In which Deb Kristina tells of the days before the Do Not Call list

coverMy first job was a little unusual, I think, as first jobs go. I worked as a summer office temp for my best friend’s dad’s mortgage company. It was full time, five days a week, just like any other office job. I was fifteen and couldn’t drive, but some co-workers happened to live nearby so they drove me both directions every day.

It wasn’t a bad job at all. I didn’t smell like french fries and because it was full time, I made pretty good money that summer. Plus, my best friend worked there, too, so we gossiped on coffee breaks and at lunch.

So I was thinking of office work – sitting down, talking on the phone – when I let my college roommate talk me into taking a job working as a telemarketer. At the time I worked in my college dorm dishroom and I thought it was one of Dante’s circles of hell, what with all the steam and the crashing noise and the endless parade of hot plastic trays. So I gladly took the telemarketing job and went to quit the cafeteria. My student boss talked me out of quitting entirely, he convinced me to keep one shift, at least. This turned out to be fortunate for me, later.

The telemarketing gig remains to this day the only job I’ve ever quit without notice. I’m one of those dorky, extra-responsible people who always does “the right thing” (is that ever tiresome) and so it was out of character. But I could not make myself go in there for one more day. Plus, my roommate had already quit and she’d gotten me into it.

Every shift we went down into this windowless basement office space under a Hallmark store, where we stood around in a circle and shouted “Assertive! Confident! Energetic!” (Get it? ACE?) and got scolded if we weren’t happy enough. Then we shuffled off to our little phone stations, which had dividers between them all as if we were going to cheat off our neighbor’s paper. There were mirrors in front of us at eye level to remind us to smile while we talked, so we were staring at ourselves all night.

We were soliciting for charities. We didn’t work on commission, but we had ‘goals’ – contact goals (how many people we actually reached), money goals, and credit card payment goals – and had to endure an embarassing public scolding if we didn’t meet the goals.

The managers would randomly sit behind us and eavesdrop. They would also randomly tape our calls (I don’t think we ever notified the people on the other end) and then haul us into a little room to give our failure a post-mortem.

I was selling memberships to the Detroit Institute of Arts when Detroit was still scary. I had one man curse me out, saying, “I’m not supporting a thing in Detroit while that (bleepity-bleep) Coleman Young is in office!” Most people just hung up on me and that was the most merciful thing to do, because I couldn’t prevent a hang-up and thus couldn’t get yelled at, but I also didn’t have to go through the excruciating task of asking three times. You see, we had to ask three times, no matter what, no matter what their reasoning or excuse. Three times. We had scripts to follow for every objection, too.

We had student and senior memberships which were way cheaper, but were not allowed to mention those – even if the person on the other line was a senior or student, clearly – unless the person asked us specifically about it or we’d already been shot down on the higher membership levels and the mark, er, person, was still on the line. And we had to start at the highest membership level, which was some absurd figure like $500.

The low point was getting hauled into the office and listening to a recording of myself sheepishly getting off the phone after this dear old lady told me, “Oh honey, I do like art and I’d love to, but I just buried my husband I can’t afford it.” I was raked over the coals for letting her off the phone, especially when she said she liked art.

No wait, the low point was when I was so sick I fainted at work and they wanted me to keep working and finish the shift.

Oh, and did I mention smokers got more breaks than the rest of us? Yes, smokers got special breaks to go outside and light up. I nearly took up smoking just for that reason.

So yes, one day I couldn’t take it anymore, went to pick up my roommate’s last check (she wouldn’t even go get it herself!) and told them I wasn’t coming in. The guy didn’t look at all surprised. Certainly not Assertive! Confident! Energetic!

I happily returned to the dishroom and picked up my old shifts again. It turned out to be fun, working with other students, having food fights with leftover Jell-O and messing around on football Saturdays when everyone else was tailgating and no one was eating in the cafeteria.

I’ll leave you with this: be merciful to telemarketers. Just hang up on them. Don’t make them walk through the spiel when you’re going to say no anyway. And hold the cursing, please.

Deb Kristina

21 Replies to “In which Deb Kristina tells of the days before the Do Not Call list”

  1. Oh, Kristina –

    I’ve done my share of phone jobs (telemarketing and something else which may or may not get discussed here) and it is a particularly awful kind of hell. I’m amazed you lasted more than one night! As bad as it is to be on the receiving end of those calls, it’s far worse to be on the dialing end!

  2. I’ve never done telemarketing, but my niece only lasted two days! No matter how annoyed I am with the call I try to remember there is another human being on the end of the line just trying to do the best they can!

  3. Eve, I know! I was raised to not quit just because something sucks, and further, I always try to make the best of everything. I’m annoying like that. But I tell you, after a while… I think I lasted something less than six weeks. I know it wasn’t long enough to measure the time in months.

