Smirking From Home

Turning ideas into words.

Can I Speak To…?

A couple of weeks ago I pontificated about some of the methods of communication we have at our disposal in this day and age. There’s an almost endless array of gadgets, applications and tools at our disposal, allowing us to stay in touch, buy items cheaply and the subject of today’s topic, be hassled by unknown entities. Increasingly often I answer the phone only to be addressed by a pre-recorded message telling me not to hang up as there’s an important message I need to hear. Even if I hadn’t had to drag my sorry backside off the couch, usually mid-babyfeed or nappy-from-hell changing, I doubt I’d still be amenable to whatever fantastic offer they had in store for me. There’s a small part of me that feels they’ve missed a trick with this pre-recorded voice malarkey. Your standard Queen’s English intonation doesn’t cut any mustard but if they adopted Stephen Hawking’s voice box then I could very well be lured in, even if they were not offering time-travel as opposed to timeshares.
It all smacks of desperation, or to be more accurate, a sad reflection of the current global economic situation. Five or six years ago a call centre in India would have been created to spam us with these random sales/information calls, whereas these days it’s obviously cheaper to knock something up using a dialer and some voice software. The Indian treasury must be feeling the heat by now. Admittedly the majority of “nuisance” calls we receive are still emanating from East. In the last week alone I’ve been contacted by four individuals offering me cheaper home insurance. I know I received the odd substantial bonus in my early years at the Prudential, but I cannot recall spending them on a beachfront condo in Mumbai. Whilst I can understand people “losing the bap” when they receive these calls, I cannot condone it. We’re a global society now. Virtually everyone is either a ring or a click away. No matter where someone is, or who they are, it’s their job, their source of income. Yes it’s annoying but a little common courtesy should be the order of the day. And if it persists then there’s always the Telephone Preference Service for those of you who reside in the UK. 
All this was brought to the forefront of my attention last week when I attended an interview for a sales job at a call centre in Belfast. The campaign was to call mobile phone users up and “persuade” them to switch provider. For 45 minutes of the interview we were ushered into the main hub to listen to a few calls being made by current employees. There’s no denying the fact, that no matter where an operation such as this exists, be it Belfast or Bangalore, it’s bloody soul-destroying. My background was primarily an inbound call centre, where people called you as they wanted to discuss something important to them. It too had its moments of stomach churning despair but on the whole I believed we provided a valuable service to policyholders, generally with good humour and sound knowledge of the company’s products. Nothing, though, prepared me for what I experienced last week.  There’s an expression I’m particularly fond of. You can teach a monkey to ride a bike but you can’t teach it to explain what it’s doing. In that short period of time I genuinely cannot recall seeing one person smile. The air was thick with silent streams of desperation, fragments of futile hopes to achieve any sale of some sort. I sat with one particular chap from Belfast who, in the course of the 45 minutes, contacted 12 answering machines, and spoke to 7 mobile phones users, 2 of whom told him to foxtrot oscar in no uncertain terms. The remainder had no interest whatsoever in taking out a £30 a month contract over the phone. You know the drill. You get the guff from the employer about how wonderful it is to work for them and how great the career prospects are. After a year you could be peeling your own bananas. With hard work and dedication, after two years, you could be showing others how to peel their bananas. I asked my phone-buddy what the average length of time someone stayed in the company for. He said 4 months. Unsurprisingly, that coincided with the probationary period. Maybe I’m looking back on my Prudential days with rose-tinted spectacles but I can genuinely state it was never anything like this, even in the dark days when people realised they couldn’t pay their mortgages when their endowments matured, let alone afford the speedboat they were “promised”. At least with those calls we had a captive audience.
I’m not overly optimistic about getting the job, sales not being my strongest natural attribute. What it does do is serve as a sharp reminder about two things: the necessity of finding a means a sustainable means of income but also to do it in a way that will not result in a breakdown of mental faculties. We’re caught over a barrel in many ways, especially the younger and recently redundant elements of the “searching for workforce”. There’s plenty of call centre jobs these days but they come at a price. And is that a price worth paying. I’d love to be able to definitively answer that. I’m not 100% convinced I can. One thing is remarkably evident though from browsing call centre jobs online and in the recruitment papers. There are very few inbound telephone roles these days, a clear indication of cutbacks in the  customer service industry. When they start using voice messages as opposed to highly educated and friendly Indians, then we are truly on the slippery slope downwards to meltdown in that sector. It’ll all reverse itself again in the future no doubt. It generally does. What form it will take is hard to second guess. Although I’ll hazard a guess that it’ll occur at exactly the same time when the banking bastards decide they’ll start offering you credit cards and cheap loans again, rather than answer any simple question you may have about your account. That’s another story for another time though.
To end on a slightly jollier note, a good friend of mine gave me a brief insight into how he deals with cold-callers. Knowing him as well as I do at this stage, I wouldn’t doubt him for a second. It’s more than likely been toned down for public consumption.
“Good evening sir. I’m calling on behalf of <insert random company name I’ve never heard of> and I’d like to offer you -”
 “Ah yes, I’d like to order the American Hot please, with extra jalapenos.”
 *stunned silence*
 “Oh, and I may as well take advantage of your special and have a 2 litre coke with that. Cheers mate!”
There’s more than one way to skin the cat it seems.

March 1, 2010 - Posted by | Communicating | ,


  1. Ah mo charo, despair not on the work front – something is out there with your name on it. I was out of work for 18 months back in 2002, and I eventually had to fall back on that old favourite: waiting tables. I’ve been working restaurants on and off for 25 years, and it’s never been fun per se. But we does what’s necessary to tide us over, yes we do. Hopefully you won’t have to resort to that – while cold calling for yer pennies can be daunting, there’s nothing like serving food to insufferable buffoons to make you really appreciate the finer attributes of the species. You’ll be up on top of the corporate ladder soon enough, don’t you worry. Either that or a phat lottery win, in which case you DO remember my address, right? 😉 Chin up and all that.

    Comment by Bonz | March 4, 2010 | Reply

  2. One of my pet hates…someone calling just when i’m making dinner or some such necessary job that only Mother can do(really must show my 34/21 year old daughters to cook) Yes I realise that everyone has to make a living but please don’t annoy me while they are doing it.

    Comment by Mother | March 5, 2010 | Reply

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