Thursday, April 05, 2012

Shouldn't you care?

Good Day Readers:

After reading this article it's a bit of a turnoff if you're contemplating making a political donation to the federal Conservative Party. Here's why:

Fred DeLorey, a spokesman for the Conservative Party, said the party did not approve the training manual. "We hire call centres to make calls," he said in an email. "We don't train their employees."

We assume Mr. DeLorey has been accurately quoted. When going through the process of hiring a call centre, shouldn't the Party ask to see training manuals. Indirectly or otherwise isn't the call centre representing the Conservatives? Will potential donors not form an impression based on the telephone call they receive? And while still on the subject, do you think it a good idea to exempt political parties from do-not-call legislation?

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk
Hard sales pitch used on Tories behalf
Call-centre manual aggressive tactics to raise money from pensioners, widows and unemployed

By Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor
Thursday, April 5, 2012

 A training manual used by call-centre workers soliciting donations for the Conservative Party outlines high-pressure tactics designed to overcome the objections of pensioners, widowers and the unemployed to raise money for the party.


The manual used by workers in the Ottawa office of Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) instructs callers on how to deal with low-income donors who say they can't afford to give.

Callers are taught to "treat objections as questions" and "build urgency with the motivation so you can find an amount they are comfortable contributing."

The manual contains examples of objections to be overcome:
- "I'm on a fixed budget/pension/widower."
- "I just spent all my money on - bills, kids, pets, divorce, funeral, etc."

The manual instructs callers to "mirror back" the objection, use "transitions," then return to "buy-in questions," such as: "Do you believe in maintaining a strong military and keeping our families safe?"

After a supporter agrees, the script calls for the caller to close the sale.

"What a lot of people who are on a tight budget/fixed income/pension/widower (similar circumstance to prospect) have been able to help us out with is a smaller amount of $__, Do you think that would work better for you, Mr./ Ms.?"

RMG is the Conservatives' main call-centre company and performed voter identification and fundraising for the party and its candidates in the last election. It is at the heart of the Conservatives' successful national fundraising machine, which has for years outperformed all the other federal parties combined.

Fred DeLorey, a spokesman for the Conservative Party, said the party did not approve the training manual.

"We hire call centres to make calls," he said in an email. "We don't train their employees."

An unidentified spokesperson for the company defended its approach to fundraising.

"When making fundraising calls we encounter people from all walks of life," the spokesperson said in an email. "When a prospect shares with us that their circumstances will not allow them to donate at the amount we have asked for we empathize with the prospect, explain what other people in similar situations have been able to help with, and ask if they can support with a lower donation amount."

In an email response, copied to the company's lawyer, RMG claimed that the manual is proprietary company property and alleged that Postmedia News and the Ottawa Citizen had obtained it illegally.

"If you have this material and are not our employee, you are in receipt of it unlawfully," the unidentified spokesperson wrote.

Former workers from the Ottawa call centre were paid a flat rate of $10.75 an hour, but they could increase that significantly through bonuses if they were good at convincing people to donate.

They say virtually all the people they were calling were retired people living in rural areas.

"I felt like I was bullying them all the time," said one former worker. "You're trying to guilt them for giving for this good cause.

"It made me feel creepy, but the whole industry is creepy. If you didn't do well, you got fired. You had to sell these guys. You had to create a sense of urgency."

Callers said that supporters would often complain they were being called too often - sometimes daily - and would ask to be removed from the list, but callers were instructed not to do so. Federal do-notcall legislation does not apply to political parties.

RMG flatly rejected that assertion: "It is our policy to add consumers to a Do Not Call file when asked and it is cause for termination in our company to not adhere to the policy."

The training document provided to RMG call-centre employees makes no mention of "Do Not Call" files, although it outlines a host of other activities for which an employee may be terminated, including loitering in the hallways.

In a followup email, RMG said the company provides specific training materials on the company's "Do Not Call" procedures, requires callers to sign a document confirming that they understand the rules and has posters explaining the rules on the walls.

RMG merged in 2010 with Xentel DM, a Calgary-based telemarketing firm that worked primarily for charities in the United States. The company now operates under the umbrella of iMarketing Solutions Group, which is publicly traded on the TSX Venture exchange.

In 2010, Xentel DM was fined $500,000 for violating Canada's federal "Do Not Call" list rules. The CRTC said that Xentel called people who had placed their name on the list and promoted events that were not registered as charities with the Canada Revenue Agency.

During the election campaign in the spring of 2011, the merged company was run by co-CEOs Michael Davis, formerly of RMG, and Michael Platz, formerly of Xentel. In September 2011, Platz stepped down, but continued to serve on the board. A news release last month said he will retire as of April 30.

smaher@postmedia.com
gmcrgegor@ ottawacitizen.com

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