Turmoil: Tales of a telemarketer

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 11:45pm


At the same moment that I hear the woman’s voice on my headset, a name pops up on the screen.

“Mrs… er…” I pause. “Rape?”

“RAPPE!” she says sharply. This is not a good start.

“Mrs. Rappe!” I say warmly. “Good evening!” Without waiting for an answer, I begin reading the words that spill down my computer screen.

“I’m calling to let you know about a very special offer Cookem & Broyle is making available to its most treasured customers. Twelve beautiful, hardbound cookbooks can be yours for the low price of just $9.99 per month!”

“I don’t think so,” the woman says politely. I click on the ‘no’ button on my computer screen. Another script pops up.

“Well, Cookem & Broyle knows times are tough and smart consumers want the most for their money,” I say. “That’s why they’re including a set of durable measuring spoons if you order now.”

“No thank you,” Mrs. Rappe says.

I click ‘no’ again. “You’ll also receive a special set of recipe cards,” I read, “containing some of Cookem & Broyle’s best-loved recipes!”

“I said no, all right?” Mrs. Rappe says testily. “Can’t you hear?”

Undaunted, I continue reading. “You’ll simply love the blueberry cobbler and Chicken Div-“


I sigh, disconnect and within seconds hear another phone ring in my headset. A name pops up. Gertrude Shid. Greaaaaat.

It is time for me to admit that the rumors you’ve never heard are true: I was a teenage telemarketer.

As was, at one time or another, practically everyone who was enrolled at the university I attended in the ’90s, with a local telemarketing center offering the best-paying jobs in town. Working on commission, I could make anywhere from $8 to $12 dollars an hour.

And I earned every penny of it.

“Hello, Mr. Horner? I’m calling on behalf of Harvey’s Do-It-Yourself Products.”

“You f*@!ing people call me day and night. When are you going to give me a f%*!ing break?! F*#!ing f#$!ers”

I was grateful when the f-word came out right off the bat. Profanity was about the only reason we were allowed to disconnect a call before completing our pitch.

Every couple of hours, we’d take a 15-minute break outside. College students, senior citizens and moonlighting teachers would stand around exchanging horror stories from the previous hours.

“Some dude acted like he was going to buy the entire set of auto repair manuals,” said one guy with dreadlocks. “And he went on and on and at the very end of the phone call, he said he’d changed his mind and he hung up. Bastard.”

We all nodded sympathetically. It was a common ploy.

“Well, I got cussed up a rug by some woman who sounded like she didn’t have any teeth,” said a mom standing beside me. She paused and inhaled deeply on her cigarette. “Man, I hate this job.”

We all came up with personal survival techniques to help make our shifts bearable. My own was pretty simple.

“Hello, is Richard home?” I said pleasantly into my headset on a night when I was pitching a set of leatherbound books on hunting and fishing.

“Naw he ain’t,” the woman replied angrily. “Who the hell is this?”

I frowned. “I’m… nobody,” I answered in my breathiest voice. “I’ll try back later.”

“I said, who IS this?” the woman demanded.

“I’d rather not say,” I told her. “I’ll just… connect… with Rich some other time.”

But the most difficult calls I had to make were the ones involving the elderly.

“Mrs. Tarbuckle, I’m pleased to tell you that Feeder’s Digest can offer you a membership to the Chuckle Bear and Friends book collection for the low price of just $7.99 per month.”

“Oh, that sounds wonderful,” Mrs. Tarbuckle replied.

“Okay!” I said, clicking on my ‘Yes’ button. “And are these books going to be for your grandchildren?”

“Oh Lord no! My grandchildren are all grown up,” she said. “I’m 93 years old.”

“93?” I said. “Wow! Well, who are you going to be giving the books to?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” she said. “I buy everything Feeder’s Digest sells me. I have boxes and boxes all over this house. It helps my sweepstakes chances, doesn’t it?”

“No,” I said. “It doesn’t, Mrs. Tarbuckle. This call was a mistake, I’m so sorry to bother you.” I hung up and slumped in my seat. My manager walked briskly toward me.

