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Updated Feb 13, 2024

10 Worst Telemarketing Calls Ever

These nightmare telemarketing calls are examples of what not to do when calling your leads and customers.

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Mark Fairlie, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
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Editor Reviewed
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Warning: Some of the videos of bad telemarketing experiences below are NSFW.

According to Pew Research Center, only 19 percent of Americans answer unknown calls on their cell phone. You might think that means you need to reach your audience via other channels, but telemarketing is far from dead. In fact, statistics from IBISWorld show the telemarketing industry grew each year between 2017 and 2022. 

If you’re considering an outbound call center for your business, it’s important to understand the do’s and don’ts of telemarketing. Sometimes the best way to learn what not to do is from the worst telemarketing calls, some of which we’ve rounded up here.

The worst telemarketing calls

To highlight just how important finding a good outbound calling service is to telemarketing success, we’ve found the 10 worst telemarketing experiences and will explain how your business can learn from those dreadful calls.

‘Yes’ ladder goes wrong

The “yes” ladder is a way to build trust between a telemarketer and their call recipient. The idea is the call representative gets the caller to say yes to smaller questions before building up to the big yes. Each yes makes it harder for the person being pitched to say no later on in the call without sounding like they’re contradicting themselves.

In this video, the telemarketer has the yes ladder used against him, as it takes 80 seconds for him to figure out that the person is just saying yes to every question, no matter what’s asked. A skilled telemarketer should be able to identify this pattern sooner than later.

Lenny tricks frustrated telemarketer

An anonymous IT professional created a chatbot named Lenny that was designed to keep telemarketers on the phone by sounding disoriented and confused. The chatbot takes on the personality of an 80-year-old man who discusses everything other than what the telemarketer wants to talk about.

In this 12-minute clip, the telemarketer eventually becomes frustrated with Lenny’s inability to focus and asks to speak with someone else in the home. She loses her patience and makes derogatory remarks based on her perception of the caller’s age. A talented telemarketer can tell when something’s amiss and won’t get openly frustrated by the situation. 

Solar telemarketer gets foul

For many years in Britain, the government encouraged homeowners to install solar panels with the feed-in tariff. The program is the crux of this telemarketer’s pitch, but it takes him a little time to realize the caller’s interest isn’t genuine.

Things get bad in the video (including foul language) around the 3:50 mark. Threatening the caller at the end of the conversation was the worst possible reaction from the telemarketer, demonstrating that this particular call rep was unsuitable for the role.

Real estate coach tries and tries again

Ricky Carruth is a real estate salesperson who also creates YouTube content to teach people about the industry. In this video, he shares five minutes of calls to prospects who hang up on him. It doesn’t help that he’s on speakerphone, which may make it harder for people to hear him clearly. But throughout the compilation, Carruth shows the professionalism and maturity of an experienced marketer – though he doesn’t have the nicest things to say about his callers after they end the conversation.

Did You Know?Did you know
According to LinkedIn, 82 percent of buyers are willing to meet salespeople who proactively contact them, and 62 percent of buyers welcome initial contact from sellers when looking for a product or service.

Lenny foils a scammer  

In this call, Lenny talks in circles and quickly angers the purported telemarketer, who appears to be a scammer. After a few minutes, the alleged telemarketer’s voice rises, and his frustration becomes evident. During the final seconds of the call, the apparent scammer loses control as he shouts at Lenny to shut up. He would have withdrawn from the call gracefully if this were a real, professional telemarketer.

Telemarketer falls asleep, makes fake calls

Keeping energy levels up throughout a call shift is difficult even for the greatest telemarketers. But this is really bad: Ade Holder, founder of 427 Marketing, told us about a caller who would fall asleep when he was supposed to be dialing. 

“I have employed a telemarketer who fell asleep during the day,” Holder said. “[He] also made fake calls, which were only found out when he accidentally hit the speaker button and we could hear the dial tone as he was having a fake conversation.”

There’s a key lesson in this anecdote: When hiring a telemarketing service, ask the company about the training their employees provide when making outbound calls and how they track performance. 

Call stress leads to medical condition

Telemarketers are often under tremendous pressure to perform. Some companies discourage telemarketers from ending calls, regardless of how a conversation goes. This practice can lead to telemarketers enduring verbal abuse without any way out of the call until the person on the other end hangs up.

United Steelworkers started a “Hang Up on Abuse” campaign following reports of a customer service agent who developed a medical condition due to the stress of dealing with abusive calls. You wouldn’t want your in-house employees to suffer through such a situation, and you shouldn’t want outsourced callers to either. If you want to use a telemarketing company to promote your products or service, investigate how they treat their telemarketers, and search the web for bad reviews before contacting them. If you use a call center with a bad reputation, you may harm your own business’s reputation.

Comedian pranks telemarketer

In this clip from comedian Jim Florentine, he and a partner write down everything the telemarketer says to them in a painstakingly slow fashion. The telemarketer quickly gets frustrated with the call and displays a complete lack of patience instead of maturely retreating from the call.

