SON OF SAM SEABORN: How to Sound Like a Human When Phone Banking

To quote the greatest political mind of our generation, “Honestly, I am dumb. Most of the time I’m just playing smart.”

I am the Son of Sam Seaborn.

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It is easy to feel like one can’t do anything during a time when one can’t do much, which is why I recently decided to spend the next few weeks phone banking for 2020 Victory (i.e. the Biden campaign).

The registration process was as easy as one could hope for: attend a training session (led by the most patient group of campaign staffers), go to the phone bank URL, log in, and ThruTalk your way through a cold call.

For those phone bank virgins out there, ThruTalk is an autodialer campaigns use “for peer to peer phone banking to cell phones and landlines at scale” that allows them to “drag and drop questions to create a script using custom variables.”

In other words, it creates a script for callers that can adapt on the fly depending on a given respondent’s responses. They’re essentially digital cue cards for phone bankers.

However, that means, like all cue cards, they are only as effective as what is written on them. And, in their current form, the scripts the pollsters at 2020 Victory are using kinda sound like they were written by a Blade Runner-esque replicant:

Is this ____? Awesome! Hi, I’m a volunteer with the [INSERT STATE] Democratic Party. First, I know there’s a lot going on in the world, so one reason I’m calling is just to ask, how are you doing?

[Listen and respond appropriately.]

Thank you for sharing that, and for talking with me today.

The other reason I’m calling is about the very important election we have coming up this November. Will you be supporting Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Democrats down the ballot?

I don’t know about you, but I cannot think of a single blood-pumping human who sounds like that. Fortunately, with just a few simple tweaks, I believe we can humanize the machine enough that our respondents aren’t left wondering if we dream of electric sheep…

Hi, is ____ available? Awesome. Hi ____; my name is Bryce, and I’m with the [INSERT STATE] Democratic Party. First, and most importantly, I hope you and your loved ones are faring the best they can during these crazy, unprecedentedly difficult times.

[Listen and respond appropriately.]

The other reason I’m calling is about the incredibly important election we have coming up this November. Will you be voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris?

Now, some of those edits would undoubtedly be overruled by the Secret Board of Shadowy Pollsters:

  • One shouldn’t say their name because, to keep it 100, “some people” in America might not like the names of “some people” working the phone banks.
  • “Faring the best they can” is a somewhat loaded phrase.

However, some of those unorthodox quirks are what separate us from the Deckards of the world: 

  • Phrases like “crazy, unprecedentedly difficult times” may read somewhat clunky on digital paper, but we have become literally the most hyperbolic species in the history of the universe, and when we talk to one another that’s how we sound. We don’t “very,” we “incredibly”; we don’t “first,” we “first and most importantly”; we adjective, adverbly adjective our nouns.
  • We also think only narcs use the phrase “…and Democrats down the ballot.”

As my dad, Sam Seaborn Sr., said in Season 2, Episode 7, “Oratory should raise your heart rate.” So let’s better help those tens of thousands of Democratic patriots out there who are braving the mountain of anxiety that comes with calling another human being, on the phone, out of the blue, all in hopes of moving the needle a fraction of an inch.

(Dad might also bring up the fact that [Listen and respond appropriately] is one heck of a vague direction that assumes all phone bankers can — without any kind of prewritten replies/templates — play mental health professional in addition to mechanical turk.)

2020 Victory breaks down respondents into Strong Biden, Lean Biden, Undecided, Lean Trump, Strong Trump, and Other.

A Strong Biden or Lean Biden response has the phone banker go straight to a praising, prodding “Great! Thank you for your support. Records show that you are a regular voter — thanks for being a great example for your community! A lot of your neighbors I’ve spoken with are voting from home, and we’re expecting record turnout in this close election. Have you received your ballot in the mail yet?”

Meanwhile, a Strong Trump response has callers reply with a curt yet polite “Got it. Thanks for your time and have a good rest of your day!

