Working at a Call Centre: A Survivor’s Story

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It’s job interview time.

You’ve winded and unwinded your tie to the point it looks more like a skinny hipster scarf or noose, of which is now limiting your supply of oxygen as it presses against your neck. Your digestive system is being slightly rebellious. Was it last night’s dodgy takeaway coming back for revenge? A xenomorph? Or a big bundle of nerves?

For me, nerves.

I had strode down the street, my hair slicked back like James Dean or James ‘Arg’ Argent. I had fit into my smart size 30 trousers by taking in a deep intake of breath.  Any bending, I could be on a one way ticket to Splitsville.

I saw an image of a tough looking dinosaur on the side of the bus, snarling at me with multiple rows of teeth. Sharp looking fangs, pristine white. Must have gone to a private dentist.

If only this Jurassic Park extra or advert was all that I had to face today.

I was going for an interview as a sales advisor at Sky Response Services.

I didn’t know that much about Sky. Back at school, Sky was this mysterious concept that only the cool rich kids had, the ones with Super Mario watches, Nike Air trainers and hair gel. They’d exclaim around the schoolyard they had spent the weekend watching Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, their faces swelling up with excessive boasting

My television entertainment consisted of me fighting with my TV aerial in an attempt to watch a grainy Channel 5.

I digress. I ’d give the world of call centres a try, working shifts from 2 til 8. Sadly I didn’t realise it would be my work nadir and my hopes, sanity and creativity would be sapped away, and I would become the most reviled voice in teatime history.

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There is a smile, but Kirsty is actually dead on the inside.

Call centres, I discovered, were a rite of passage for many a new adult.  They come somewhere in between liberating traffic cones and buying your first bottle of Glen’s Vodka at a seedy looking off-licence.

Anyway, I arrived at the offices. Looking around for a handle on the door,  all I can find was a lonely buzzer. I pressed it,  and some distortion spat at me through an intercom. ‘Push the door,’ then the buzzer crackled, the door clicked and I pushed on through.

As I entered, the floor seemed like a glass tank of desks, ties, pencil skirts and heels. There was little colour, just black chairs and beige desks, all accompanied by clunky phones that refused to leave the last century.

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The iPhone of 1983

The  interview was easy. The lady simply asked about my skills and competency. She explaining how amazing the company was and all the money that I could earn. The more sign-ups I would get, the more income I could take home. Simples.

Money! I silently exclaimed. My only source of income previously had been birthday card cheques from forgotten relatives or selling PlayStation games to my schoolyard chums when they weren’t talking about Sky.

I must have made a really good impression at the interview, I fathomed. Either that or the lady was swayed by my post teenage scent of optimism and Lynx Africa.

Afterwards, I went to see my girlfriend at the time. She prepared lasagna at the ASDA café, my charms had won her over by complimenting her on her decorative name badge and culinary acumen. Halfway between our embrace, I got a call saying I had got the job!

I began on Monday, where I was greeted to the office by a man named Tristan. He looked like a bit like the Devil merged with My Family thespian Kris Marshall. Or a twat in a suit.

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Dressed in a black shirt, black tie, black trousers, black suit with streaky peroxide white hair. He had scary bulging eyes with a sinister gaze that would pierce through your soul and into your nightmares.

His own soul had been buried underneath years of PPI sales jobs and sophisticated phone begging.

He strode around the office, checking up on people to make sure they weren’t slacking. The day would start with his cringey motivational speeches.

Tristan would get everyone to stand on the feet and demand a roll call.

“I wanna hear a HELL YEAH”

“Hell Yeah!” We replied.

“Come you can do better than that. Let’s try again.  HELL YEAH!”

“HELL YEAH!!”

Hell, no, my brain thought, as I looked down in disdain of my glorious leader.

The first two days were training us, a group of mostly acne-ridden recruits, on the system. Sadly, there was an inane dance track, possibly composed by acne-ridden GCSE Music Technology students. Pumping through the office stereo, I couldn’t actually make out what Tristan was saying. I asked him to turn it down. He walked over, pretended to press a button on the stereo and then started the training again. The volume was the same.

We learnt the art of pestering people by not actually given them a choice to say no, through role play. Normally I enjoy role play particularly when I dress as a Fireman and use my hose…

This role play wasn’t fun. I had to pretend to make a call to another colleague, Wilma. My face went bright red, burning with embarrassment as I had to act it out in front of our group. My memory has intelligently repressed it of existence. Wilma didn’t come back the following day.

Despite the training, I’d not a clue what I was doing. By taking on so much information, my brain, like a popular bacon crisp brand, was Frazzled. Combined with anxiety about even picking up a phone, I dreaded to make my first call. Sadly for me, calling people was the aim of the job.

I was shaking when Tristan slammed a list of hundreds of phone numbers onto my desk. I was given a a multi-page script, with an objection leaflet, where I’d be directed to say previous paragraphs over and over again and hammer home the benefits of Sky Response Services.
Such included why am I giving you my card details ? The response being this is the quickest and easiest way to do things.

I popped in the first phone number, then I put the receiver to my ear in fear. Luckily, my first few calls rang away and no one picked up.  I eventually got through to someone:

“Hello,”
I meekly spluttered.

However, my recipients were frustrated about being cold called, demanding where I got their number. Despite attempting to memorize the script, I was thrown already.  It wasn’t a good start and I hated the thought of annoying innocent people.

Some were friendly and would say no thankyou. Being shy and  young, with not even a flicker of chest hair yet, I felt self-conscious hearing my voice read out the script. I was effectively bulldozing my way through their afternoons with hundreds of salesy words in the vain hope they would be stupid enough to relinquish their card details to me.

