Telemarketer’s Tale: A Behind the Scenes Sneak-Peek.
A little build-up.
During these very difficult and trying economic times, I have had several odd jobs and my stint as a telemarketer wasn’t even the oddest to date. That honor goes to my short time at Rainforest Mushroom Company way out in Eddyville, Oregon. From our little farm, I would walk down the road under the massive redwood trees that Israel Eddy planted many years ago from seeds that he brought up with him on horseback from northern California.
We worked from 5 a.m. because the mushroom spores are so delicate that the process required working in the coolest hours of the day to ensure maximum production.
Odder yet, the one day I decided to take on a second job as a deck-hand with one of the fishing tour-companies out of Newport, Oregon and spent half my time chumming the water over the side in front of the tourists who paid big money for my assistance. Our time in Oregon should be a book someday; many more stories than can fill just a blog, let alone an article hub.
In 2009 we moved back to California from Oregon and were there only one year when I was laid off work as a Receptionist at an Architect firm in San Jose. We decided to move to Las Vegas and I immediately hit the pavement in search of a job. Yes, just a job for income to pay the bills. I had nearly given up on any grandiose notion of landing a ‘career’. The first job I got was at the local VONS grocery store in the meat department. I was there about five months and all along continued the search for a better job. For anyone wondering why I left a grocery career, there is no real money to be made in grocery anymore if you are not in at least management level. I was paid $7.25/hr and worked like a mule.
I've never been afraid of hard work, but I do not tolerate being taken advantage of and abused. After my first month, they ‘promoted’ me to run the seafood department because the seafood manager was being transferred to another store. I had three times the work load and responsibilities with NO RAISE! Safeway found a lame loophole to have me run seafood for $7.25/hr. I was furious. I asked them to humor me and give me even .50cents more per hour and they wouldn't budge. This was the second time I have worked under the Safeway umbrella. They pee on your back and call it rain.
Telemarketing is a great income, if you can take the heat.
So, after learning of the incredible money-making potential in telemarketing commission, I thought I’d try my hand at this gig. We were in a training class with about a dozen others for a week to learn the ropes and scripts, role play and quizzes before hitting the call-room floor. Sure, the instructor exaggerates the kind of money you can really make. Let’s face it, the instructor is a sales man of sorts too, wanting to sell us all on the job and get each candidate excited enough to at least try it out and make the company money before they fail and bail out the back door. I've seen many people storm out in tears and others that management approached to remove their head-set and escort them out the back door. 'Neeeexxxxt. . . . ' Weekly, candidates are prodded through call centers like cattle. It's a tough gig.
I was one of the tough ones, I lasted seven months! My nickname was ‘The Bulldog’ and there was a picture of a bulldog above my computer with the caption, “Do I look like I’m going to take NO for an answer?” Yeah, I was one of those on the other end of the phone that you either loved, and I did get a lot of great customer feedback too, or you loved to hate because I was persistent.
I started in April 2011 and soon after that, the S&P lowered our nation’s credit rating status and we slipped into the second wave of this great depression, sales plummeted hard and fast. To that point, I had had people yell at me over the phone and cuss at me on rare occasion, but now it was daily and nearly every call was an absolute challenge and depressing. The whole gig was beginning to get under my skin and my bulldog exterior was beginning to crack under the pressure.
Management was beginning to crack under pressure as well and, well, you know the old saying, it rolls downhill. On the phones, we were taking a lot of crappy tactics to get us to ‘close the deal.’ Not only was it difficult enough to be yelled at everyday by complete strangers that hate me, but now our chairs were being kicked, the backs of our chairs slapped, pulled off our phones for a ‘pep talk’, written up for low sales production and worst part of all was seeing our fat commission checks dissolving before our eyes. Every pay period the sales were plummeting.
There would be momentary waves of call campaigns (different pools of leads) that were households of a different caliber let’s say, that would not be as upset by the money crunch but sometimes that backfired because when you have enough money to not stress during these times, you can shop anywhere and not have to waste your valuable time dealing with a telemarketer interrupting your day. This leads me to my first memorable story to share.
Happy Birthday to Me.
It was a Saturday around my birthday. I was enjoying the relative calm before the storm. Calls were going pleasant enough but no sales yet and Saturdays were usually my best day. People are in a buying mood on Saturdays. The calls are automatically dialed, hundreds at a time, what some call ‘robo-dialed’. The next call that popped up on the computer monitor in front of me and into my head-set was a nice gentleman that answered. I rambled my usual schpeel and then came that automatic pause for a second when my nervous system is bracing itself for impact. You never know what you’re going to have to deal with in return. I’ve heard it all.