It’s only with the Undecided and Lean Trump respondents where nuance comes into play…

If a respondent says they are Undecided or Lean Trump, phone bankers are told to follow up with an “I totally understand. This is a big decision, with so much at stake in this election. What issue is most important to you when deciding who to vote for this November?

The categories phone bankers can then click on are: “Economy/Jobs,” “Health Care,” “Immigration,” “Beat Trump,” “Racial Justice,” “Women’s Rights,” “Environment/Climate Change,” “COVID-19,” “Law & Order,” “Supreme Court/RBG,” and “Other.”

Once a button is clicked, the phone banker is given another prewritten, replicant-reminiscent response.

All of which could easily be injected with just a little more soul (in addition to a template and/or examples of how one could relate to a respondent’s given answer) and bolstered with a reminder to phone bankers that there is a classic ad formula when it comes persuasion:

Affirm the respondent’s choice. Make a personal connection. Bolster your shared opinion with facts/quotes. Close with a call-to-action (even if it’s only implied).

For example…

ECONOMY

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me! I definitely hear you. As we’ve all seen, the Trump Administration rewards wealth over work, and prioritizes corporations over working families. That’s not okay.

I’m with Joe, Kamala, and the Democrats because they believe that we can’t just build back to the way things were before, but we need to build a stronger, more inclusive middle class. They’re going to create millions of good-paying jobs and build an inclusive economy where every American has a fair shot to get ahead.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I definitely hear you on that one. As we’ve all seen, the Trump Administration continually rewards wealth over work, and prioritizes corporations over working families.

[INSERT PERSONAL ANECDOTE THAT ESTABLISHES A HUMAN CONNECTION BETWEEN THE CALLER AND THE RESPONDENT]

  • I (or a loved one) have (/has) already felt the brutal effects of his self-serving policies [ELABORATE, IF POSSIBLE).
  • I work as a [INSERT JOB], not on Wall Street.

That’s why I’m with Joe, Kamala, and the Democrats. They believe that we can’t just build back to the way things were before; we need to build back better, with a stronger, more inclusive middle class. They’re going to create millions of good-paying jobs and build an inclusive economy where every American has a fair shot to get ahead.

As Joe has said many times, “Whenever America has had its back against the wall, we have acted together to lay the foundation — through public investment and a strong social contract — for the American people to pull together and push forward.”

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HEALTH CARE

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me! Health care is really important to me too. It’s not right that millions of Americans have to worry about being ruined by medical debt when they or a loved one gets sick — particularly during an unprecedented global pandemic.

Joe, Kamala, and the Democrats will protect and build on the Affordable Care Act, which Trump continues to attack; stand up to drug corporations that are profiteering off of the pocketbooks of sick Americans; and ensure that health care is a right for all, not a privilege for just a few.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I get it! Health care is really important to me too.

[INSERT PERSONAL ANECDOTE THAT ESTABLISHES A HUMAN CONNECTION BETWEEN THE CALLER AND THE RESPONDENT]

  • I have found myself worrying more than ever about being ruined by medical debt, or what would happen if one of my loved ones gets sick — particularly during an unprecedented global pandemic.
  • My [INSERT LOVED ONE] has [INSERT ANECDOTE] — particularly during an unprecedented global pandemic.
  • It has been heartbreaking to see how many of our fellow Americans are having to endure that same kind of anxiety/suffering/struggle.

As Joe says, he “believes that every American has a right to the peace of mind that comes with knowing they have access to affordable, quality health care.” And that is why he, Kamala, and the Democrats will protect and build on the Affordable Care Act, which Trump continues to attack; stand up to drug corporations that are profiteering off of the pocketbooks of sick Americans; and ensure that health care is a right for all, not a privilege for just a few.

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IMMIGRATION

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me. [Share a short personal story if you have one of why you also care about this issue.]

Immigration is, at the end of the day, about families. The Trump Administration has separated families — ripped children out of the hands of their mothers — and fought to deny those children things like toothbrushes and soap. It’s a national disgrace and a moral failure, and it ends the day we put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House.

