Friday, October 15, 2010

In which I predict the future

This week, we read in the Winnipeg Free Press about a telecom company error that had reportedly caused automatic calls made by the re-election campaign of Winnipeg's incumbent Mayor, Sam Katz, to show up on Call Display as having come from the home of an everyday Winnipegger.

Embarrassing mix-up, sure. (And to the former telco spokesperson in me, particularly interesting, since the reporter never mentions which telecom provider was being blamed, or gives that telecom company the opportunity to comment. Must remember to ask the Journalism instructors about that.) But it happens.

A discussion about the incident with my first-year PR class, though, got me thinking about the future of "robocalls," as folks around here were calling them.

Personally, I've always disliked them.

I haven't received any of the calls in question in this mayoral campaign, but I have received automatically-dialed, pre-recorded calls from federal candidates, credit card companies and long-distance providers, and what I can only guess are scams (telling me I've won a cruise).

As soon as I hear there's a pre-recorded message at the other end, I hang up. And if the caller has been (smart?) enough to tell me who's calling in the first few seconds of the call, I also think about how little I appreciate that caller's decision to interrupt whatever I was doing to listen to his/her message.

Interestingly, pre-recorded messages don't bother me at work -- but then, "mass voicemail" messages sent in the workplace are generally related to work, and are picked up at the receiver's convenience, so don't seem like such an interruption.

In class, we discussed why this might be: students called the pre-recorded message calls "shady" and "cheap" -- and "falsely personal," which I think is the bottom line for me. Despite the ever-widening range of mass media available to us today, the home phone remains (for now, anyway) a device for personal communication.

Who listens to these messages?

Well, political/PR junkies and journalism students, for one. After all, this stuff is all great ammo.

But otherwise, I'd love to see some actual research on who 1) listens to and 2) is persuaded by pre-recorded messages "pushed" at audiences through the phone.

I'd assume the target audience is people who aren't going online and "pulling" messaging from candidates' websites, Facebook and Twitter feeds (such as they may be, in the case of this particular contest), listening to candidates' debates posted on radio station websites, etc.

In the Lockstep crystal ball...

As demographics shift and the majority of voters move into "information pull" mode, I see "robocalls" going the way of the dodo bird as a campaign tool,

That's not to say campaigners won't look to "push" any messaging -- but I'll bet they'll be doing it through means that are less intrusive on voters' time, and in ways that allow more efficient dialogue between candidate and voter: I'll push this information out, but you can read it when it's next convenient for you. And if you have any questions or want to engage, I'll be ready and waiting -- when it's convenient for you.

The credit card companies and the fly-by-night long distance providers and the scammy cruise vendors may find it worth the risk to annoy customers who wouldn't have bought in anyway, for the chance at catching those who might.  But politicians seeking election won't, I don't think, have that luxury forever.

Social media have spoiled us a bit, in that we now have pretty much anytime access to pretty much everything. The more audiences come to expect to be able to receive information on their own time, the more anyone wanting their attention will have to adapt.


  1. Another robo-call supporting Katz

  2. Thanks Duncan - that story also specifies that they're voice mails as opposed to the robocalls that ring the phone and interrupt you.

    Another interesting sub-set of the demographic profile: people who choose their telco's call answer service over a traditional answering machine, but are willing to listen to robocall messages!

    I'd wager (based on nothing but my own observation) the percentage of the population willing to listen to robocall messages would be higher among answering machine owners and people who don't use answering services at all (who wouldn't receive "robo" voice mails that don't ring the phone), than those who use network-based call answer services.

    There's a research project for someone in here!

    Regardless, I'm sure people with actual data have determined these calls will help move the yardsticks forward (for Katz' 2010 campaign, at least).

    If there's anyone reading who's seen any research on this, please send me a link - thanks!

  3. Thank you so much Melanie for sharing us this very interesting post. It is also timely because nowadays, call center industry has been the center of all of the business industries today.

    More power and good luck!


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