain courteous on all calls.

But my so self-described understanding failed me today. What happened today was not typical. Today was the evil Kenny opening his big mouth. I didnít swear, and I didnít intentionally lie in wait, ready to ambush, so to speak, after receiving a previous telemarketing call, but I did pounce. Actually this was the first call I received since I had arrived home. (Itís funny - to me anyway - that even though the majority of telemarketing calls I receive are completely unrelated to one another, they seem to arrive in bunches, like bananas. It has happened on more than one occasion that as soon as I hang up the phone, it rings again. Itís like the telemarketers are psychic and know when the line is available somehow. I know theyíre not psychic though, because if they were, they wouldnít call people who are rude and boorish, like I was today. But as you all know, the telemarketers donít stop calling, nor do they apparently stop mispronouncing my wife, Dinaís, first name and our surname. Which precipitated my outburst.)

When the telemarketer, a young woman, asked in halting syntax and speech for Dina (mispronounced as Dinah, as in Shore) Lore (as in folk) instead of Dina (as in Merrill) Lourie (as in glory), I lost it. I didnít exactly become a raving lunatic, more like an angry and agitated Peter Finch-type (from the movie ďNetworkĒ) recipient of the final straw that, unfortunately for this female telemarketer, broke my back and led to my unpleasant utterances.

I didnít totally berate her for mangling my wifeís first and our last name, but I certainly didnít congratulate her either. I did, however, question her judgment in calling someone whose name she couldnít pronounce and to wit, what possible interest could the Louries have with a caller who couldnít even pronounce their last name?

Perhaps I was too hasty? Perhaps I should have given the telemarketer the benefit of the doubt. After all, the name, Dina Lourie, is not among the most common. And as a frequent caller myself of people Iíve never met with names Iíve never pronounced, I could have been more sympathetic, but I wasnít. When making calls myself, I always apologize for the inevitable mispronunciation first and telemarket second. I donít expect callers to listen to me if I brutalize their name without a preceding explanation or apology, and other telemarketers shouldnít expect any different from me.

Iím not a mark (like Robert Shaw in the movie ďThe StingĒ), Iím a potential customer with whom the telemarketer should want to establish a rapport and presumably a relationship (at least an association). If the telemarketer doesnít have the courtesy and respect for my name, I donít suppose she has courtesy and respect for my business either.

Granted, telemarketing is a difficult and challenging pursuit. All the more reason to treat each and every call like itís your last. As such, speak slowly and politely, and if youíre not sure how to pronounce a name, apologize and ask for help. Telemarketing is not simply a numbers game, itís a conversation. All who understand that will make friends and influence people.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.