I’m with Joe and Kamala because their plans will modernize our immigration system, urgently undo Trump’s damage, and welcome immigrants into our communities.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

Thank you for sharing that with me. Immigration is something that means a lot to me.

[INSERT PERSONAL ANECDOTE THAT ESTABLISHES A HUMAN CONNECTION BETWEEN THE CALLER AND THE RESPONDENT]

  • My heart breaks whenever I see those wrenching images of children in cages.
  • America was founded, and is enriched, by immigrants.
  • It is downright un-American to treat fellow human beings the way the Trump Administration has since the moment they stepped into office.

Immigration is, at the end of the day, about families, and it is obvious the Trump Administration does not care about them. They have separated families — ripped children out of the hands of their mothers — and fought to deny those terrified children even the most basic of necessities like toothbrushes and soap.

It’s a national disgrace and a moral failure, and it ends the day we put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House. They are going to modernize our immigration system, and welcome immigrants into our communities.

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BEAT TRUMP

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me. I couldn’t agree more — there is nothing more important than defeating Donald Trump. [Share a short personal story if you have one of why you also care about this issue.] 

He is the most dangerous president in modern American history. Trump’s America is all about rewarding the wealthy and well-connected. It’s going to take a movement of millions of Americans to defeat him and create an America that’s for all of us.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I could not agree more! Donald Trump is the most dangerous president in modern American History, and it is going to take a movement of millions of Americans like you to defeat him and save our democracy.

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RACIAL JUSTICE

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me. [Share a short personal story if you have one of why you also care about this issue.]

As we all saw earlier this year, we’re at a watershed moment in our country’s history for confronting deep, systemic racism and inequality. I’m with Joe and Kamala because their bold, comprehensive policy agenda for advancing racial justice is a cornerstone of their plans in the White House.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I completely agree. We are at a watershed moment in our country’s history for confronting deep, systemic racism and inequality.

As Kamala has put it, “The reality is that the life of a Black person in America has never been treated as fully human . . . [and it is] critically important in our country for all people to be seen in their full selves, in a way that gives them the dignity they deserve.”

I’m with Joe and Kamala because a bold, comprehensive approach to advance racial justice is a cornerstone of their agenda.

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WOMEN’S RIGHTS

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me! The issues that women face are really important to me too, and there’s so much at stake this election for women. [Share a short personal story if you have one of why you also care about this issue.]

I’m supporting Joe Biden, Kamala, and the Democrats because I know they’ll work to defend Roe v. Wade, raise the minimum wage (since we know that the majority of minimum wage workers are women), expand the Affordable Care Act, ensure the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and more.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I couldn’t agree more! There is just so much at stake this election when it comes to the multitude of issues facing women in this country. That’s one of the reasons I’ve found the various Women’s Marches so inspiring.

I’m supporting Joe Biden, Kamala, and the Democrats because I know they will defend Roe v. Wade with everything they have, raise the minimum wage (since we know the majority of minimum wage workers are women), expand the Affordable Care Act, and ensure the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

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ENVIRONMENT

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me! I too am deeply concerned about the future of our planet. [Share a short personal story if you have one of why you also care about this issue.]

Joe, Kamala, and the Democrats understand that we have to take bold action to address climate change now, before it’s too late. They’re going to create millions of jobs moving us to a clean energy economy by 2050, and will fight to hold corporate polluters accountable. And, they’ve designed their plan to make changes that no future president can reverse. Their climate plan also addresses the fact that Latino, Black, and low-income communities have faced disproportionate harm from climate change and environmental contaminants for decades. We need policies that care about people — not corporations.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I couldn’t agree more. I am so concerned about the future of our planet; there are wildfires and floods destroying our country, and polluted air and water decimating our fellow Americans, especially those Latino, Black, and low-income communities who have faced disproportionate harm from climate change.

