Dann (absolutedann) wrote,

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Funeral Insurance Salesman...

One of the consequences of entering hundreds of competitions per year is that my details are willingly submitted to various marketing lists. Whilst many people complain about unexpected calls from salespeople, I usually take them in my stride, acknowledging this as a legitimate business practice which is how I solicit the chance to win fabulous prizes.

So this entry should not be deemed a gripe against the appearance of my name on so many cold (though they would claim otherwise) callers' work lists, but rather as a critique of one salesperson's tactics.

His name was Jason and he called - I suspect several times - hoping to interest me in funeral insurance. I expect that this is probably a tough-sell, with few people interested in paying for something they won't use in their lifetime. My experience with Jason was preempted by a call three weeks ago from a guy named Andy. Andy introduced himself politely as calling to confirm some of the details I'd apparently previously provided to the company he works for, a vaguely-titled firm with the word 'Marketing' in its name. His accent, the delay in his responses reaching me, and his addressing me as 'Mr Daniel' suggested to me that he may be calling from the Philippines, but I didn't ask this time. He asked if I would mind receiving a call from a representative of one of his company's partners to discuss funeral insurance. I told him that whilst I would be happy to receive the call, it should be noted that I rarely answer calls during business hours, and that I have no intention of purchasing funeral insurance. Andy thanked me and told me that someone would contact me within the next few days.

As is usual, my mobile phone did, in fact, ring several times over those next few days, however it sits switched off in my bag during business hours, which while I am training are usually between seven.AM and seven or eight.PM, but possibly as late as ten or eleven. I did find some voicemail messages from people I didn't recognise, but none identified themselves as funeral insurance salespeople, with the most information provided on those messages being protracted sighs. One week after Andy's call I found another voicemail message. This one went longer than the sigh, growing to something like a growl of 'Why don't you ever answer the phone?' The voice spaced out each word carefully. 'Answer the fucking phone. Goddammit!'

I didn't consider a connection between Andy's call and this message until later, and it would be another two weeks until I finally spoke to the salesperson he'd arranged. Upon reflection, I believe many attempts had been made by the salesperson to contact me (up to eleven per day.)

I answered a call while I was on the way home from work last night from the number previously identified by my mobile phone's screen as frequently calling me. The caller identified himself as Jason from an insurance company, and asked how I was. Without considering an honest response, I told Jason that I was fine, and asked how I could help him. Instead of answering my question, Jason told me that he wasn't calling to sell me anything, and asked if I had considered the financial impacts to my family and loved ones if they had to unexpectedly pay for my funeral expenses.

'I might have briefly,' I replied, thinking about past discussions I'd had with family and friends on the topic of my funeral. 'But usually when I think about my funeral it isn't about the costs so much as other things. That's what I consider. Things like the music, and who will go... Epitaphs... Eulogies... Those sorts of things...'

'Yeah,' Jason said sharply. 'All that stuff you just said, that isn't what I asked.'

'Oh...' I said, dumbly.

'So have you actually considered the financial impacts to your family if they needed to pay funeral expenses unexpectedly?'

'Well...' I thought of how my previous response had apparently not addressed this and decided to reply with something more concise. 'I guess not...?'

'Did you know,' he pitched boldly, 'That a typical funeral might cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000?'

I told him that I thought I might have heard the figure before, and Jason decided to tell me - despite his earlier statement that he was not calling to sell anything - that he could sell me a product which would 'offset, or even entirely cover' those funeral expenses. 'Is that something you'd like to sign up to today?' he asked.

'No,' I declined. 'Thank you.'

There was a moment of silence on the phone, before Jason asked 'Can I ask why?'

'I have other, more pressing financial concerns, I suppose...' I theorised. I was still thinking about just why I wasn't interested when Jason continued.

'I know that it isn't nice to think about your funeral, is it?'

'Well, I acknowledge that some people might not think so,' I conceded. 'But I kind of like to.'

'Yeah, right. Whatever. Let's talk about how your loved ones would cope with those expenses, which I said earlier could be $100,000 or higher, once you're gone.'

'Okay,' I said, not correcting Jason on the inflation of his previously-quoted figures, and there was a moment of silence on the line, which Jason broke with 'So...?' I repeated the 'so' back to him, a little confused, since Jason had raised a point for discussion, and then not done so.

'So, how would your family cope with expenses like $100,000 for your funeral after you die?'

'Oh!' I laughed a little. 'Well, if I died, there wouldn't be much of a family left to think about expenses.'

'Okay,' Jason continued, and seemed to brighten up as he moved on to his next point. 'The product that I have available for you today would pay out up to $50,000 within two weeks of your passing, with the cost to you being only $2.16 per day. Now, that price would stay fixed and won't change for as long as you hold the product.'

Had Jason been pitching this product to me face-to-face, he might have noticed a visible change in my expression from vague interest in a discussion on funerals, to strongly opposed to purchasing this product, and perhaps a little amused and confused too. He didn't have that luxury though, so he went on to ask 'Are you interested in signing up for that today?'

