A Certain Level of Unprofessionalism X

CALL CENTER

APRIL 2009 – AUGUST 2009

I turned my phone off a few months ago, and the time I went without one was bliss. There were no mundane, hour-long phone conversations about weather, traffic, or someone beginning every sentence with “I”. The sounds of my ex dumping a handle of vodka down her throat and gradually becoming shithoused no longer existed. Her repeated stories no longer coarsed through my ears like a dragline excavator. I’ve always hated talking on the phone and have long held text messaging as a primary form of communication. However, that excuse isn’t really acceptable in relationships. The significance of phone conversations is the ability to pretend you give a fuck about nothing. If you can pretend to give a fuck about nothing, then you’ll surely be there to really give a fuck when something crucial does happen. When I took a job at a call center in Scarborough, Maine, I was halfway through my last semester of grad school and in desperate need of income.

There were no windows, no fresh air, and no relief from the agony of people who translated “risk free trial” to “free sample”. On one occasion, a woman read the statement from the ad she’d found in a magazine: “It says right here at the bottom,” she said. “Call now for your risk free trial. See, it says free sample.” All of the products sold offered a risk free trial. In other words, risk free trial means money-back guarantee. There were various products to be desired such as a K-9 form of Ritalin, a treatment to alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis, a sun-spot fading cream, a homeopathic supplement to reduce the irritation of tinnitus, and a tattoo removal system. Among these products, the tattoo removal system was the most popular bringing in calls for a variety of reasons. Ex’s names, misspelled words, occupational changes, and bad artwork were a few reasons people called. At the beginning of the conversation, there were a few basic questions to ask to find out more information about the tattoo. This allowed us to tailor the pitch to the customers’ needs and allow the customer to become more comfortable. Often, these first few basic questions provided a typical shithead response.

What is the tattoo you’re looking to get rid of?

“A tattoo.”

(Obviously. You called a phone number for a tattoo removal product.)

Is the tattoo colored or is it black ink?

“It’s colored.”

What colors are in that tattoo?

“Black.”

You get the picture.

After the basic questions to build rapport, and when the customer became more comfortable, the more important question came up which was why the customer wanted to get rid of the tattoo. While developing rapport with several of these customers, I heard the worst types of stories, and the customers with the worst stories were usually the people who came up with the worst excuses not to buy. As an English instructor, I have heard the excuses, as any professor has, and many professors have heard my own list of excuses: I didn’t get out of work until 5AM because there was a dead rat in the beer cooler, the blow I did all night gave me diarrhea, my pet scorpion got out of his cage, I had to give the girl I was screwing a ride to her wedding, I got shot by the cops with a taser…

Regardless, what I thought were sure sales ended up being the most trying even with the most absurd of excuses.

-Brenda called to get rid of a man’s name because he had molested her daughter.

-Timothy called because he had recently found out that his child’s name tattooed across his back wasn’t really his child.

-Mary, a preschool teacher, called to remove a name tattooed on her inner thigh because it was visible, spelled wrong, and looked like the word murderer.

The purpose of building rapport was to get information from the customer that would be used later to counter their objections for purchase. These precious bits of information were called hot-buttons. The company required us to overcome at least three objections before letting the customer off the phone. Our tactics were aggressive, as most are in sales, because having our job depended on maintaining a certain sales percentage. The beauty of selling over the phone was the ability to be acrimonious without the risk of being punched in the face.  With Mary and Tim I countered objection after objection attempting to maintain a relative level of courtesy. Whether these people were skeptical or not, the effort I made to get them a product that could possibly eliminate their problem tattoo proved futile (much like those warning labels on packs of cigarettes).

Brenda said the product was too expensive. The cost is certainly a small price to pay to remove the constant reminder of what that person did to your daughter, right?

I told Mary, The children you are teaching to read shouldn’t have the word ‘murderer’ added to their vocabulary because of your tattoo, should they?

And when Tim objected, my response was: Do you really want the reminder of what that woman did behind your back?

The price these people had paid for their tattoos was probably more than the cost of the product. The excuses used by students to turn in a late paper are far more creative and there isn’t really anything at stake except a letter grade. How is it possible for there to be an excuse not to take care of something with so much emotional depravity? A person can go almost a week without food and not die. An even cheaper alternative is a wire brush, which would be appropriate for Brenda. The pain she would suffer in removing the tattoo of the man who molested her daughter would be nothing compared to the horror her daughter experienced and will forever be scarred by.

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