“I listened to that call,” he said, leaning in over my cubicle. “You could have sold her those books. Why didn’t you?”

I stared at him. “Are you kidding me?” I asked. “She’s 93. She doesn’t even know any kids.”

“She wanted to buy the books,” he insisted. “You could have made that sale.”

I took off my headset. “Can I take a break?” I asked. He nodded.

I walked out to my car, got inside and drove away.

It was the easiest call I’d ever had to make.


Read more of Lindsay’s columns at www.suburbanturmoil.com

13 Comments on this post:

By: akinoluna on 8/27/09 at 12:40

Ooh, evil!: "I'm nobody!"

But I'm glad you didn't see that poor lady the books...although, maybe she just thought it was fun to get mail? I can see myself being that lady at 93. "OOH A BOX FOR ME! " lol

By: LegallyBlonde on 8/27/09 at 1:14

poor old lady.. maybe she wanted to read them!!

By: clarasax on 8/27/09 at 3:12

Wow. I was pretty lucky on the job front, although I did spend one summer selling painted birdhouses and chocolate in a card store at the mall. My coworkers all wore stirrup pants.


By: carrien on 8/27/09 at 3:42

Mine was selling a natural gas service door to door. It was actually more expensive than what people were already paying, but it was a rate that would never change so IF the rates went up over time, they would be saving money. But the way they taught us to pitch it, "Hi I'm from the gas company, may I see your most recent gas bill?" in neighborhoods full of immigrant families that spoke little English and were very trusting, bothered me terribly.

After a week of almost closing the sale before I stopped and said, "Well, maybe you'd like to have a day to read over the information before you make a decision." I knew this was not for me.

The saddest thing about sales is that it is so often manipulation, plain and simple. I couldn't handle being so predatory, even if I was good at it.

Good for you for walking away.


By: LindsayFerrier on 8/27/09 at 5:06

Trust me, the little old lady did not read the books!

What she didn't realize- and part of what bothered me so much- was that accepting these offers meant she was signed up for that particular "club" and would continue to receive books, and be billed for them, every single month. And you can imagine how confusing it would be for a 93-year-old woman- let alone a 34-year-old one- to cancel!

By: newbuffalomom on 8/28/09 at 3:05

I was also a telemarketer/direct sales critter for a large warehouse club that allowed members to purchase items at wholesale prices. So I not only had to cold call them to set the appointments, I also had to do the direct face-to-face hard sell of the membership once they came to the showroom. I think they now go by the name "Direct Buy".
After about 2 months, I went to lunch and never came back.
My fiance had just helped me buy a car. I found the want ads taped to the apartment door when I got home.
2 days later I got a call from the job I had been waiting for, (3x the pay and awesome benefits).

By: house_of_pain on 8/28/09 at 6:07

Well hello, Mr. Looking, may I call you "Just"?
Sales. Ugh.

By: matahari on 8/28/09 at 3:18

I worked for a cell-phone call center in customer service. On my last day, I received an incoming call, listened to my pre-recorded pleasant greeting, and was immediately assaulted with "I &^%*ing asked for the &^%*ing Spanish speaking line" in perfect, if slightly accented, English. I very pleasantly said, "I'm so sorry you were misdirected (knowing full well if you don't press 2, you don't get the Spanish speaking line, and your English leads me to believe you can understand that in both languages), please allow me to transfer you now." I promptly hung up, signed out, and left. Really, it was my last day, were they going to fire me?

By: chainsofyesterday on 8/28/09 at 4:14

I wish *you* had been the one calling my grandmother - because she too bought anything and everything they tried to sell her. Let's not get into how many times we had to go to the bank to have a "freeze" put on her account because she gave someone her social security number, bank account number, etc.
As for me? A 17 year old mom, with only a GED, I was desperate for a job - so eagerly took the one at the local one hour photo at the mall. The month before Thanksgiving. When all the soccer moms are having their spawn's... oops, I mean children's pictures taken. So I did it. "I don't care if you've been taking their pictures for the past 17 minutes, they're having a meltdown, and there's 400 people in line. I want Junior and Scrappy and Sparkles ALL smiling." Despite the tears (on my end) and the screams and claw marks (on their end) I lasted a whole 2 months at that job.
The day I got fired for leaving to meet the babysitter at the ER with my 2 year old was one of the best days that year.

