Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Telemarketer Blues

Hey, pretty lady? Wanna ride?

It was at this point, staring at the man in his BMW who wanted to share a frisky sex moment while his one hand rubbed at his stiff crotch, when I knew I had to find a different job.

This story happened back in 1998 at a company called Reese Brothers, which is a telemarketing firm contracted by other businesses to handle all their pitch calls when the business itself doesn’t have the means or personnel to handle it themselves.

Yes, everyone. I was a telemarketer. You can start throwing your rotten fruit and booing at me.

Anyway, it wasn’t the most horrible place, if only basing it on the types of calls we made. From the time I worked there, about three weeks, we handled two types of sells.

1: Contact people listed through a local bank to offer coupon voucher packs. That was it. We didn’t try to sell people anything. We didn’t offer to lower their mortgage rates or interest rates on their credit card. We asked if they would be interested in receiving the FREE coupon packet and verified their information. I received the rudest people for this one.

2: Gather donations for terminally ill children. This wasn’t through the Make-A-Wish foundation, and the other organization wanted this fact to be made clear to the people we contacted. During the year 1997, there was an awful stink between Make-A-Wish and the animal rights activists concerning one child’s wish to go bear hunting. Make-A-Wish granted the child’s request. Animal rights activists were livid over the notion of killing a bear for a dying child.

I made a killing over the second type of calls. Since my voice sounds very young over the phone, and after doing hours of making nonstop calls, I started sounding like a pitiful little waif subjected to begging for money.

“Please, sir, may I have a five-spot for my dying brother Timmy so that his livelong wish of running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain can come true? Yes, he probably will get impaled by their horns. But he’s dying anyway so we might as well have an interesting story to tell at the funeral.”

Okay, that was a crude and tasteless joke, and I didn’t say those words - ever. But in essence this was how I sounded to the people. We used ordinary tape decks to record all calls whenever a person agreed to the donation. It was to verify that this donator had indeed agreed to the said amount, from $5 to $100+, and it was a way to have all of their information in hand whenever someone tried to skip out on a payment.

So we collected donations and offered free stuff to people who got rude on the phone. We made calls between 9am and 9pm Monday through Friday and 9 to 4 Saturdays if we wanted to come in to make a little extra scratch. It was state law that we could only call during those hours (actually, I think it’s national law - so if a telemarketer ever calls you anytime before 9am or after 9pm, then by all means give them hell for it).

On a good night, there would be close to a hundred people handling calls. Everything was automated, so the main computer would dial the next number the moment we finished with one person. We read the computer screen to see the name, pronounced it the best we could, and off we went with our pitch.

It was standard practice to try three sales’ attempts (so cut the next telemarketer some slack on this because they will get in trouble if they skip this step) and of course the caller had three options: Donate, decline, or ask to be placed on the Do Not Call List. Once they opted for the last one, then that was it. No more calls. (If you ever do opt out on anything [you can opt out on EVERYTHING] and they call back, which is illegal by national law, then [again] give the person hell for it.)

Well, I’ve given about as much basic information about the job itself. Now, I’ll tell you about the other telemarketers. The majority were men, maybe a 65% to a 35% ratio. And a lot of them were horny, especially four guys in particular. One was nice in his strange, quiet sort of way. The second was also a sweet one and very motivated. He planned to see himself a manager one day. The third was a pervert, and kept insisting that I attend a sexy pajama party with other women in the building. “Only wear pajamas. Sexy pajamas.” The fourth guy was the joker, but it wasn’t beneath him to be extremely sarcastic to get a crude laugh at someone else’s expense.

It was the joker who gave me my first (and only) flower.

A big man, he was one of the privileged workers. There were about eight others in their third and fourth years with the company. Instead of collecting donations or giving coupon vouchers, he handled credit card sells. He got along great with the managers. So when one of them had a vase full of flowers at her station, he took out a rose, walked toward my computer, and handed it to me.

I didn’t know what to say. Sure, “You cheap bastard! Think you can impress a girl by stealing flowers,” could have made the impression that I wasn’t interested. But I thanked him for the flower, and he asked me out in front of the whole room of people.

No . . . wait. That’s not what happened. He ASSUMED that, since he gave me a flower, we should now go out. He even joked about what a good time I’ll have and how he would rock my world.


I suppose I could have handled it better, waiting until we were alone and then declining. Yet the fact he was joking with everyone about it, saying how I’ll faint by his “big thang” and he would have to lug me home on his shoulder, I figured he could take things well if I just joked about declining. I learned a very important lesson:

There are jokers who can take a joke against themselves and those who can’t.

He got annoyed. “Well, if you’re gonna be like that, I’ll just take my flower back. Now! See how you like it!”

I handed back his flower and shrugged, not really concerned. Then he started cracking crude jokes, making fun of my physical appearance. I had heard worse in high school, so he didn’t really phase me. I didn’t return insult with insult, although I could have since he was a VERY fat man. I just let it slide.

He was one of the reasons I left this job. The other reason was the draconian methods concerning our break times and allowed bathroom times (it felt like a freaking elementary school where we had to ask for permission to use the potty). Having our calls monitored was another chink in the armor. Having certain people as “favorites” with the mangers was another, especially with the one girl who fell asleep for two hours in the bathroom after a late night of partying. But making a person feel “obligated” to work a 12-hour shift had sent my nerves shaking.

