Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snapshots #1-- The Call Center

*Warning* Writing ahoy!

The call center I worked in during the spring of 2007 was a sparsely-populated cube farm devoted entirely to the wasteland of making sales. I only worked there for four months, but it seemed like an eternity.

My boss was a super-charismatic guy, dressed to the nines every day and with a twisted sense of humor. When he'd hired me, he told me that I was really young and didn't have the right experience, but he'd decided I was going to be his "experiment".

When I got to my first day of work, it turned out that not only was I the youngest, I was the only girl.

Still, the men I worked with were nice. I trained with five others, and we sat in an office easily built for fifty, making calls over and over. The bosses would regularly listen in on the phone lines, and as the youngest-- and only girl-- I got a bit more attention than the others. "Don't laugh so much." "Stop being so nice." "Don't let them hold you on the line for so long."

The very first call I made, the lady who answered the phone yelled at me for interrupting her dinner, called me a bitch, and hung up on me. I cried.

It was hard for me to twist my mind around "making sales". I'd never been the type of person to be pushy, or demanding, or rude, and I especially detested see-through sales tactics, which were all we were taught, along with a script we weren't allowed to deviate from. It also didn't help that we were peddling mortgages-- and I'd auspiciously started the job right when the first big banks started falling like dominoes. It was an uphill, losing battle, and I hated it. I went home everyday feeling stressed and slimy. At least I wasn't working on commission-- I'd found one of the rare salaried sales jobs.

And then there was one family in Tennessee. They sounded so relieved when I called. The man who answered the phone couldn't give me his info fast enough. And I felt like I was truly doing something more noble than sales when I called to give him a pre-approval, and he choked up and told me I was going to save his house.

Three days later, I had to call him back and tell him I had lied. Our underwriter had been unable to get approval after all.

That, more than anything, broke me. More than the rude people. More than the not-entirely-unexpected announcement that due to our inability to actually make any sales, we were now working on commission only. More than the lonely old men who kept me on the phone for hours at a time, completely not intending to buy anything, just to have someone to talk to. More than the creepy guy who told me I had a great phone voice and he might have an opportunity for me if I would give him a call when I wasn't working. (Part of me still wonders what that opportunity was, exactly, but the other part is pretty sure I don't want to know).

No, hearing that man from Tennessee choke up with tears of joy and then break down a week later, and feeling completely powerless to help him, is what made me hate that job. I stuck it out for a few more weeks before deciding that some things just aren't worth the doing.

My bosses and everyone I worked with were really, really nice, but the people in the office weren't important compared to the people out in the world, the ones whose throats I was supposed to be jamming mortgages down.

I think we all learn harsh lessons in our youth. This was one of mine.


  1. Yuck! I would hate to have to let someone down like the man in Tennessee.

  2. Erg, I remember those days and that you were not a happy camper, thus instilling your fear of talking to strangers on the phone ... a characteristic we both share!