But this gentleman didn’t hang up nor curse me out so I had the green light. That’s always a relief, the green light to proceed. You can hear the change in my blood pressure over the phone, I’m more relaxed and more myself; that’s when I begin to connect with the customer and develop the repore, get to know them and their buttons to push to close the deal.
This guy was friendly, pleasant enough but still had his guard up, I could tell. He was interested in what I was telling him, painting the picture of a gorgeous vacation paradise on a far off island adventure, but he was trying to maintain control of the call. He was either going to be an easy sale because he was listening or just a big waste of my time. I hated those calls that lasted a half hour or longer and the person was full of great questions, interested then wouldn’t even buy. I could have had two sales in that time! This guy was different, I knew I had him.
After a few questions back and forth, he finally told me he just wasn’t going to buy. I didn’t skip a beat, I was determined! There was no way I was going to let this call turn into another waste of time. I needed a sale. Having exhausted all of my ammo already, I quickly rebutted with one of the bottom of the pond scrapings that telemarketers resort to to get you to ‘think about it’ for a last few seconds before you either hang up or give in. I asked, “What’s really holding you back?” He didn’t budge, he wanted off the phone but wasn’t hanging up. I rebutted again with anything I could drum up to make conversation and just keep him on the phone. Finally he interrupted me and said in a stern, impatient voice, “Look lady, what do I gotta do to get off the phone?!”
I slapped the desk real hard so he could hear it through the headset and I said in my best jovial sales-person voice, “VISA, MASTERCARD, AMERICAN EXPRESS OR DISCOVER!”
Then I was silent.
I thought for sure this guy would either hang up or laugh right along with me. Honestly, I really did that as a JOKE because this guy made it very clear he wanted off the phone so I figured, well, if I’m not going to get a sale out of this I may as well have some fun. I slapped it with a smile. I was going to have fun that Saturday if it killed me.
Stand-off, still silence.
Then he speaks up and says, “Fine lady, I’ll EAT the $_ _ _._ _ just to get you off the phone.” And he actually read me his credit card over the phone! I couldn’t believe it! All he had to do was hang up to get rid of me, but this joe let me charge his card!
I had two more sales that Saturday. I will never forget that call. It turned my day all around. The next call with a sale was to a sweet Grandma that wanted to take her grandchildren to (this famous family get-away) and she lived real close anyway and was “just thinking that day” what to plan next for the grand children, so that was an easy sale.
The third call with a sale that Saturday was to another sweet older lady. That third sale was memorable to me because of that day in general, the way the day started and it ended on this note: part of me will always feel a twinge of guilt to have talked her into it, but I truly do believe in the product I was selling. It was an extreme value of quality and luxury for your money, but then again, I was selling to people that either sometimes didn’t want to buy or maybe down-right couldn’t even afford it.
She told me ‘no’ also and just wanted off the phone, so what did I do? One of my pond-scum, slick moves, which, honestly, management neither taught me nor condoned, but didn’t get mad at me because I closed several deals this way. She was so sweet and I talked to her as if she were my own grandmother, so finally I asked, “Do it for me?” Pause, silence . . . . . then I hear, “Oh, okay.” Badda-boom, badda-bing.
I'm not proud of that tactic, but I am just trying to illustrate a few points. 1) I had a sales job to do. Sales people use tactics. 2) I had to feed my family too. 3) All these people really had to do was hang up, let alone NOT give me their credit card over the phone. And 4) Hey, at least I remain employed. I am not one of the many living off tax-payers money. I know I know, there is a need, but we aaallll know there are a few that abuse the system and stay home on the couch not even looking for a job and just keep cashing in on the unemployment benefits, right? Right.
It's not all bad.
Granted, telemarketers have a pretty bad reputation, and I had my hand in that game for a brief time in my life. But it wasn’t all bad. There are some wonderful, positive stories with bright and shiny happy endings too!
Like the time I called a young couple that were just engaged that week and were so excited I called and decided to jump on that opportunity to elope! They saw the incredible amount of money they were saving and they could elope and already be in their honeymoon destination all in one. I will always remember that call too because the young couple had me on speaker phone and were both so excited to be visiting with me and plan what they could do on this great get-away. I had a little role in uniting this happy young couple and that is something I otherwise would not have experienced if not for that telemarketing gig.