By: chainsofyesterday on 8/28/09 at 4:15

Oops. Once again, commenting without my name up there.
Kay (chainsofyesterday.com)

By: thegrownupchild on 8/28/09 at 6:56

I think it's awesome that you didn't sell her the books. And hooray to you for kicking that crappy job to the curb.

As for me, I think the worst job I ever had was corn de-tasseling. Any field work is hard but for an entire summer when I was 14, I would wait on a corner at 6:00am and get picked up in a rickety pick up truck with a bunch of other teenagers and get driven to a corn field. I'd be assigned a row and then I'd simply walk up it removing the tassle from each corn plant. You had to be fast and accurate or else you'd have to do your row again.

After the first couple of rows in the morning, I'd be soaked from dew and covered in spiderwebs and bugs. By the next couple I'd be scorching from the summer sun. And all for (if I remember correctly) $3.50 an hour! Yeah!



By: thebloggingmum on 8/30/09 at 9:46

It speaks to your character that you were willing to do the right thing. There should be more people in the world who are like you.


By: sassyviv on 9/1/09 at 12:14


Now YOU are my new hero!

Truly, I could write an entire book on the heinous jobs I've had over the years, but the one that tops the list is McDONALD'S (which employed me for all of 2 weeks).

It was the summer of my college sophomore year - in OCMD. My friend talked me into living with her and several of her slutty sorority sisters in some ramshackle-roach-infested-crackhouse run by a 500 lb. pedophile with full-blown AIDS. (clearly, two years of college had done squat to improve my better judgment)

Since my cushy little peer-acceptable job at a chic boutique didn't provide enough funds for the exorbitant rent of said crackhouse, I was forced to seek a second job.

The only thing I could find was McDonald's. Lucky me. Donning the uber-humiliating uniform and matching visor was somehow tantamount to the horror of living in sheer squalor.

I utterly abhored my two miserable weeks there. Each day I came home smelling like a giant french fry, and I could literally scrape the grease from my face. I refrained from moving my head so as not to trap individual strands of already grease-laden hair against my cheek. (Ah, so THAT'S what the visor was for...)

During OCMD's infamous "Senior Week" (where THOUSANDS of snot-nosed, rich and entitled graduating high school seniors flock), I was told to mop the dining room floor. (GREAT! Let me get right out there and perform the most menial job possible in front of hordes of obnoxious teens).

Ever the obedient and humble servant, I pushed my big yellow bucket out into the mass of walking hormones and began to mop away. I could feel and hear those pompous little bastards making fun of me and laughing at me behind my back and blatantly, as well. One little waif commented, "When I grow up, I want to work at McDonald's like her..." (I wanted to ram my mop down her throat).

Instead, I ignored her demeaning comment. I lifted my mop, and as I did, the mop handle slipped in between two of the blades of the ceiling fan directly above me. The handle twitched and jerked in my hands as the rotating fan blades sliced and gouged several diagonal notches out of the cheap-ass wood. The clacking of the blades hitting and chipping the wood echoed, reporting like buckshot.

Finally, I was able to wrench free the damn handle, and because of the force I exerted to do so, I slipped on the wet floor (as the jarring of the mop had slung black mop-juice all over the joint) and fell flat on my ass.

Dazed and mortified, I picked myself up and gawked at the freshly cut handle. (I also adjusted my trusty visor.) All the while, those cocky pubescent pricks snickered and jeered to the point of tears.

One joker said to me: "Hey, I'll bet you're like...McEmbarrassed!"

I said, "McReally," and walked out.

That was my last day as a McEmployee.

sassyviv at http://snickerfodder.wordpress.com