First, let me tell you a little background about my job. I do phone research, so I spend all day sitting in front of a computer/phone combination thing. I'm not exactly sure how it's wired, but I've got a small computer system on the desk just one step up from a dumb terminal. It's got software that interacts with the phone, which is a small box also on the desk that my headset plugs into. The phone and the computer are both plugged into their respective networks.
There are two to three ways that I can work with the phone and the computer and do my job. The first, most common way, is working with the automatic dialer. I log in to the computer, log into the terminal program I'm using, and that connects to the main system. I turn on my phone. A supervisor will have (or should have) already assigned my booth (and me) to a particular job on the dialer. The dialer will have been fed its groups of lists of particular randomly pre-generated numbers (filtered, we are to hope, for households who have requested to not be called by us again) and will dial assloads of numbers at one time. When the dialer detects that there is something going on at the household's end of the phone, it ships the call to the first available market research representative (us goons sitting in the booths). Meanwhile, we're sitting there with our phones on, our headsets on, logged in, waiting to be assigned to a call. We hear a tone in our headset, and then we are connected to the call. Sometimes the person on the other end of the phone will have been waiting some time. Those people are generally what we professionally and technically call "irate", and I don't blame them. This happens most when the dialer is going too fast. There is a legal limit to how many numbers the automatic dialer may try per market research representative on the phones. I do not know what that number is, but I expect that it is something appalling. This is the first way that we dial. This is the automatic dialer.
The second way that we dial is slower, but more effective. We again log in with the same equipment and programs, but on the supervisor's end, we have been assigned to the paced dialer rather than the automatic dialer. Instead of being automatically shuffled into a job with a particular list of numbers, we must select the job (the survey) and a group of lists of numbers ourselves. The group of lists of numbers that we pick is called a funnel. The funnel is a collection of all the numbers that we will dial for the survey, and it is broken down into smaller queues -- numbers in one particular region, numbers that were busy the first time we tried them, numbers that have someone of a particular demographic background in the household the first time we tried them, and any combination of the above. Our supervisors will be continuously adding more queues to the funnel as the day wears on and we've called everyone on the East Coast that we were supposed to dial for our project -- they'll add in the numbers that we were supposed to call back, numbers from other time zones, numbers that had a busy signal the first time we tried, and so forth. Different funnels are named different things -- for example, on some jobs, we have one funnel for the majority of the interviewers, and another funnel for the interviewers who will be exclusively calling back Spanish-speaking households. Since some of the interviewers (like me) don't speak Spanish, and therefore cannot interview in Spanish, it would be an exercise in futility to send us numbers of households that speak a language that we don't.
Dialing on the paced dialer is different from using the automatic dialer. Instead of the automatic dialer doing its thing and handing the call to us after so many rings or activity, we indicate to the computer that we are ready to start dialing. The computer pulls the next number from the funnel and that number is sent off to the paced dialer, which does the actual dialing. We don't hear the tones being sent out, but immediately after that, we are connected and we listen to the phone ring. After so many rings, we hang up, or we talk to the person who picks up the phone. (Or we do as instructed with answering machines, busy signals, fax machines, and the like.) We complete our conversation (or lack thereof), indicate to the computer how the call has gone, and the computer pulls the next number. Occasionally the funnel becomes empty, and we haven't any more numbers to dial. We get a computer prompt asking us if we want to try a different funnel or not. We then flag a supervisor and tell them, and they talk with the computer, and we have numbers to dial again.
The third, depreciated, way that we use the system is manual dialing. This is when the dialer is really, really broken. All is as the paced dialer above, except when we get the number from the funnel, we pull the phone console over and type the number into the phone keypad ourselves. The phone rings, and we do the things that we normally do with the paced dialer. This is the only time that we ever manually dial a phone number ourselves. All Do Not Call business is taken care of by computer before any market research representative is put on the phones. Either the client running the study gives the company a list of numbers to call (for an independant checkup of how their products/services are doing) or the client specifies the areas that they want surveyed, and numbers are randomly generated.
For example, if a client wanted to survey the Fairbanks, Alaska area randomly, a list of numbers starting with (907) 455 xxxx, (907) 456 xxxx, (907) 457 xxxx, (907) 474 xxxx, and (907) 479 xxxx might be generated. (907) 474-7721 might be randomly generated; so might (907) 456-5656, as well as any number of disconnected numbers, fax and modem numbers, home phone numbers (some of them unlisted). A randomly dialed survey can be (somewhat inaccurately) compared to a dictionary attack to crack a password. All sorts of things are tried, and some of them fail badly. But since there is a lot of processing power, a lot of market research goons manning the phones, and many numbers can be dialed at once, it is worthwhile for the company to randomly dial numbers without bothering to run it through the yellow pages of any given area to sift out the numbers that won't reach a household.
For those of you who forgot the point, or didn't bother to click the cut tag, a funnel is a number of groups of (often randomly generated) numbers that the computer dials for us. When we are on certain jobs, we are notified by a paper memo in our booth informing us what funnel we should be using.
I came to work and noticed that one of the ceiling tiles in the main interviewing room was out, and in its place was a duct-taped contraption of plastic sheeting redirecting into a garbage can. It's been raining, lately, and evidently the roof leaks. This normally isn't a problem, being as it's Phoenix, Arizona, but when it does rain... heh.
This would have passed without comment but that the trash can was labeled "Funnel trash -- Do Not Move!"
This called for some action. Handily enough, I had a spare sheet of paper (a shift change memo) in my booth, and a nice dark pen. Some font-imitation later, I had two sheets of paper, one reading: "Your funnel is Overflow", and the other one reading: "[ +OVERFLOW CANYON$AREA1_NORTH ]" (which is a good imitation of the typical names of the queues in any given funnel). I asked a supervisor for some tape, and crept over to Area 1 (north side) in the Grand Canyon interviewing room, where the roof overflow plastic sheeting funnel and trash can were, and taped the funnel label to the funnel, and the "Your funnel is" sheet to the trash can.
There was assorted giggling.