Another time was a sale to an older couple that decided to buy for their 30th wedding anniversary coming up. The destination I sold them was where they were first married and they had never been back since. Again, this couple saw the great value in the product and took advantage of my fortuitous call that day. Then there are the rare calls that, in the business we call the ‘lay-down.’
As soon as you mention who you are, where you are calling from or any number of combinations about one or more destinations, you just hear the ‘lay-down’, “Oh, let me get my wallet.” Bam, just like that.
This one time I barely got out two sentences to this super sweet high-energy type lady in New York when I mentioned a Manhattan get-away and she just said, “Hold on, let me get my card. I love Manhattan!” I honestly didn’t even know how near or far she was from the destination get-away, but it was a lay-down so I was happy to sell it. I later had to ask of course and she told me she was about 3 hours away and loved to go into the city for weekend stays sometimes. Easy-peasy.
15 minutes with fame.
Another memorable call was when I happened to reach the celebrity “Giancarlo Esposito” on his cell phone! And no, I did not write down his private cell phone number. Even (some) telemarketers have their boundaries; besides, that would be completely illegal and unethical. Anyway, he was AWESOME. I didn’t even know who he was but a supervisor happened to be listening in. There are a handful of supervisors for pods(cubicle groups) of telemarketers on the phones. They randomly switch from call to call, wirelessly as they walk around the call center floor, to listen for breach of ethics, potential sales that an inexperienced newbie might blow-the-deal or just for entertainment.
My supervisor came over and pointed to the name on my screen because he heard the call and whispered, “Do you know who you are talking to?” So, after Mr. Esposito and I visited a bit about the destination, he quickly said, “Please, call me Giancarlo, not Mr. Esposito.” So I did. Since the supervisor was still standing next to me, I asked, “Do you mind if I ask what you do for a living?”, and he replied, “Oh, I’m an actor. I’ve done Broadway, big screen and now I have a show on T.V.”
Giancarlo Esposito was down to earth and super friendly. He bought an expensive destination package get-away from me and I will always be incredibly grateful and will remember that call. After the call, I took my head-set off for a break out back in the sunlight and googled him. Oh, ok, I see. I knew then just who I was visiting with.
How it works.
How did I happen to get a hold of him on his cell phone? These calls were not exactly cold-calls. Every person we called was a warm-lead. They had to have left their phone number, at one time or another, with someone at a front desk upon check-in, on a form they filled out with the company I was calling from or in a number of different ways this company gathers lead information. By law, if you ask the company to remove you from their calling list, we comply. At least, I know I did every time. I know there were some that either didn’t by accident and hit the wrong disposition with their mouse before the call popped to the next screen or didn’t for some other stupid reason. I always immediately removed them from the call list, why waste everyone’s time and more importantly, why bother breaking the law???
Just so you know, when you say, “Not interested”, it does not matter how angrily you say it or how many times you keep telling the company you are not interested. You will get the call again, inevitably. You have to ask to be ‘removed from the list’. Not interested, to the system, only means you are not interested during that call. The company has the legal right to call you back because you may be interested in receiving that call a different day and you may even be kicking yourself you didn’t take advantage of the sale. I actually removed several people though that didn’t quite ask it that specifically. When you are in the call center long enough, you begin to recognize names in states and cities that you swear you’ve called before or again and again and you can understand their frustration.
So, on occasion when I would get the irate person yelling at me about how they keep getting robo-called and keep telling people they are not interested or just keep having to hang up, I would just disposition it to the delete list real quick before they hang up. Or on occasion when they were incredibly rude and irate, I wait until they are done venting and I say, “I hear ya, I feel your frustration, absolutely. Let me just tell you so you can tell your friends and family how this works.” And I would tell them the specifics.
Most of the time, some of the most rude and irate people I was able to calm down and they were actually quite appreciative and thankful. Hey, I tried to at least keep them happy with the overall company so they would continue to do business with them, maybe not telemarketing business, but at least travel and stay with the company around the world.
Give a Telemarketer a Chance.
On that note, the next time you get a robo-call from a telemarketer, I hope this article illustrates that it is just another human on the other end of the phone trying to earn some money to pay the bills. Not all telemarketers are bad, nor from bad corporations. I know there are scams out there, and it is better safe than sorry.
But if you hear of a great money-saving get-away with a big-name company, take advantage of the savings. I managed to make some folks very happy selling them on a vacation get-away paradise destination making memories of a lifetime!
Oh, one last closing technique, I used to say, “They call me the post-card queen here in the call center. I get thank you post cards from all around the world and I’m running out of room to put them up!” I literally never received a card.