Tips on how to avoid ‘done deals’ with sneaky telesales agents

By Wendy Knowler

I’ve said it many times in many ways over the years – beware the telesales call.

Some scripts are better than others, but here’s what they all have in common – they talk up the benefits, but gloss over the financials and contractual lock-ins. Worst of all, in my opinion, they are deliberately sneaky in the way they go about getting consent.

For example, I once took up the case of a person who ended up with an insurance policy she didn’t want and insisted she didn’t agree to.

Sales schpiel

The recording of that telesales call revealed that the agent ran through the scripted sales schpiel and then said: “So can we send you the welcome pack?” The woman said okay and that was taken as her consent.

The company saw nothing wrong with that: why would someone agree to being sent a welcome pack if they didn’t want the product? I kid you not.

You will seldom, if ever, hear a telesales agent end with a direct question, such as: “Do you agree to take out this 24-month contact, which will cost you R350 a month?”

The fact that they don’t do that is very telling indeed. It’s also not in keeping with the Consumer Protection Act, which is very big on full disclosure.

Already a done deal

Another common tactic is to call up the target and talk about what they are trying to sell as if it’s already a done deal – as if the person really doesn’t have a choice.

And then the agent says “okay?” and if the person says okay in response, that’s it: a done deal.

In the case of a cellphone contract, the sales agent often tries to conceal the fact that they’re trying to sign you up for a new contract. Picture: Priscilla du Preez/Unsplash

In the case of a cellphone contract, they gloss over the fact that they are asking someone to commit to a contract. Here’s a transcript from a Vodacom sales call, which was central to a case I investigated this past week:

“I am calling you in relation to the contract you have with Vodacom, where you are currently paying R262 on a Smart S Package on the number I am calling you on … so the purpose of my call is that this line is due for an upgrade, alright, so that simply means that as of next month you will be paying a discounted price of only R249 for your Smart S package, that is going to come with 200 minutes and 200 SMSes and 650Mb of data, also including 10Gb of data as a once-off for the next 24 months. So in other words, you are no longer going to be paying R262, so as of next month you will by paying less, R249, okay, ma’am?”

Note the glib, single mention of “24 months”

The woman, who wasn’t given an opportunity to respond until then, answered “okay” and that was taken as her consent to a new 24-month contract.

Luckily, before the call ended, she said: “I want this please in writing; I don’t want to just agree to something over the phone …”

She was sent a “quote”, which she ignored, but the contract was activated anyway.

Until I took up the case.

Wendy Knowler: teach your children well

The network’s response: “It is clear from the call recording that due process was not followed in this instance. We will address the matter directly with the relevant business partner.

“We have cancelled the contract and apologised to the customer …We are in the process of crediting all charges incurred as a result of the renewal of this contract.”

Ask to get what’s being offered in writing. Picture: @cyntonn_photography/Unsplash

I’d asked if they thought the script itself was fair and transparent. No answer.

Now read: love me, love my privacy

The advice: if you do want to take out a new cellphone contract (it is not an “upgrade”, it’s a whole new contract, locking you in for another 24 or 36 months, early cancellation coming only at the cost of a hefty penalty):

• Make your own recording of the call, because the companies are often very cagey about giving you access to their recording, despite being obliged to do so. You can do so via an app.
• If you don’t get what you remember being promised in that sales call, insist on being given access to the recording. Often you are made to go into a cellphone store to listen – what a cheek! – but do ask for it to be emailed to you.

Sometimes you get “lucky”.