Monday, August 17, 2009

The Feelings of Telemarketers Are Tender

I wrote this as a column for the Daily Utah Chronicle's Openings Edition. You can go ahead and read it. If you are itching to read the column at it's place of origin, then go ahead -


Nobody likes telemarketers. The way they fly through the Russian night sky, cackling as they snatch little children from their beds and eat them, hiding away in their houses made of human bones and supported on dancing chicken feet! I’ve had enough of their witchy ways. In Slavic folklore, the…oh, wait a minute. That’s not telemarketers, that’s the Baba Yaga. My mistake.

After spending the past two summers working as a seasonal telemarketer, I still get the two confused. Old habits die hard.

A 2008 Gallup Poll ranked telemarketers as the second-most hated profession in the United States, right behind lobbyists, and just above Chupacabra. The ranking fell between the two this way, I assume, because while most telemarketers are repulsed at the thought of influencing Congress to act on behalf of special interests, most wouldn’t shy away from sucking the blood of goats. Anyway, aren’t lobbyists the worst? Always...lobbying stuff! Always trying to lobby stuff all over the place! Gosh, it makes me just furious, just plain furious!

But in case that didn’t distract you from your distaste for telemarketers, maybe you should consider some of the nice things telemarketers do for the world every day. For example, my daily summer commute to South Jordan is doing its part to help fund the economy of Saudi Arabia. And I also smile at people when I’m on the phone. Sometimes I try to say something amusing as long as I’m not getting the vibe that they might throw a hatchet at my face if given the chance. See, that’s three things right there. Some of us even limit the time we spend kidnapping babies and feasting on the blood of infants to when it is absolutely necessary.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a job at a call center. I once worked for a company that conducted compelling 30-minute phone interviews concerning turkey products. This was met by a lot of resistance by the local community, who carefully guarded their turkey information: “Is that the guy who wants to know about our turkey again? Don’t tell him a damn thing!”

For several weeks I painfully pried information regarding which brand of turkey people purchased, where they bought it, how often they ate it and more from the clutches of St. George residents. “Where did you get your turkey? Was it moist? Did you like the taste? Was it moist?!”

I often found the best way to conduct a good phone interview was by taking the path of least resistance. This resulted in conversations that went something like the following mostly-fact-based conversation:

Craig: Hello, this is Craig calling on behalf of (some company), may I ask you a few questions?
Phone Answerer: This isn’t a real person, is it? Is this a robot?
Craig: Umm, yes. This is a robot.
Phone Answerer: Wait, is this really a robot?
Craig: Yes, and if you don’t answer my questions, I’m going to come to your house and drill out your eyes with my drill-hands.
Phone Answerer: What are the questions about?
Craig: Turkey products.

If you think it’s rough having a strange man on the phone delving into your private turkey business, try to imagine the horrors of questioning people on the subject of turkey for many hours a day for several weeks. Isn’t that punishment enough? Compound that with the eventual realization that I possessed the expertise required to be hired for this job at the age of 15.

However, there are some very valuable things I’ve learned from telemarketing. For example, nearly all the residents of Utah wake up in the morning and attend a four-hour meeting between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., coinciding perfectly with my work day. This meeting strikes the perfect balance between casualness and professionalism to allow a person to answer their phone during the meeting, but only to inform the caller that they are in a meeting: “Oh, this is a telemarketer? Oh, I just answered the phone to say that I’m in a meeting and I…err…can’t talk…except for now…just to tell you I can’t talk.” I’ve never been invited to this meeting, but that probably has something to do with why I work as a telemarketer during the summer.

Next summer, with my English degree in hand, I plan on being able to acquire a job that is not listed as one of the top 10 most-hated professions, but would still value some of the skills I’ve learned over the past two summers. Maybe there is a Baba Yaga position open.


jaime said...

Craig I freakin love you!! I gotta admit that when you telemarketed me that it was my most enjoyable telemarketing experience. I could tell you were smiling...and it made all the difference :-) Also, I think you need to set up a blog strictly for all the articles you've written and will continue to write for the school paper. You've got some skilz buddy!

Melissa said...

The Baba Yaga comparison was a terrific idea. With this sort of charm, Craig, you can interrupt me during a meeting at any time.