Telemarketing is marketing conducted over the telephone. Most telemarketing calls are "cold calls," meaning the recipient of the call has not requested that the telemarketer contact them. Telemarketing is one of the most controversial types of marketing.
The purpose of telemarketing is to make a sale. Sometimes telemarketers have personal information when they call a customer, knowing the person has purchased products similar or related to theirs from other vendors or outlets.
Some older practices of telemarketing inadvertently caused fear. One common type of automated telemarketing program would dial numbers to check for answering machines in order to leave a pre-recorded sales pitch. If a person answered, the program detected a real voice and hung up. Many people were frightened by the unexplained hang-ups, some fearing they were being stalked. It is now illegal for a telemarketer to leave an automated sales pitch on an answering machine.
This hasn't prevented telemarketing hang-ups, however. Autodialers call numbers to identify those that are disconnected or out of order and those answered by fax machine, answering machine, or person. If your home phone gets excessive hang-ups, telemarketers may be the reason. Some organizations are fighting to make this practice illegal, claiming it amounts to harassment.
Public irritation over growing calls from telemarketers prompted the U.S. Congress to take legal action in 1991 in the form of restrictive laws. For example, telemarketing calls are legally forbidden between the hours of 9PM and 8AM. Congress also made it possible for consumers to register with a national do-not-call list, launched in 2001. Furthermore, telemarketers that break restrictive laws can be sued for amounts ranging from US$500-1,500 per occurrence. Informed consumers have taken advantage of this.
One of the most controversial moves by the telemarketing industry is to acquire cheap labor by installing call centers in prisons. A call center is the hub of a telemarketing company, essentially a bank of cubicles with telephones, call lists and scripts. TSRs or telephone service representatives occupy the cubicles and make the calls. In general, the public was not pleased to find that convicted murderers and rapists had been supplied with their names, phone numbers, addresses and, in some cases, more extensive information -- and were calling them at home to sell them products.
Of the telemarketing companies that use inmate labor, most keep it quiet. Unions insist telemarketers are exploiting prison labor to avoid paying a fair wage to free Americans. Telemarketers claim they would have to outsource to countries like India to get cheap labor, and that inmate labor is a cost-effective alternative. Inmates are reportedly paid about US$200 per month for a 40-hour week.