The normal shift was 9:00 to 6:00. They required us to be there fifteen minutes before the shift started and they locked the doors. Headphones and papers had to be ready before 9. Once the clock struck the sacred hour, our consoles turned into pumpkin-shaped carriages for our rides to the palace to dance with the prince.

Gawd . . . this would have been great . . .

No, this was when the computers would go on autopilot. You received a browbeating and were docked pay for the late time even if you arrived at 9:00 on the dot. When it was time to leave, the managers would give their patented, don’t be a bad worker, speeches.

“Well, if you really want to leave now. But see how other folks are staying on for another few hours. I’m sure they’ll move up in the company. I guess that’s just how it goes for those who are MOTIVATED TO SUCCEED.”

Yeah, whatever . . .

I left with a sore throat and mentally exhausted. Since I didn’t drive back then, I would take public transportation. I stood at a less populated bus stop farther up, wanting to get a seat before the others on the route because the bus would make a circle and head out from downtown. I thought this was a clever thing to do despite wondering why no one else stood there. The rest of the people were at the other corner. I figured this had to do with the convenience store there.

So I was alone at the bus stop at 9:30 at night waiting . . .

A car slowed. He leaned over to glance at me, and then he drove off. I looked down at myself, in a short body-hugger tan dress coming to mid-thigh, and shrugged my shoulders. Then the next car drove up. It was a different man but in a really high profile car. He looked to be an executive. He stopped, waited for me to approach, and then sped off. Then the truck drove by.

Next to the bus stop was a parking lot - open on the one end and unmanned. The truck pulled in, sat in there for a good fifteen minutes, and then pulled out. I stared at the driver who was sweaty to the extreme although the temperature was pleasant out. This man stared at me for a moment and then drove off.

Okay, yeah, I wasn’t dumb. I figured it out by the second car that they thought I was a trick out on the walk and picked up Johns at that bus stop to have a heyday with them for 100 dollars of “down time.” I moved to another bus stop the following day, of course ending up standing the entire ride during the trip home.

With everything else concerning this job, I decided to move toward better horizons.

*None of the guys said the first line at the beginning of this story. It was just an alternate title I debated using. It makes for an interesting starter, though*


  1. Yeef; the things that life sends us sometimes. . .

    Glad you didn't stick w/ that job.

    My brother worked as a telemarketer for a while, so I try to always be polite, but firm, realizing that the person on the other end of the line is just tryin' to make a nickel or two. . .

    You've actually given me more sympathy for the poor, downtrodden callers, if such were possible. . .

  2. Well, you know from our private correspondence that I, too, once did telemarketing. Hideous job for someone, like me, who doesn't take rejection well. I didn't sell one damn subscription to the Boston Globe during the entire two days that I worked that job before quitting.

    Great story.

  3. So glad you were able to move on. It sounds like it's not a fun job.

  4. ugh, it sounds like a horrid job. my brother was a telemarketer for a while and since he is basically antisocial i don't knwo how he managed to drag himself to that job as long as he did.

  5. Good rewarding jobs don't usually stoke a writer's imagination. It's the bad ones that get the creative juices flowing. Don't you think?

  6. I say if a dying kid wants to take out a bear with him, he should be allowed to do it. And if he wants to waste a few animal rights activists as well, so be it.

  7. Funny story--well, maybe not, but the way you told it, it sounded funny.

  8. A great read! Interesting inside into a job, that we do not really think about and only find annoying.
    Your stories are always so entertaining, as they are so personal and real.
    So glad to see you back.;)

  9. Desmond: I am nicer to every telemarketer who calls. They are just trying to make a living in a not-so-nice situation. I mean, if you really think about it, there really isn't any other job where you get cussed out on a daily basis from numerous people where all you're doing is offering services to make life better for them.

    Suldog: To this day, I don't know why I even took that job. I HATE talking on the phone, absolutely abhor it.

    Legalmist: It was definitely not fun. Having managers time you during bathroom breaks was just too much to take.

    Lime: Your brother needs to be congratulated. I didn't last a month there.

    Bruce: True. My blog would look pretty sparse if all I had to deal with were happy-happy joy-joy pieces. (Why on earth did I just quote Ren and Stimpy?)

    Chris: Remind me to duck if you ever go hunting...

    Snowbrush: I try to see the funny in everything even when the situation usually doesn't call for it. Makes life bearable (no, Chris, that wasn't a planned pun).

    Protege: Glad to be back! I figured many people don't know the ends and outs concerning telemarketing except that they always seem to call during dinnertime.

  10. Glad you got away from that place. Hearing the motivational talk makes my skin crawl. Give me my volunteer coach gig and I will go quietly into the night.
    Coach O

  11. Coach O: You are living the good life! :-)

  12. Great story Michelle. Maybe one advantage of being on the road so much is that we don’t get bothered by those phone calls . . . the answering machine does. LOL

  13. Ruth and Glen: Heck, I let the answering machine pick up even when I am home. That's how much I detest phones. :-)


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