Statistics Canada doesn’t need to conduct a telephone survey to figure out that taxpayers are opposed to wasteful government spending. It’s a pretty safe assumption. Which is why, in these days of bureaucratic belt-tightening, StatsCan has decided to pinch its pennies a little harder.
The plan? Pay someone to weed out “bad” phone numbers from its polling lists.
Here’s the logic: Whenever Statistics Canada conducts a household phone survey, the agency uses a computer to generate a directory of random numbers. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing whether that list includes disconnected lines or business phones. On some days, the public servants who are paid to ask the questions spend more time listening to busy signals and squealing fax machines. “It’s a waste of time and a waste of money,” says Denis Poulin, a StatsCan survey manager.
Hoping to recoup some of that time and money, the federal number crunchers have hired ASDE Inc., a Quebec company, to “pre-dial” every single phone number and identify the defective digits. An industry leader in so-called “list cleaning,” the Gatineau firm uses a “state-of-the-art automated dialing facility” that can verify the status of up to 10,000 numbers per hour—without annoying the person on the other end of the line. “It dials the number, but it does not actually let the phone ring,” says vice-president Randa Bell. “It is not intrusive at all. The connection is less than 85 tenths of a second, so the recipient never gets bothered by the call.”
The government’s contract with ASDE will pay the company $15,750 for one year’s work, with a potential extension of up to three more years. All told, the deal could cost taxpayers $63,000. But the bottom-line savings, Poulin says, will be much larger. He says StatsCan has done business with ASDE in the past, and initial investments of $10,000 have translated into efficiency savings worth up to $80,000. “We’re always looking for ways to save money and do things better, faster and cheaper. And this is one way we can do that.”
Speaking of savings, if you’re hoping to save yourself the hassle of being bothered by Statistics Canada, you’re out of luck. Market researchers, StatsCan included, are not covered under the new “do-not-call” list.