Starting the calls with one question, we then promoted our service without even stopping for a breath. This limited the chance they would say no by not giving them the chance to answer anything:

“Hello Mrs Brady Bean

This is XXX from Sky Response Services. On our records you have a cover plan for your sky satellite package. Is this correct?

Um, urr yes

Excellent. We are calling you to inform  you can now pay just £4.12 per month… that’s just £16.50 per quarter. All you have to do is cancel your current direct debit at the bank. This is a simple process,  you will have peace of mind. We have a speedy response service team, if we can’t see to you today, then we can definitely see tomorrow. 

We cover everything that might happen to your sky box, including accidental breakage, cable problems or damage to the remote control. The only we don’t cover is swinging around on your satellite dish, which I’m sure you don’t do Mrs Brady Bean.

We can replace all parts with items as good as new. Now before we set you up with this cheaper option, we just need to take the long card number on the front and the three digits on the back. Now if you can read out those numbers for me…”

Their phone numbers came to us as they had previously not ticked a box that said tick if you don’t want your detail passed on to third party companies. There were fuming through their phones when they found out. Further snarling was caused by the fact we were Sky Response Services, but had nothing to do with Sky.

Attacking the customers with sales crap, if they did dare give answers, we would just repeat how amazing this deal is. They could say ‘no’ up to three times until you put the phone down.

I felt bad calling people up. I didn’t get any sales in the first few days, and Tristan started hammering down on my script with his fingers . Tap tap,  whilst his devil eyes were glaring at me.

I dialed hundreds of people per day, my fingers losing feeling. Most people were annoyed, or if I was lucky, I’d get a reprieve by hearing an annoying array of answer phone messages.

My favourite was the Martins, who couldn’t come to the phone right due to an invasion of enlarged and enraged hamsters, but please take a message and we’ll get back to you once we’ve fended them off.”

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Sound familar, Martins?

Some customers would be pensioners who’d tell me various  life stories as I was their first human contact all week. I can probably still recount tales of how Hitler didn’t seem that bad at the beginning of the war or how Snickers used to be called Marathon Bars.

Another guy I called, who couldn’t move off his bed due to an immense back injury. He was was trying to desperately fumble for his bank card, which was on a nearby table,  to tell me his card details.

My soul was being consumed by the money-making machine of this company. When we made a sale, we would announce it to the team leaders with a swift hand in the air, like a prefect in the classroom. A white board with a red marked tally next to our  names would display the most sales. Seeing a couple of measly dashes compared to an army of them was quite humiliating. I felt disenchanted and alone.

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My only acquaintance  was Darren, a ginger haired chav. He looked amiss in smart clothes that he had probably bought due to a day in a court. He sat kneeled on top of his chair like an orang-utan, swinging, ass in the air, phone in his ear. I sometimes joined his cigarette crew outside, the threat of lung cancer would be less scary then spending more time in the office. Darren admitted to the smoker’s clan that he bought his girlfriend a rabbit vibrator, but was jealous that she was squirming to it more than his own personal services.

I was relieved when we finished at 8  that day.

I accumulated some sales, I felt I was leading the high life. Sadly, they had run out of prizes. Normally if I got 2 sales I could earn a bag of fruit, 4 sales, chocolates. 10, wine.

Monday and Thursday were for the new starters, and staff would mysteriously disappear each day.  There was also the big leagues table, for those who amassed great sales. The fabled floor above was only for the sales kingpins, we could not set foot up there.

The best day, I got a sale before each smoking break – clawing a total of 4. Sometimes, a sale was deleted – a slip of paper was left on my  desk in the morning with a big stamp in red saying FAIL/DECLINE.
Basically, some people had cottoned onto the fact we weren’t actually Sky. Or we had unwittingly phoned up teenagers. They had  decided to become captains of the household to prove how adult they were, but weren’t actually thus when Mum and Dad found out.

I lost hope. I felt lifeless and drained of all feeling. A bit like daytime television. I was feeling anxious each time I picked up the phone and embarrassed at my lack of points on the tally chart. Not even Tristan’s sinister glaring or his rousing Hell Yeah’s could help me rise above it.

My mood lowered further when my girlfriend texted me saying that day saying, ‘We need to talk about us.’ Apparently she was going through a crossroads in her life and just wanted to be single whilst she sorted her future out.

I’ve used that one since.

Darren had enlisted his chavy mates to the call centre, and he were talking about football and all things Darren, how amazing he etc. His missus met him outside and he proclaimed out to everyone – this is my girlfriend, she’s well fit isn’t she!

l couldn’t take it anymore.

download.jpgIt was Friday, the dirty data day. It was all the scraps from people on the call list that we had previously harassed and received no reply. I didn’t make any sales. I was disheartened further by seeing bags of fruit and chocolate bring thrown around the office. Someone had won a casket of champagne. I started to imagine myself in a casket of my own.

My last call of the day, a truly fiendish customer decided to emit a sharp siren-like noise down the phone. If it was an attempt to deafen me, it worked, and I winced in pain and held on to my poor ear in anguish. I don’t know if this was to ward off potential cold callers.

Luckily, it was the weekend and I could get some TLC from the likes of Peep Show and Lost.

Sunday night, I was worried that I’d made little sales. Tristan phoned me up on the Monday morning. He told me that things weren’t working out. I didn’t need to come in anymore and that I would get paid for the work I had done.

I had lasted a total of 7 days. I wanted to jump with joy and I truly felt that the world of the call centres was not for me. Vote below what you think!

Luckily my next job was a lot better, mentally and tastily. I worked in a sweet shop (HELL YEAH! ), and was allowed to try a few samples.

It left a sweet taste in my mouth… and a filling!

 



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