"Hello there, this is Michael calling from a telephone-oriented sweatshop on behalf of some charity you've never heard of and probably don't care enough about to give any money to anyway..."

At least, that's what we should be saying.

I'm sure that many of you have received telemarketing calls in the past.  It's the Future of Business, apparently.  My home town, Bendigo, is scrambling to attract lots of call centre work here.  (Probably because the government is closing just about every other employment opportunity in this place...)  If you own a telephone, you're open season to these people.  When Alexander Graham Bell invented the first telephone, within minutes he received a call from someone offering to sell him raffle tickets (this is why he eventually decided to have a silent number).

Telemarketing is the sort of profession that you know someone out there must be doing, but of course you don't often meet anyone who actually does it.   Or admits to doing it, anyway.

Actually, the more precise term for my job is a Telephone Sales Representative.   (Public Service call centre operators are called "Professional Voice Users".  I know this because I have several friends in this field, all of them being driven insane to varying degrees.  It also opens up a whole new dimension of possibilities for this term - can we start calling sex industry workers "Professional Genetalia Users" now?  Hmmm... maybe not.  That might be limiting the types of services they can offer.)

Where was I?  Oh yes.

We are told that the good thing about our job is that there is lots of room for promotion within the company.  Already I've been "promoted" from calling Western Australia to New South Wales and now to Tasmania.  I'm hoping to talk to actual normal people any day now.

Western Australia was tough.  Trying to persuade them to part with money is like trying to suck a tennis ball through a straw.  There are numerous reasons for this.

  1. They're tight-arsed bastards.  Well, to be fair, I guess that much could be true of anyone - but just because they've had a few cyclones and floods recently doesn't mean it's an excuse not to care about anyone else.
  2. Nobody had heard of the charity I was representing - the Heart Research Institute.  More often than not you'll get people who'll say "Oh, I already give to the Heart Foundation" during which you politely tell them that we are not the bloody Heart Foundation, for fuck sake, and the work the HRI is doing is actually going to cure heart disease, whereas sticking little red ticks on margarine containers like the Foundation does isn't really helping anybody.  Except maybe for margarine manufacturers who use the little ticks as a selling point to cholesterol-obsessed pensioners.
  3. Western Australia is, to all intents and purposes, an entirely different dimension to normal time and space.  Back in the 60's they tried to declare themselves an independent nation.  They even voted on it.  The rest of Australia said "not bloody likely, mate" and so it didn't happen.  Which is a shame because then we'd have far fewer football teams than we currently do, and we could have a sort of pseudo-American/Canadian rivalry thing happening.

For New South Wales I was representing the Shepherd Centre for Deaf Children.   That's something that is exclusive to NSW so a few of them actually know about it.   Well, to be honest, they've heard of it but, like Ray Martin at a cricket match, have no concept of what they actually do.  Quite frankly, neither do I, but I just know that they need an awful lot of money to do it and it's my job to get it for them.

Tasmania, is meant to be a good place to call because most other telemarketing places don't bother with them and so therefore they're happy to talk to anyone.  This is Not True.  Tasmania has an obsession with raffle books.  Everybody has them.  Everybody asks us if we have them.  Everybody owns at least half a dozen raffle books for an assortment of charities and they seem to sell them to each other like trading cards trying to get charities they don't have to make a full set.

One good aspect about working in a call centre is that you come into contact with so many different people living varied lifestyles.  You also pick up great new methods of abuse, too.  And if ever you need good excuses to not talk to anyone, ask a telemarketer - we've heard them all, often several times.

One of the first things you notice on the job is that you should never assume anyone you are talking to has any sign of intelligence.  Here's an example of a conversation I have often:

ME: "Hello, is that Mr Unpronounceable?"
THEM: "No."
ME: "I'm sorry, do I have the right number?"
THEM: "Yes."
[LONG PAUSE, during which I mark down on my Tally Sheet that this call has been classified as a Lost Cause]
ME: "Is Mr or Mrs Unpronounceable available?"
THEM: "No."
ME: "Would it be convenient if I called them back perhaps this evening?"
THEM: "Dunno.  'Spose."
ME: "Thank you very much..." [HANGS UP] "...for being about as helpful as a Liberal politician in government."

This is a common problem amongst the English-speaking sector of the community, so you can imagine what it would be like trying to talk to a foreigner.  I don't classify myself as racist (and on this point I intend to write another article later), but I do believe that it would be common courtesy to learn a little of the local language and culture when visiting a foreign nation, let alone when you go to live in one.  Our slogan overseas must be: "Australia: The country where it's OK to remain ignorant forever!".  In fact, even the locals aren't averse to practicing it.

In the above transcript I have also raised another issue.  When the name of the next client appears on the computer screen, it's more often than not some complex equation of lettering you'd normally only find on Australian Rules footballers.  Some of us are willing enough to brave the elements and call these people.  Others chicken out and pass them on to other users, often with a joke about having to buy a vowel.