I’m supporting Joe, Kamala, and the Democrats because they truly understand that we have to take bold action to address climate change now, before it’s too late. They’re going to create millions of jobs that will move us to a clean energy economy by 2050, and they will fight to hold corporate polluters accountable. And, they’ve designed their plan to make changes that no future president can reverse.

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COVID-19

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me! [Share a short personal story if you have one of why you also care about this issue.]

The coronavirus has brought many issues and inequalities to light, especially in regards to healthcare access. While Democrats continue to fight for affordable healthcare, Trump still doesn’t have a plan to combat the pandemic even as we’ve seen cases surge across the country. Joe and Kamala’s plan will put public health leaders and scientists first, invest in a vaccine, expand testing, and improve contact tracing. They will not only put the country back on its feet in the short term but also help us defend against another pandemic in the long term, by restoring the pandemic response units that Trump has dismantled.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I couldn’t agree more. The coronavirus has brought so many issues and inequalities to light, especially in regards to healthcare access. And while Democrats continue to fight for affordable healthcare, Trump still doesn’t have a plan to combat the pandemic even as we’ve seen cases surge across the country.

Already, [INSERT # (PROVIDED BY 2020 VICTORY)] of our fellow Americans have contracted the virus and [INSERT NUMBER] have died because of the Trump administration’s negligence. [IF APPLICABLE, BRING UP HOW MANY PEOPLE YOU PERSONALLY KNOW WHO HAVE CONTRACTED THE VIRUS].

Joe and Kamala’s plan will put public health leaders and scientists first, invest in a vaccine, expand testing, and improve contact tracing. They will not only put the country back on its feet in the short term, but also help us defend against another pandemic in the long term by restoring the pandemic response units that Trump so callously dismantled.

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LAW & ORDER

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue with me. [Share a short personal story if you have one of why you also care about this issue.]

Joe Biden wants a safe America — safe from COVID, safe from crime and looting, and safe from racially motivated violence. Under the current administration, the homicide rate is up 26% this year. We have a president who fans the flames, rather than fighting the flames. Joe Biden is committed to a safe America and has a track record of success. While he was vice president in the Obama administration, violent crime fell 15%. What other issues are important to you?

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I completely agree, and couldn’t have said it better myself.

The fact is, Joe Biden wants a safe America — safe from COVID, safe from crime, and safe from racially-motivated violence.

Under the current administration, the homicide rate is up 26%. Meanwhile, we have a president who is actively fanning the flames of violence and division. While Joe was vice president in the Obama administration, violent crime fell 15%.

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SUPREME COURT

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me. [Share a short personal story if you have one of why you also care about this issue.]

I’m supporting Joe Biden and Democrats because the future of the Supreme Court is at stake. The future of health care, our environment, women’s rights — all of these are on the ballot this fall. If we don’t win in November, the consequences will be felt for generations. People like you and me have the power to shape the Court’s future this November by making our voices heard at the ballot box.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I couldn’t agree more. The hypocrisy of the Trump administration and the Republicans is as infuriating as it is terrifying.

[INSERT, IF APPLICABLE, RBG’S DYING WISH: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”]

I’m supporting Joe and the Democrats because the future of the Supreme Court is at stake. The future of health care, our environment, women’s rights — all of these are at stake. And if we don’t win in November, the consequences will be felt for generations.

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OTHER

CURRENT SCRIPT:

Thank you for sharing that with me! I definitely hear you, and will pass your message along to our team.

SUGGESTED EDITS:

I definitely hear you on that one, and I really think that’s one of the main issues driving so many of our fellow Americans to the polls this year.

Affirm their choice. Make a personal connection. Bolster your shared opinion with facts/quotes. Close with a call-to-action (even if it’s only implied).

Save democracy.

“I’m not saying I don’t like our chances.” — Sam Seaborn, Season 1, Episode 1

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For more insights from the SON OF SAM SEABORN, check out “Half-Baked Ideas to Save the Election,” “How to Master Debate Like a Master Debater,” or “The Eagerly Awaited Big Think Deck”

Or just follow me on the Twitter.