My dad has always told me that I should tell every cold caller “politely to fuck off”. I have heard him speak to a variety of pet insurers, conservatory installers and gold convertors, and each instance has concluded with the “polite fuck off”; he is a master of this art.
With this paternal advice in my mind I entered the reception of my workplace for the summer, the local call centre. My mum had arranged the job by pulling a few strings with an executive friend of hers there… So much for equal opportunities. Over the past few weeks of work I have learnt that the “polite fuck off” is actually a blessing in disguise for the cold caller. In particular the lovely gentlemen who threaten to shove my headset “where the sun don’t shine” made the term “cold call” seem hopelessly positive. The reception I received off him was freezing and profane.
Despite this, my team leader insisted that our leads are warm, “We are not a cold call company”. All we need to do is stick to the script and the customer will obviously employ our services. You do this and “happy days” – the sale is complete. She used this phrase about ten times in my hour-long induction. This one-woman tribute to the 80s American sitcom was just one part of her relentless and frankly sickening enthusiasm. The customer swears at you? “Happy Days!” It means you can move on to a more receptive customer. She goes on to inform me that all calls are recorded to ensure we are saying the right things. I feel like I’m under the thumb of the Big Brother of the telecommunications world. Happy fucking days.
The best way to survive here, says my friend, is to charm the centre manager. She is a voluptuous 50-something with a penchant for young “call centre executives” at staff Christmas do’s. Her promiscuity is something of a legend on the floor. I still don’t know whether to take the toilet blowjob incident of 2009 as fiction or fact. Regardless I immediately ditched concentrating on my calls, and instead set to work on an ambitious plan to ensnare her. An hour later I gave up, with the telecommunications innuendo I had managed to come up with being far from alluring. Asking her to “hold my line” or “touch my blower” simply wouldn’t cut it. So much for Oxford imagination. I settled for the occasional smile and small talk about the weather.
Feeling far from prepared and with half a mind on “fellatio-gate” I was immediately sat down with a call centre veteran to do some “call listening”. The omens were not good. His voice was nothing more than a morbid whisper as he stared at page three of The Sun whilst explaining the benefits of our insurance service. At least 50% of his sales must have been due to the humanity of our customers – fearful of encouraging a suicide case. The first customer he spoke to was a lady called Mrs Sket. I looked to him for a flicker of a smile but he didn’t seem to see the funny side.
My second session of call listening placed me at the opposite end of the spectrum. This time my partner was the personification of a salesman. Dazzling diamond studs sparkled out of his earlobes and his tie knot was roughly the size of a brick. Each elongated syllable of his voice reverberated around the centre, painfully smooth like a Classic Fm DJ on steroids. Where any normal person would say “insurance” he said “insuuuuuurance”. He was a man who proudly revealed to me that instead of awkwardly hanging up when a customer announced he was grieving the death of his wife, he attempted to doggedly persist with the sale. I started to think that I was not so well suited to the job.
He was put through to an elderly lady and pounced, turning to me with an exaggerated wink. Sleazy as this was, it taught me a valuable lesson – pick your target. Leave the hardened middle aged men (like my Dad) before they swear at you, but exploit any flicker of weakness you hear in the voice of the old and infirm. Pretty predatory behaviour all round. I continued to listen as he promised his unfortunate victim the world when in actual fact all she would get was a mediocre insurance quote. I cringed inwardly as I accepted his offer of a high-five when he completed the sale.
As I tried to get a word in edgeways between calls, he gave me some further pointers on how to survive life in the call centre. His demeanour totally changed as he lowered his voice conspiratorially – a feat I had previously thought impossible. Thrilled that I was a confidant I leant forward eagerly as he revealed what is known as the “doobleh” within the call centre fraternity. The doobleh is where one rinses the same customer twice by hanging up mid-quote, before calling them back and putting them through for a second time. Not the most original terminology admittedly but a useful method to ensure I escape a performance review for poor sales.
After I had completed my first week it was time to check the commission that I had earned. I had spent hours haranguing elderly women, bending the truth and cheating the system. I had taken polite fuck offs, impolite fuck offs and threats to my physical wellbeing. The commission I had earned for 25 hours of work? Ten measly pounds. Maybe the call centre career path is not for me. Unless I can succeed in seducing the manager.