The hard $ell

Today I arrived at my seat in the call centre to find two pieces of paper positioned on my computer keyboard. The first was a memo instructing me to complete the tick sheet located beneath the memo every time I’d managed an ‘upsell’ by loading upgrades and extras onto anyone who dared to place their order by telephone. The memo continued by telling me that this was all part of customer services as apparently the customer may not have noticed all the optional extras on the advert so it was up to me to help them out of this potentially difficult situation.

The memo marks a deep cultural shift in the call centre. Previously a number of my colleagues had prided themselves on the fact that as someone once put it “we do customer services we don’t do sales.” This was an important assertion as it positioned us in the call centre industry hierarchy somewhere slightly above the cold-calling bottom-end. Unfortunately however, before joining us our manager seems to have done quite nicely in sales. So now we have all the fancy dress days, box ticking, and competitions that go with the territory.

For me this all brings back horrible memories of my first ever job on the phones which was cold-calling for a double glazing company. Whenever you’d got a bite (someone who agreed to a call back from a person named the ‘confirmer’ who would apply a hard-sell and book an appointment with two ‘reps’ who would visit and apply an even harder sell) you got to roll an oversized dice and move your name up a snakes and ladder board pinned to the wall with a £10 note  fixed with a blob of blu-tack at the top. The guy who always won this was called Dan. Dan was the best salesperson by a long, long way and would be halfway up the board after just one shift. Even if he hit the biggest snake he was still assured of having the tenner in his pocket by the weekend. On my first day, whilst doing my training he confessed to me the secret of his success. Being left on his own in a large park at night whilst tripping on LSD had, he said, provided a demonstration of his mental strength, the mental strength you needed for a career in sales.

The walls of the room were plastered with motivational slogans and it was all presided over by a youngish woman with a desk facing the rest of us and who did a fine line in motivation herself by screaming “get more f&*$ing bites I need more bites.” If these exhortations failed she could always fall back on other methods. I remember one guy being made to stand on top of his chair until he got a bite. It was done in a jokey sort of way, but nonetheless didn’t do much to uphold any principles of dignity at work. Whilst we worked we could see the reps in the next room. Strangely they all had the leering expression of underfed hyenas making me distinctly uneasy that all that separated us was a flimsy partition and a few large squares of perspex.

I managed to last three shifts, which probably made me a veteran among the mainly teenage workforce whose cold-calling careers could be ended on a whim such as not wanting to get out of bed or playing playstation round a mates house. All in all It should have netted me just above £30, and some on top as one of my bites had I was told resulted in a sale, but in the event I only ever received payment for one shift a paltry £10.

I didn’t make much of an effort beyond a couple of calls to chase-up the missing money I chose just to put it down to experience. I was confident that my life would move on and I would forget about it all.

Which I did, until the memo……


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