Seinfeld has a lot to answer for, too.  You know, that whole "You don't like being called at home?  Now you know how I feel" routine that people tend to think is so clever and funny if they use it themselves - being under the impression that Seinfeld was ever funny in the first place was their first mistake.  Yesterday I was told by some woman that she'd could afford to buy anything because she just spent $200 on a battery for her Goggomobile (yes, I do know how to spell it.  And it's not a Dart).  Recently we even had a bomb scare.  True story!  It was probably a disgruntled former employee.  (Is there any other kind?)

Furthermore, the charities we work for are genuine causes and do need public support.  Do you think they enlist the services of telemarketing centres if they weren't desperate?   In my case, it's amazing how many people I speak to who have had three heart bypasses, lost their whole family to heart attacks or stroke, and yet refuse to hand over any money to find a cure for that sort of thing.

Let's not forget the Pensioners.  Witness:

ME: "...Can we rely on your help today, Mrs Scum?"
THEM: "I'm a pensioner."
[Long pause.]
ME: "So?"

Apparently, pensioners make up a great deal of our supporters.  This is True, they tell us this the training sessions they considerately provide us (after about three months slaving over a hot phone).   It's one of the things we're supposed to say in a situation like that.  Part of the reason may be that the people who have the money are rich because they don't give their money to anyone else.  But the thing is, I have come to the conclusion that to Be a Pensioner is like having some sort of terminal disease.

These old spacewasters wave their Social Security cards about as if it gives them diplomatic immunity to giving anyone any money, claiming they don't have any to spare.  (This is probably true... they might go into seizures if they spend any less than $100 a day on the pokies).


Despite my complaining, we do actually have fun.  I know this because we are constantly being told that we are.  "Go out and get those sales, guys," the team leaders would say (or rather plead, cos it's their jobs on the line too).   "And have fun!  You are ordered to have FUN so enjoy yourselves or else!!!!".  Oh yes, we are all very happy.  On pain of death.  (Anyone here seen Doctor Who - The Happiness Patrol?   That's pretty much how it feels, sweets and all.)

Now, I guess the basic points I want to convey are thus:

  1. No matter how much you dislike receiving telemarketing calls, or getting parking tickets, or having debt collectors send the biggest, ugliest St Kilda supporters they could find around to your house - that is no reason to want to hate them or abuse them.   Who ever said that they wanted to be doing their jobs as well?  If you are going to be rude to us then we have it within our power to call you again and again and again just to aggravate you.  Or worse.  We Know Where You Live.  If you want to be taken off the callback list, ask nicely.  If you want to remain on it, yell at us quite rudely that you absolutely positively want to be removed.  It's as simple as that.
  2. If you don't want to talk to us - just say so!  Don't make dumb excuses like "I'm just about to wax the cat" because you know it's bollocks, we know it's bollocks, and therefore we know you are bollocksed.
  3. If we have called at an "inconvenient time" for you, or if you're in the middle of something or are "just walking out the door" in a hurry or some other dumb excuse as to why you're wasting valuable seconds - then don't answer the fucking phone!!!  Or unplug it or buy an answering machine or something.
  4. Don't try to wind us up by making us go through the whole spiel about the charity or the products with the deliberate and malicious intention of saying "No" at the end.   We've a good mind to send you six of the products anyway for Deliberate Wasting of Our Time, and we won't make them returnable and you have to send yourself broke to pay for them and you'll never ever be rude to a telemarketer again because you'll be in fear for not only your life but that of your scum family and all their pets HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA-HAAAAAAAH!!!!
  5. I like to think that it won't be long before the telephone is invented that will allow us to deliver astounding electrical discharges to people we don't like, or say No to us without Sufficient Reason.  Imagine it... "Would you like to buy a watch?"   "No."  *zap*  "I said, would you like to buy a watch?" "Um... No." *ZAP*  "I SAID..."  "Yes, I would LOVE to..."

I think that's all I wanted to say.  I hope you have a better appreciation for the sort of thing TSRs do now, and how little money we get paid for having to talk to brain-dead, moronic plebs (that's you, by the way).  We should get danger money for risk of our brains atrophying having to put up with some of the football-watching yobbos we deal with.  If it weren't for the fact that some of us need the work I'm sure a great number of people wouldn't bother getting out of bed in the morning for a shit for the kind of money we're given.

Given the staff turnover rates, there are more people classified as "former telemarketers" than there are people actually currently employed as such.  These people have a genuine affliction that is horrifying for their family and friends: they develop a deep telephone psychosis where they live in constant fear of the devices for a considerable time afterwards.  They'll tell people endless stories about when they used to be a telemarketer, about how tough work it is for the piddly little amount of money they get paid, but it was a worthwhile experience because you actually get a deep inside into the workings of a call centre (everyone who works there is either insane or a week away from resigning, and that everyone on the other end of the phones are bastards).  In fact, there should be a charity set up to take care of them, with their primary source of funding coming through call centres.  And they'll ring up telemarketers past and present who still  won't give any money.

So, for anyone interested in buying anything a telemarketer has to offer: forget it.  They really are cheaper in stores and a lot better quality, and more funds would go to the given charity if you walked up to a known felon in the street and said "Here, take my credit card" than they would through telemarketing.  Mind you, it's probably much the same thing, it's just that the people on the phone are working for the crooks.

Thank you for your support and have a nice day.  (click)  Arsehole.


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Michael Cloonan, 1999