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10/7/03

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Rambling Elderly Widows Hired to Thwart Telemarketers


Danbury, MA (DPI) - Even with Caller ID, Call Blocker, Tele-Zapper and a host of other devices to stop those annoying dinnertime calls, somehow they still get through, offering everything from long-distance service to time-share opportunities. Coupled with the uncertainty of the national "Do-Not-Call" list, one company has set out to provide the final solution.

Ramblin' Rose Corp. has contracted with nursing homes and assisted living centers across the country, selecting only widowed residents who receive no more than two visitors per year. "The process is simple but extremely effective," said Robert Porter, founder of Ramblin' Rose. "Subscribers to our service have their telemarketing calls automatically forwarded to one of our employees, who gladly take the call and speak endlessly to anyone who will listen. I don't care how good their vinyl-siding offer is. After 15 minutes of hearing Ethel discuss her hip surgery and incontinence problem, that telemarketer won't be calling back."

Ramblin' Rose workers have high job satisfaction, and most don't even realize that they are employees. Gertrude Garner described her typical work day. "This afternoon I got a call from the nicest young man," she said. "He was telling me about a wonderful low-interest credit card that reminded me of the first time I was given credit at the Woolworth's Five and Dime, although even back in those days items cost more than a dime, and you know, we used to collect soda bottles and turn them in for a penny each until we had a dime and would go the matinee to see the latest moving picture show. Which reminds me, my rheumatism has acted up something awful ever since they started putting that fluoride in the water. Now, what was your question again?"

But not everyone is pleased with the service. Mark Vetter, president of The National Telemarketers Association, contends that such measures put an undue strain on telemarketers, drastically increases the man-hours required per call, and will cost the jobs of good, hard-working people. "Our callers cannot be expected to politely listen to 20 minutes of an 80-year-old with slight dementia prattling about everything from war rations to gall bladder problems to her grandson's job promotion," said Vetter. "I took over on one such call with a nursing home resident in Ithaca, New York, who failed to ever get to the point after 45 minutes of rambling about sewing machines and ferry boats."

Thus far, Ramblin' Rose has more than three million subscribers and 700 employees. Overhead is low because many widows work for free just to have someone to speak with during the day, and employees with Alzheimer's can be told that they were already paid. "I have yet to ever hear from the same telemarketer twice," said Brad Harper, a satisfied Rose subscriber. "I hate having to call my own grandmother once a year on her birthday. I can't imagine having to try and sell her printer cartridges or a cell phone in the process."

With their successful new venture up and running, Ramblin' Rose has begun looking to expand services to include thwarting door-to-door salesmen and Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as donation-seekers at shopping malls. "We've almost worked out all the kinks in our new services," said Porter. "We just haven't figured out where subscribers will keep the dirty wino when he isn't needed."

(Reported by Buddy Fisher)




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