How long have you had your current job, and what do you like and dislike about it?
My Call Center Job
I don't currently have a job, but since I'm still decompressing from my last one, I'd like to discuss it. I worked as a telefundraiser for the last five years in a call center, soliciting donations for a slew of political and social non-profits.
It's a given in call center work that everyone is on Plan F, G or H of their lives. Not just Plan B or C; did anyone ever grow up planning to be a telemarketer? No, the place was populated by a weird assortment of societal misfits: disbarred attorneys, recovering alcoholic executives, even a disgraced physician worked with me. Naturally many college students passing through on the way to better lives came in briefly, and some homemakers looking for part-time hours. We gave shelter to folks far too elderly to be hired elsewhere and people from half-way houses for parolees. Piercings and tattoos didn't matter.
What commonality united this bunch? In the early days, it was verbal skill and a quick mind. As a result, no matter what level of success these people had achieved in the larger world, here at the call center they could excel with or without formal education, with or without an impressive resume.
Later, the company's founder sold out to a large corporation, business volume skyrocketed, and anyone with a pulse got hired. Illiterate clods stumbled through their conversations and fractured the presentations.
In some ways, the work was not what you'd expect. The company insisted that we be honest with the prospects, and many of the managers and callers appeared to truly believe in the various causes we represented. We dealt with many of the most prominent cultural, environmental and charitable organizations. With political groups, our founder contracted only with liberals and I'd guess that about 85% of the callers felt they were fighting the good fight for justice. The rest faked it.
The prospects usually assumed we took a percentage of the donations, and frequently screamed at callers and called us crooks. We didn't get a percentage; the company negotiated a set fee with the non-profit for each campaign, and all the donations went straight to the charity. Hardly anyone believed us, but it was the truth. Our paychecks reflected bonuses for bringing in more donations, but that came from the contracted fees. We suffered because so many other companies in the business were conning people.
The work itself was so horrible that callers constantly suffered from stress and many broke down and cried or walked out in angry fits. I had several panic attacks. Prospects threatened us, screamed, swore endlessly, blasted air horns into the phone, or just lied transparently. One told a caller he'd hunt her down and kill her children. She dissolved into tears.
Lots of the people we'd get on the calls were crazy, drunk or high. Little kids would answer the phone and refuse to forfeit it. One kid said he couldn't call Mommy because she was in the shower with Uncle Dave. An old lady told me her husband couldn't come to the phone because he was constipated, she had given him a "physic" and he was on the toilet.
After I completed a detailed appeal for a certain good cause on one occasion, the woman on the line said simply, "What's this got to do with my Linens-and-Things credit card?"
Another man listened to me patiently, and then asked, "Tell me, do you know who's been stealing my paper off the porch?"
Rarely, a person would shock me by casually replying, "Sure, I'll give $5000, let me go get my Visa."
Then there were prospects that were fascinating, charming, heart-breaking or funny. I think I fell in love with a guy from California one night. I sobbed openly with a woman whose gay son's partner had been murdered the day before in a hate crime. Others educated or inspired me.
The political calls were my favorites. Prospects got fired up, angry and outraged. We had many lively debates. It was also tiresome and irritating to hear the same tired crap hundreds of times a day.
All through the primaries, they repeated the excuse that they were waiting to see who the nominee would be. My standard comeback was, "Will you vote for Bush if your favorite doesn't win the nomination?"
Without exception they would scream, "Of course not."
Then I'd ask, "Well then what's the point of waiting?" They never had an answer.
A job like this wears on a worker. The performance quotas kept going up, more and more people demanded to be put on the do-not-call list, but most of all, they were simply sick of being called for money. I was sick of calling them. Management got more restrictive, adding to the astronomical stress level.
It's a relief to be gone. Co-workers call me sometimes and repeat the familiar litany of woes. I sympathize with them and think: better you than me.