Wednesday, March 10, 2004

My Life With The Thrill Call Cult 

I'm not a big fan of telemarketing. I don't appreciate being contacted at my home at any time of the day with super-fantastic offers. I am not the type of consumer who buys on impulse or feels compelled to act fast when pressured. Obviously, this wouldn't lend well to my being persuaded much at all by a phone call during dinner or (God forbid) an Avs game where some loser on the other end is reading directly from a script and informing me how much better off I'd be if I had whatever product or service they're trying to send my way. All this makes it hard for me to believe that I was once that loser on the other end. I was, briefly, a telemarketer.

It does, however, explain why it's the only job I've been fired from. Not for lack of trying, mind you. I quit the job I had previous to the telemarketing before they could fire me. That's another story for another time, though. I also tried, later in my life, to get fired from the screenprinting place after I started at the Gazette through a tactic called "not showing up." Surprisingly, it didn't work, and I eventually had to quit.

But I digress...

I ended up as a telemarketer because I was attending a tech school where, in addition to attending class full-time, I had to work full time so I could pay rent for an apartment because there were no dorms. As I said, I was without a job and was going to take whatever came along. I saw the notice 'telemarketers wanted! good pay' on the wall at school. I called the number and spoke to a man named Tom. Tom said that they were indeed hiring and asked if I could read something for him so he could get a feel for how my voice sounded on the phone.

Read something..."Read what?" I thought.

Lucky for me, someone had left a snacky bag next to the payphone I was on. I read the nutrition information to Tom convincingly enough to earn an interview. I attended my interview and was hired on the spot, mostly because Time Life Libraries of Denver would hire anybody. I attended a training class and learned the fine art of how to sell to the unsellable, how to stay on the phone when the person on the other end obviously doesn't want to talk with you and how to use 'command language' to close a sale. Sickeningly enough, I was actually excited about having this job because I liked the 'mysteries of the unknown' series of books and, of course, Time-Life puts together some of the most kick-ass music compilations on the planet. Either way, because I needed money to pay rent and maybe buy some 2 for 1 soda at King Soopers, I was going to be a telemarketer.

I was good and ready to be the scum of the earth.

The promise of big money and no whammies were presented, as they always are, to us rookies in the training class as thoroughly attainable goals. "Why, just last week, one of the phones earned over $2000!" we were enthusiastically told. "that could be YOU!" My spongy little brain immediately filled with the visions of products I would most certainly be purchasing once I hit the phones and utilized my newfound 'command language' to sell music and books to the unwashed masses. We were also told about many people, just like us, who came to work for Time-Life while they were attending school and found that they could make SO MUCH CASH, that they abandoned whatever it was they were earning their degree in to suckle at the teat of filthy lucre. On top of that, we were told, Tom (whom I'd spoken with on the phone) had abandoned a radio career to be a telemarketer. He had also earned an unheard of sum of $5000 during his previous week of work! What a phone supervisory stud! abandoning the fame of radio for the riches of sales! rah rah rah!

Hey, I was young. I needed the money.

Telemarketers are almost constantly monitored. This is especially true when you're a rookie scum-of-the-earth. My phone sensei, or whatever the fuck she was, let me know that she'd be listening most of the night and she'd have "constructive criticism for me as the evening progressed." Armed with this knowledge, and a final admonition to "not sound so much like a DJ," I was handed a stack of leads, given a desk and shown the green light. Wholly prepared to alienate large groups of consumers, I made my first call. Shockingly enough, the person on the other end of the line didn't want to talk to me. Like a good little minion of Satan, I followed my script, performed all of my twists and turns and didn't let this person go until I had exhausted every technique in my arsenal. Once I heard enough negative responses to satisfy company policy, I let my victim go, less a brain cell or three. Miss Scum-Team Leader, who had monitored the entire call, approached me and said, "good job, you did everything right, she was just a tough sell." I responded with "she didn't really want to talk to me." Mentor-lady looked at me as if I had spontaneously sprouted a second head. "Well, yeah. Nobody WANTS to talk to us. But you keep doing what you did and you'll sell these people eventually. Just talk normal, will ya?"

It was at that moment, I had never felt slimier in my whole life.

I realized eventually that I was expected to be annoying to be effective. The 'techniques' I was trained to use were meant mainly to frustrate the people on the other end of the phone into thinking that the only way they were going to escape me and my wonderful products would be to buy something...Anything... "What if they hang up on me?" I inquired. "Well, you can't help that, but IF YOU USE ALL YOUR TECHNIQUES CORRECTLY AND DON'T DEVIATE FROM THE SCRIPTS that shouldn't happen" I was told.

Ah, so it'd be MY FAULT if I couldn't sell and MY FAULT if I got hung up on. I'd better jot that down. Apparently, these scripts were written by advanced beings and were COMPLETELY PEERLESS! Any lack of success could only be attributed to my own flawed execution. Things were INDEED getting deep.

I didn't make my first sale for a number of days. It was clear that I wouldn't be earning those fat commissions anytime soon, nor would I be buying new VCRs and things. In fact, paying rent might soon become a concern. Anyway, when one made a sale, one rang any one of many little bells positioned around the sales floor. After the ringing, you would acquire a little dot next to your name on a toteboard at the front of the room. There were individuals who were ringing those goddamned bells all night long. There were individuals who could make their dots run off the edge of the Stupid board. I was not one of those individuals. In fact, If I had anything, it would generally be a vast, blank area next to my name at the end of my shift. Maybe one or two dots. Most I ever had was 7, but I cheated to get that. It was obvious that I wasn't a telemarketing legend in the making. It was also obvious that I would probably be looking for a new job soon. Little did I know HOW soon...

I went to work on a Thursday afternoon after class. It was a cold day and I wasn't feeling all that well. I had to circle the block a few times to find a parking space and, ultimately, I was heading up to the 23rd floor to chat all night on the phone with people whom, if they didn't think I truly was Satan, probably assumed I was talking to them from some level in Hell and treated me accordingly. I shouldn't really impune them, though, I hated me, too. I grabbed my stack of leads, sat at my desk, called my first victim and introduced myself.


"Hi, my name is (insert whatever fake name I was using here) from Time Life Libraries in Denver. How are you this (insert time of day in whatever time zone I was calling)?

"Fine, I..."

"I would like to tell you about THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNKNOWN SERIES from Time-Life...Are you familiar with these books, ma'am?"

"Look, we're about to have dinner and I don't have time to talk with you right now."

I then uttered what apparently is the absolute WORST PHRASE in the Telemarketing kingdom...ABSOLUTE BLASPHEMY! I SHIT YOU NOT when I tell you that the next words to spew from my filthy lie-hole were:

"I apologize, ma'am. You have a nice evening." I then disconnected the call.

Before I could even grab another lead and dial my phone, I was unceremoniously yanked from my chair and brought back to the office where my immediate supervisor sat, seething. She had, of course, heard the entire conversation.

"WHY DIDN'T YOU TRY TO SELL THAT PERSON?" she exclaimed. "She didn't want to talk with me, they were about to have dinner" I responded. "I don't care about that! What about your scripts! HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING WE TAUGHT YOU?" she bellowed. Apparently I HAD forgotten. at the same time, I remembered what it was like to be human. I remembered what it was like to have a nice meal with my family. In my moment of non-slime, I acted accordingly. "Well, we're gonna have to re-evaluate your performance here. I can't have your kind of attitude on the floor, bringing everyone else down" she said. "First off, where do you see yourself in 5 years with this company?"

There are many times in my life that I've thought things without saying them. Many times, I've put on a happy face and told people what they want to hear, all the while seething internally. I'm actually pretty good at it, it's a skill that has saved my ass in many situations.

This, ironically enough, was not that kind of situation.

I quickly emitted a very pronounced "PFFT" noise. I said "5 YEARS!? 5 YEARS!? Are you kidding? 5 years from now, I'm back in Colorado Springs making good use of my degree! I'm not going to stay here for 1, maybe 2 years TOPS! 5 YEARS!?" I then stared at my 'mentor' with the kind of apoplectic gaze that is generally reserved for people who have just committed horrible, unspeakable evil (like farting in church). "Look, lady, I hate it here. I'll do my best while I'm on the floor, but if you think I like this job, you're insane. I NEED the job, but I don't want it. 5 years? Feh."

My wee outburst was followed by that awkward kind of silence when you REALLY KNOW that NO MATTER WHAT happens next, it isn't going to benefit you.

"Well then. I'm going to just have to let you go" my sensei stammered.
"But I need the job" I said.
"No, I'm letting you go" she said.
"You don't understand, I need the job" I replied.
"No, you have to go."

So go I did. I was home in time to watch some good TV for the first time in a very long time. I was given my final paycheck the next day. I felt very free. I didn't have to talk with anyone anymore about things they didn't want to hear about. I didn't have to be called names just because I wanted to pay my rent.

I also couldn't pay my rent. Not without a job, at least. I had to 'hit the bricks' as it were. I did learn some very valuable lessons while I was on the other end of the phone. not the least of which is this little wisdom nugget:

Telemarketers are assholes. They can't help it. It's company policy.

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