While this situation was a prank, customers often frustrate telemarketers with odd requests and natural skepticism. But if a call center representative explodes with rage, that reflects poorly on your business. When researching the best telemarketing companies, find those with the most polite and professional call service reps. Proper phone etiquette is essential to customer service.

Comedian pretends to be an interpreter

Florentine pranked another telemarketer by “translating” for his friend, who he claimed couldn’t speak English. Within a minute, it’s apparent the translation is a prank as Florentine translates English into, well, English. Fortunately, while this was probably an awful experience for the telemarketer, she handled the call professionally. 

This is a great example of the type of telemarketer or call center professional you’d want to represent your business. The representative clearly explains her role in the situation and politely shares why she’ll have to hang up the phone if the jokes continue.

Telemarketer spews insults

The call representative reaches out in this video about a stock market opportunity. For the first 60 seconds of the call, the telemarketer is composed. However, he loses it in the final 60 seconds when he tells the customer not to interrupt him. When the caller tries to tell the rep that he’s not interested, the telemarketer insults him by insinuating the call recipient can’t afford the opportunity anyway because he lives in the Czech Republic.

Confidence and persistence are key traits for successful telemarketers, but so is respect for the person on the other end of the phone. No profitable business relationship was ever built on the back of a call like this.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Successful telemarketers have to be prepared for every situation on the phone. The best telemarketers balance politeness at all times with a determination to serve the customer and hit their sales targets.

How to choose the right outbound call center for your business

There are thousands of independent call centers in America. Follow these steps to find the right telemarketing company for your business:

  • Look for a call center with specific expertise in your line of business. If the telemarketing representatives are already used to working with companies selling products and services similar to yours, they’re likely to have a better chance of making appointments with the people they call and get the information you want.
  • Make sure they use reliable data sources. If you want to contact consumers and business decision-makers who are not already in your database, ask prospective call centers where they get their calling data.
  • Visit the premises. If you can, visit the call center to get a feel for the organization. Does it appear to be well run? Find out where and how the staff will be trained for your call campaign. Even better, ask to sit with one of the telemarketers for an hour so you can hear how well they and their colleagues handle calls.
  • Seek transparent operations. Most call centers now allow you to track campaigns in real time and download calls you choose for inspection. Do not hire telemarketing companies that won’t allow this.
  • Check online reviews. The experiences of other clients can provide reliable guidance on how well a call center executes campaigns. These reviews may be more trustworthy than the promises of a commission-driven sales rep.
Check out our cold-calling scripts and tips if you want to try dialing up potential customers yourself.

Using telemarketing services for your business

If you want to use telemarketing services for your business, make sure the provider you choose offers the following services. 

  • Appointment making: This service is great for companies making face-to-face client visits. Let your call representatives spend their whole week pitching for deals during prebooked appointments with customers instead of making them spend three days on the phone to find two days’ worth of appointments.
  • Lead generation: For companies whose sales reps sell over the phone, an outbound agency can find potentially interested customers in advance so that the telemarketers spend more time selling to callers and not prospecting. [Learn more in our small business guide to lead generation.]
  • Market research: Find out how your existing customers view your products, services and after-sales support with a call center that reaches out to your clients. You could also have telemarketers call target customers who have not yet bought from you to find out what you need to do to win their business.
  • Database cleansing: The older your customer data is, the more likely it is to be outdated. Use outbound telemarketing to reconnect with clients and prospects while ensuring you have the right buyer name and contact details.
  • Event promotion: Are you appearing at a trade fair or exhibition? Are you holding a seminar or a webinar? Use an outbound call center to promote the events you’re hosting or appearing at to your target audience by inviting them to come along with a phone call. 
Did You Know?Did you know
Telemarketing is one of the most heavily regulated forms of marketing in the U.S. By using a specialist call center, you can avoid a potential telemarketing lawsuit, as it will abide by all FTC telemarketing laws.

How telemarketing helps small businesses

Telemarketing helps small businesses in many ways, such as making a sale and gathering feedback. When you hire the right outbound call center, you take the time-consuming process of calling clients off your plate and entrust it to professionals skilled at conducting the sales process and offering excellent customer service over the phone. By researching some of the worst telemarketing experiences, you’ll know good telemarketing calls from bad and be better equipped to choose the best telemarketing company for your business. Learn more about choosing the best call center for your business.

Tejas Vemparala and Bennett Conlin contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

author image
Mark Fairlie, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Mark Fairlie is a telecommunications and telemarketing expert who has spent decades working across advertising, sales, and more. He is the former co-owner of Meridian Delta, a direct marketing company that he successfully sold to new management in 2015. Through this experience, Fairlie gained firsthand knowledge of the life of an entrepreneur, from conceiving a business idea to growing a company at scale to transferring ownership. In the time since, Fairlie launched a second marketing company as well as a sole proprietorship. He has expanded his purview to include topics like cybersecurity, taxation and investments as they relate to B2B business owners like himself.
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