The Telephone Survey Game

I worked from home yesterday. Just as I was starting on a spot of lunch, I received a call on my mobile phone. The young woman at the other end explained that she worked for a telephone survey company. I explained that I have registered with the Telephone Preference Service because I don't want to receive unsolicited calls. She explained that, because the company she works for only does surveys, and does not try to sell people anything, they are not obliged to check my number via the TPS before calling.

So I decided to play The Telephone Survey Game:

The Telephone Survey Game involves responding to a telephone survey with a pack of jokes/lies. The lies should be totally blatant. The way I see it, if everyone responded in this way, telephone surveys would lose whatever credibility they have left, and companies would stop paying other companies to pester me.

Another aim of The Telephone Survey Game is to keep the caller on the phone for as long as possible. If it's OK for them to waste your time, it should be equally OK for you to waste theirs. I managed to keep this poor young woman on the phone for 48 minutes and 17 seconds.

Clearly, I can't give a word-for-word transcript of our entire conversation, but here's a paraphrased pastiche to give you a feel for it:

"Please could you tell me how many adults there are living at your home address who own mobile phones?"
"One-thousand, eight-hundred and seventeen."
"How many?!"
"One-thousand, eight-hundred and seventeen. Our family prides itself on its fertility."
"Oh dear! My computer won't accept a number that big. The most people usually say is about five."
"Put 'about five' then."
"Are you sure? I'll be asking for all their details in a moment. It might be easier to say 'one'."
"Five it is then."
"Right. Please can you tell me their names so that I can refer to them by name later on in the survey? We won't retain their details afterwards."
"Mr Simpkins… Aristotle… Tony Blair… Gordon Brown, and erm… George Bush!"
"And which one of those are you?"
"I'm not any of those. My name is Charles Darwin."
"[Sighs] I'll change it to 'six' then, should I?"
"If you like."
[… At around this point, the call was cut off. The young woman phoned me straight back.]
"Did you just hang up on me, Mr Darwin?"
"No. I thought you'd hung up on me! I wouldn't have blamed you."
"Perhaps you lost coverage for a moment."
"That's a pretty ironic thing to happen during a satisfaction survey about mobile phones, isn't it?"
"Yes it is. Do you mind if we continue?"
"Not if you don't."
"Hey, I get paid the same no matter what answers you give me."
"That is so immoral! You're taking money from your clients, even though you know I'm lying through my teeth. It's damn unscientific as well!"
"This survey takes so long to complete, most people are making up the answers by the end."
"How do you sleep at night? It's dishonest!"
"I don't care… What make of mobile phone do you use?"
"The fourth one on your list."
"And which carrier do you use?"
"HMS Ark Royal."
"Oh, I get it [laughs]. Which carrier do you really use?"
"No, not really. I meant Rabbit."
"There isn't a carrier named Rabbit."
"There used to be."
"Yes, really—but it never caught on. Tell you what, on fourth thoughts put 'Vodafone'. I'll bet they're on your list."
"They are indeed. OK, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Vodafone…"
"I haven't finished asking the question yet!"
"I don't care. They get a 'one' for everything. They sponsor Manchester United, for Pete's sake!"
"Which team do you support?"
"That figures. I'm saying nothing… On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the legibility of your mobile phone's display screen?"
"I'd have to give it a one. It's totally illegible… In fact, I can't even see it!"
"You can't see it?"
"No. It's pressed to the side of my head, you see…"
"Roughly how many mobile phone calls do you make a month?"
"None, to within two orders of magnitude?"
"What does that mean?"
"Don't worry, just put 'none'."
"OK. And how many text messages do you send per month?"
"And what is your typical monthly bill?"
"Eighty-three million pounds."
"Oh dear…"
"Doesn't your computer like that either?"
"Put nine-hundred and ninety-nine pounds then."
"OK. Thanks. And how many emails do you send a week?"
"A couple of hundred."
"I'll put '200'."
"…on my computer, I mean."
"I meant on your phone."
"Oh, got you! None."
"Do you use your mobile phone to take photographs?"
"Do I what?!"
"Do you take photographs using your mobile phone?"
"How the hell would I do that?"
"Most mobile phones have cameras built into them these days."
"Jesus! That's clever! What will they think of next?"
"We're getting near the end now! What is your current occupation?"
"I'm walking round and round the coffee table, dealing with an unsolicited phone call."
"Do you want me to put that down?"
"Yes please!"
"And would it be OK for us to call you again in future to take part in other surveys?"
"What do you think?"
"I'll put 'no'."

Bring on the Jehovah's Witnesses!

Richard Carter

A fat, bearded chap with a Charles Darwin fixation.



  2. My powers of observation tell me that most of these 'comments' are from the same person using clever pseudonyms. My money is on Mr. Pilchard!
    Did you know that there is no english word for the back of the knees?

    kind regaaaahhhh!

  3. Being a market researcher myself, i believe you made this whole thing up. This is no game, you're just helping them pass time at work by completing a survey. Either way, if they're trained they'd just politely thank you for your time if you're lying that obviously because researchers are often client monitored or monitored by supervisors to maintain quality of surveys. If you really dont want to do a survey, just tell them the truth, and they wont call you back, and they have to take your number off the list with a simple click of the mouse. If you're rude about it, expect a call back in the next few days. This is called "annoy the jerks who are rude game".

  4. Dear none,

    I did not make this episode up, although the actual conversation was far longer than the one I wrote from memory.

    You say:

    > If you really dont want to do
    > a survey, just tell them the truth,
    > and they wont call you back

    That's not the point. I don't want you guys to phone me in the first place, which is why I registered with the Telephone Preference Service. Telephone surveyors aren't required by law to consult the TPS, but I'd have hoped common decency would prevent them bothering people who clearly don't want to be contacted.

    If everybody treated telephone surveys in the same way as me (by lying), they would soon stop.

  5. Well, in a way it's amusing, but I agree with commentator 'none' on a couple of points; firstly that yours seems a far-stretched account of the conversation. Perhaps it is as you describe it, but such an interviewer would not survive within the market research industry for long, given the competitive nature of the industry and its consequent priorities on quality control. There is certainly a lot of garbage that passes off as research methodology, but slovenly and indifferent staff are usually not the prime example. Secondly, research can have a useful purpose and the organisations (public or private) who provide services and products cannot adequately respond to 'consumer' preferences without soliciting opinions. Nor can they restrict their surveys to 'opt-in' respondents since the sample will be biased.

    That, of course, is an opinion from someone who works in market research fieldwork (like you never guessed ...!). I guess, more importantly, we should all be able to take the piss out of anyone and anything, so your column outweighs in importance the professional righteousness of people like me 🙂 Personally, I hate dog owners, because of all the sh*t their pets leave around, but that's maybe for another blog ...

  6. Paul, I repeat, it was a genuine conversation, although recorded from memory and edited down for brevity. I suspect you are right when you say that my interviewer won't have survived long in the market research industry. From her attitude during our conversation, I don't think she'll be too bothered.

    Personally speaking, I can forgive dogs any amount of shit on pavements, providing they savage the occasional cat.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *