Calling all political parties

Blog Post

Participation Wednesday, April 23, 2014 View Count = 2144

Calling all political parties

This blog post was submitted by a party member who asked to remain anonymous.

The first time I volunteered for a political party, I did not expect a swanky office, or that I’d be put in charge. I expected to make buttons, sort the mail, get people coffee, and generally lighten the burden of the over-worked, under resourced staff.  I certainly didn’t expect to be thrown into the deep end. 

On my first shift I was making by-election calls. I was given access to the party’s database, a desk with a phone, and a couple of minutes of training during which I was told how to find the script and input call results. With a pat on the shoulder the trainer told me to “ask questions if I had any” then went to ‘train’ the next volunteer.  

I was about to represent a national political party and get to work asking Canadians how they vote, all with less than 5 minutes of training.  
                 This volunteer thinks parties' tele-sales strategies are a little outdated

Professionally, I do tele-sales. I’ve done tele-sales over three years for a variety of for-profit organizations, mostly smaller firms. I’ve done mostly business-to-business calls, with some consumer work. I am familiar with some of the best practises in the industry such as: always smile when you call, take notes, have the script and answers to ‘surprise questions’ in front of you, always check the call history, and read the account to know everything you can before you call. All of these things make the process better both for the caller and the person being called. 

Knowing what I know, as I sat in the campaign office and prepared to call my first voter, I was struck by three things:

1) How little I was trained. No one even told me the smile trick (there is a large amount of research that states smiling on the phone makes you sound happier and helps you to be more effective). I was given a page with additional information in case a voter had questions, but the information was all for softballs – points like how to answer “tell me more about the candidate.”

There was nothing on what to do if someone started screaming, or expressed anger at the party’s views. Should a voter try to express a policy position, I had to distill it down to one of the options on the drop-down menu, with no training on how to make those judgement calls. For example, if a voter says “We need to invest in a green economy” is their issue ‘the economy’ or ‘environment’? Is “We need to kick those corrupt senators out!” ‘Senate Reform’ or ‘Accountability’?

2) I was not given access to call history. If I wanted to see whether or when the party had previously called an individual, the manager had to give me extra permissions on the database – we did not get that information by default. 

This is an enormous problem. Not having this information leads to worse call experiences, as the caller knows nothing about the person to whom they are speaking, and is at risk of making incorrect assumptions. Further, it hurts the organization’s brand because the person being called will resent the organization forgetting who they are. In a world of increasing mass personalization people expect organizations to know them - particularly organizations that they may have invested in emotionally, like a political party. 

The lack of call history also explains that particular habit of parties of calling and calling and calling. When a call is missed, volunteers (like me) are told to register it as ‘call back’ which means the number gets added back into the queue without a cooling off period. Then, another volunteer, unable to see that you were called 3 hours ago, calls you again. 

3) There was no sense of having a conversation. The purpose of 
the calls was only to identify supporters. The success or failure of theoperation was judged by the number of calls made per hour and the number of supporters found. The party did not see the calls as an opportunity to talk and converse with Canadians. The script had nothing that led us to ask about voters’ views on policy, or even to ask how they were doing that day. 


                                    Nobody likes to feel like a data-point

What really struck me while volunteering was a deep sense that we were making calls not to connect with Canadians, but to ping a database made of humans. We were making calls solely to  acquire slivers of information. I got the feeling that had there been a cheaper and faster way to gain that information, the party would have done it. The conversation with the voter, rather than being the most important part of the call, was incidental to the whole process. 

This experience came in stark contrast with my work  in the private sector. When I call a client at work, all I care about is the conversation and the construction of a connection with the person on the other end of the line. Most of the information gained through a call can be gained through other sources – the value of the call is the interaction. Samara’s recent report, “By Invitation Only” found that 69% of Canadians said political parties were only interested in their vote, not their opinions, and gave parties’ outreach efforts a failing grade. It’s easy to see why. 

I can imagine a person wouldn’t feel very listened-to if, for example, s/he was a lifetime party member who received a call from a poorly trained volunteer asking for the third time how s/he was going to  vote.  Only through better training, following best business practices and most importantly seeing interactions with voters as valued conversations, rather than the pinging of a dataset, will parties’ outreach efforts start to meet Canadians’ expectations. 

On the Samara BlBlog logo representing the letter 'o'g