Many years ago I had a part-time telemarketing job with the Republican National Committee that lasted one week. It ended when I could not stomach the script when I called a potential donor. It is probably a script that would not have helped Sports Illustrated (si.com to be specific) columnist Jeff Pearlman, as we will see in a bit.
My call went something like this:
ME: IS General XXXXXX in?
WOMAN ON PHONE: I am sorry, he is not here.
SCRIPT: "Ask when the individual will be available."
ME: When might the General be available?
WOMAN ON PHONE: The General passed away a few months ago.
SCRIPT: "If potential donor is deceased, go to page 12 and follow instructions there."
ME (from script): I am so sorry for your loss. Would you like to make a donation in his memory?
Yes, I walked from this job because I could not stomach such manipulations, and it is part of the reason I have a low tolerance for telemarketers and off-shore technical support.
Jeff Pearlman was not following a script when he made a call yesterday. He was not asking for money. He was making a phone call to a former NFL player to do an interview for a book he is working on.
A few moments ago I dialed a phone number I have for Rick Kane, the former Detroit Lions running back who played in the NFL from 1977 through 1985. I wanted to speak to him for my book project.
“Hello …” the woman said.
“Yes, I was trying to reach Rick Kane.”
“I’m trying to reach Rick Kane, the former running back for the Lions …”
A lengthy pause.
“That’s my husband … (Tears, followed by a tone of angry disbelief) he died Christmas day.”
There is probably no worse feeling, work wise, anyone can have when something like this happens. At the end of Jeff's short post, he notes that "Had I taken eight seconds to look at his Wikipedia page beforehand, I would have known."
As much as I scratch my head as to how open, candid, blunt (you name it) with his opinions and feelings on his blog and on Facebook, that one line of his mea culpa sums up a simple best practice: Check before calling.
It may not always be foolproof. It assumes the information is available online. But even if it is not, at least you can say you tried.