    Rebbie, on behalf of telemarketers everywhere, I thank you… I wonder how different things are with the Do Not Call list. I asked once where they got the names and they kind of shrugged, but said one way for the museum was kids would fill out cards because they visited on a school trip.

  4. Great story. I did telemarketing for my university – fundraising by calling alums. It wasn’t so bad because normally people don’t mind being called once or twice a year by their alma mater.

  5. I had erased my one stint as a telemarketer from my mind! I lasted only one shift. I couldn’t stand it. And I was even calling for some liberal organization that gave money to hungry children… I felt bad quitting, but I felt worse interrupting everyone’s dinner to yammer at them from a script. These days, I don’t have a home phone mostly so I don’t have to deal with all the calls.

  6. Only time i have ever been fired: I was waiting tables at a restaurant owned by an old insane shouting greek man. I neglected to clean the table off properly and this ensued:

    BOSS: What is your problem? This table is a mess.

    ME: Sorry about that, I’ll clean it up.

    BOSS: Do you really think people want to sit down and eat at a table full of crumbs?

    ME: No

    BOSS: This is what you have a crumber for, I don’t know why i hired you, i certainly wouldn’t let my family sit down at a table that is messy and still has crumbs from the last customers. Do you seriously think you’re doing a good job here?

    ME: No

    BOSS: How, at this moment, would you rate your job performance?

    ME: Crummy…???

    (a long delay as the pun set in and i see the exact moment he got the joke and the nanosecond later when it turned to rage)



  7. Hi Malena! Yes, alumni fund-raising would be marginally less awful, I think.
    GM, a gas station, ugh. Not much better than telemarketing…

    Meredith and Marsha, sorry to bring up bad memories! How do people do any kind of sales for any length of time, much less make a living at it?

    M, that is a really funny story! Do you think the pun was what did you in, or were you doomed before that?

    Larramie, I just saw that. Thank you so much!

  8. I hang up too, but I say “no thank you”. Which is better then using a whistle to break the eardrums…which I have been known to do, until my son Josh, who actually did a job like this, told me to cut it out. It was too mean. I think “telemarketing jobs” are the bottom of the food chain. I think the “no call rule” has expired, because I am getting calls again. Maybe it is time for the whistle.

  9. Eve’s Mom, no whistle necessary! It did expire, but you can sign up again.

    Tiffany, that cracked me up. Don’t forget to prop a mirror in front of you so you can remember to smile while you work.

    Eileen, you have no idea. This will work its way into a book someday.

    Katie, for me it was agony to go through the whole spiel, knowing the other person was going to say no. It was futile, and there were other numbers I could be dialing so maybe I could at least make my “contact” goals, and maybe I’d hit that one sucker or two and maybe sell something that night… I welcomed the hang-ups.

    But as you said, who buys stuff over the phone? Someone still must be doing it or they wouldn’t be calling.

    Actually what makes me crazy is reverse-telemarketing when I have to call my credit card company or bank or whatever and then after they answer my question they start hard-selling me on something. I always say, “ThanksfortellingmeI’mnotinterestedIhavetogonowbye.” And if the start with the script I say, “Iunderstandthanksanywaybyenow” and hang up.

  10. Several years ago St. John bought something ridiculous from some telemarketer (we were just back from overseas and the whole telephone thing was still new to him and I think he was just so happy that the darn thing worked!). But it was something totally useless and of course, he had no idea at the time that they were going to keep sending more of these things every month until he called them back and made them stop. So it was a huge running joke in our house for the longest time. And of course that got St. John on some SUCKER list – as an easy mark for every telemarketer.

    SOOOO … after awhile, anytime a telemarketer called and asked for him I would cheerily tell them how sorry I was but that terms of my husband’s probation prohibit him from using credit cards ever again! And that shuts them up pretty quickly!

  11. I did telemarketing for a newspaper for abt 9 months right after grad school. I hated the actual job, but I liked the people I worked with, I got reasonable sales, and we played “500” at breaks and after work, which was really fun. Most people were nice, even if they didn’t buy, and every once in awhile, I’d get an elderly person who just wanted someone to talk to. So I let them. I especially liked it when I got Ralph Bell–which happened twice. He was a lonely older gentleman who had plenty of interesting stories. I think I talked to him once for 45 mins. My boss was a classmate, so even though he wanted me to wrap it up, I kinda ignored him. Now we are on the do not call list, but so-called police and vets’ charities are allowed to call. I generally say “I’m not interested” nicely, but then just hang up, simply because they are very persistent.

  12. Kristina: Like you, my telemarketing job was the only job I quit without notice. I was selling magazines and my boss would get mad when I would tell people how much they were per month instead of per week. I was also working another job and had to work all night one night at that job and just didn’t bother going in for my telemarketing shift the next morning. I slept right through it and when they called my house, I told my dad to tell them that I quit. I was going back to school in a month anyway so I didn’t really care.

    That was undoubtedly the worst job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some dirty jobs.

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