'After what you've just said, I can now say I am definitely not interested. Thank you for calling me, though...'

'Can I ask why you're not interested?' Jason interjected quickly.

'There was very little about the product that was appealing to me to begin with,' I explained, thinking about stopping there, since I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I continued though, but tried to be delicate. 'I know it can't be an easy product to sell, but you haven't really made this offer seem attractive.'

Jason once again said what was rapidly falling into the category of 'old chestnut.' 'Can I ask why?'

'Well, you've told me that funeral expenses can be either up to, or in excess of $100,000, but that this product would only pay $50,000, so not enough to cover that. And are you sure that the cost is $2.16 per day?'

'That's right!' Jason replied optimistically. 'And that's fixed for life, with no need for medical checks up front.'

'That doesn't sound at all competitive with other products on the market. That must work out to over $700 per year, right?'

'It's $2.16 per day,' Jason repeated, but I don't think he checked my maths. (I have since and found my estimate to have been accurate.)

'So it seems like a pre-paid funeral plan would be more economical than this,' I said, before finishing, 'If I were interested in something like this at all.'

'Why didn't you just say at the start that you have a pre-paid package?' Jason asked, apparently misunderstanding my reasoning.

'Oh, I don't have pre-paid funeral...'

He cut me off 'So why did you bring it up then?'

'Because it is factual, I guess.' To fill the silence on the line, I added 'And relevant.'

'I don't see how,' Jason disagreed. 'Since you don't have anything in place for your funeral, shall I just go ahead and sign you up for this?'

'No,' I stated. 'I'm not interested in signing up.'

'Can I ask why?' Jason repeated.

'I think I've already given several valid reasons.'

'Not really,' Jason disagreed again. 'You obviously haven't understood. I'll put it another way. What if you went to work and your arms and legs got chopped off?'

I laughed. 'What?'

Jason sighed, and restated his scenario. 'What if you went to work tomorrow, and while you were there, your arms and legs got chopped off?'

I was still smiling, and considered concocting a response using references to the Misfits' ode to Boxing Helena, but thought that asking 'Would you still love me anyway?' could be too niche of a response, and also easily misinterpreted. Instead, I tried to gain more information to understand the reason for his question. 'Are you suggesting I could die from injuries like that at work tomorrow?'

I heard another sigh before Jason said 'Maybe you would, but my point was obviously to find out if you didn't die, if you would still be able to work after that?'

I couldn't help but laugh again. 'I don't think I'd be comfortable continuing in my current role in that condition. No.'

'I don't see why this is funny,' Jason scolded. 'If you were injured like that at work, and couldn't keep working, don't you think the $50,000 would come in handy then?'

'I suppose it would,' I conceded, trying to emulate a tone of sincerity and avoid more laughter at his scenario. 'But I'm confused about why you're mentioning it. Wouldn't that money only be payable if I died?'

'Of course not,' Jason snapped. 'It also gets paid if you're injured on the job and can't work. So would you be interested in signing up?'

I told Jason that I didn't want to, and anticipated his next move.

'Can I ask why?'

I started to reiterate my previous lack of interest with further focus on my belief in the comparatively high cost of this product when I heard Jason say 'Yeah,' before his end of the call went silent. A look at my phone's screen confirmed that the call had ended, and I guessed that he'd disconnected.

I reflected, as the train journey continued after the call, upon my conversation with Jason. I wondered if any of my input to the conversation could have been reasonably taken as inappropriate to the point that he would see fit to end the call without so much as a 'goodbye.' I was certain that his conversational technique could use improvement, but tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. My train of thought was interrupted by another phone call, this one from a silent number.

'Fucking knob!' was the first comment I caught when I answered, before I'd even finished saying 'Hello.' 'You're a knob!' I couldn't make out the words clearly, because the caller was speaking loudly into the phone. 'How dare you treat people like you did! You're scum! You think you're better than me? You're scum. I hate scum like you! Everyone does. Fuck off!'

The call was terminated before I had a chance to say anything, but I suspected that it had been from Jason. I obviously had inadvertently done something to insult or upset him, but doubted his resilience or suitability for his sales role if a conversation like the one we'd had could drive him to not only terminate a call in its midst, but also - if it was indeed Jason on the second call - to also make a dedicated and passionate follow up call to cast insults. I wondered later if the earlier voicemail messages might also have been from Jason in previous attempts to speak to me.

Luckily, I'd received this call on the third day of the latest intake of what is the most demanding of the training programmes I deliver at work, so I knew that a facilitator from the client would be visiting to introduce their brand tomorrow. If he runs to his usual format, he will invite participants to discuss a negative customer service experience. I hope that he might invite my input to provide me a chance to gather opinions on my experience with the funeral insurance salesman to gauge whether any of my responses could have been deemed inflammatory.
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