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Robot Telemarketers: The Mysterious Tale of Samantha West

December 23, 2013
By Jacqueline Lee - Contributing Writer


Former President Bill Clinton told the Democratic National Convention in 2012 that "the old economy is not coming back." It's a point that he started making in the '90s, and the intervening years have proven him right. Over the decades since Clinton took office, more and more jobs have become automated.


As a result, Rust Belt states like Ohio and Pennsylvania have felt the economic strain of disappearing manufacturing jobs. In Detroit, once the automobile manufacturing capital of North America, the unemployment rate is an astounding 17.7 percent.

Manufacturing isn't the only sector to succumb to automation. Some companies have started to use automated telemarketing robots. Although telemarketing employees shouldn't hang up their headsets yet, they need to keep an eye on this evolving trend.

On December 10, Time magazine published an article called "Meet the Robot Telemarketer Who Denies She's a Robot." The article covered a robot telemarketer that called a Time reporter's cell phone identifying herself as "Samantha West." She wanted to offer Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer a health insurance discount.

Scherer suspected something was up, so he asked the telemarketer if she was a real person. She laughed cheerily and said that of course, she was real. Scherer then asked her what vegetable was found in tomato soup. She claimed not to understand the question. He also asked her what day of the week it was, and she claimed to have a bad connection.

The Time article said that her goal was to ask each lead a series of questions about Medicare. She would then transfer call recipients to human telemarketers who would close the sale.

Time called Ms. West's number and discovered that she was from a company called Premier Health Plans, Inc., out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. When reporters called the company directly, a representative denied that they used robot telemarketers and promptly hung up.

The next time that Time reporters called Samantha West, they got a busy signal. Additionally, the website associated with Premier Health Plans was taken offline. As reporters investigated further, they discovered that Samantha West was a subject in multiple online forums. People called by Samantha made posts about her persistence and her refusal to deviate from her script.

Robot telemarketers apparently aren't sophisticated enough to craft the perfect sales pitch; companies still need human telemarketers for that. However, as Samantha West shows, robot telemarketers can perform simple tasks—sort of—like asking screening questions.

The tale of Samantha West is a cautionary tale for anyone in any profession. In today's new economy, everyone must build a skill set that can't be automated.


Edited by Rory J. Thompson



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