THFWS & TTM’s: Some of my Best Friends are Telemarketers

THFWS & TTM’s: Some of my Best Friends are Telemarketers

Telemarketers are one of the most maligned groups of people in the world…and sometimes, for good reason.

First of all, they practice their craft by way of home invasion via the telephone.

The vast majority of them sell everything from extended vehicle warrantees, long-distance telephone plans, re-financing of debit, new furnaces, new air conditioners, re-roofing, kitchen or bathroom remodeling, mobile cellular service, to schemes that allegedly allow you to buy anything from appliances and power tools to home remodeling supplies at a fraction of their retail cost (neglecting to mention that you have to pay the freight and shipping costs, with no guarantee that any of the vendors you wish to buy from have any such arrangement to sell directly to you, plus the exorbitant annual fees associated with joining their “club”).

It was almost twenty years ago that PharmaCorp decided to develop a sales task force to market home delivery of prescription medications as a subsidiary to their pharmaceutical manufacturing company.

Then came the Medicare Part D enrollments of 2006, which was a massive boondoggle for the insurance companies competing for an estimated market of seventy-five million prospective targets to be enrolled in less than forty-five days. Tens of thousands of agents were trained and licensed as healthcare insurance agents for all fifty states to enroll prospective Medicare part D recipients over the telephone.

They made upwards of ten thousand dollars in six weeks, only to be faced with going back to selling long distance plans and extended vehicle warranties once the smoke had cleared.

As a general group, telemarketers act as agents for some of the most despicable scams ever devised, and there is little or no true value to what they do, which is essentially to separate people from their money. They are like trained assassins, who work for the highest bidder, so it is no coincidence that they refer to their intended customer/victims as “targets”.

Fifty years ago, most of them would have been “traveling salesmen”.

When the real estate market tanked, the industry became flooded with failed mortgage brokers and real estate agents as well as automobile salespersons.

Not all of them are necessarily “snake oil salesmen,” but there comes a time when one must choose between a telephone and a gun just to feed your family.

Their rationalizations are almost endless, and their aspirations are high. Sometimes, they make huge commissions, if they are involved in launching a new program that is as yet untried, or has failed or been met with marginal success at another call center or by a different team.

Once the core group has defined and honed the pitch and the approach, they will hire a boatload of new people, who they will then train, thereby watering down the available market, and knocking the bottom out of their commissions.

There is a paradigm in sales that mandates that less than 20 percent of the sales force will make more than 80 percent of the commissions. It has nothing to do with fairness or the ability to climb the ladder by proving your worth. It is a purposeful manipulation of basic motivations and drives, and on a purely Machiavellian level it is the most efficient and successful way to exploit your sales force.

The idea is to give the impression to the main body of the sales force that they could do just as well as the top performers, if only they worked a little harder, or were better at their job, while the elite members are treated like gods, to be emulated and worshipped. Little other than personal favoritism initially determines who is favored and who is not. Talent and personality may enter into the equation to some extent, but once the choices are made, unless you screw up and do something to alienate yourself to Management, it makes little difference. Why? Well it goes something like this:

Most clients know that only a certain percentage of their potential customers are viable, qualified targets, but the sales force is tasked with going through the motions of giving presentations to everyone targeted.

Given the choice between a level playing field with a resultant $45 thousand dollar average yearly salary, with top earners getting less than ten thousand dollars more than the average, or presenting the possibility of being one of the fortunate, and earning one hundred thousand dollars per year, with everyone else getting only about $36 thousand, the logic is to create as wide a margin as possible for the top salaries so as to create the impression that if they only worked a little harder, or handled their after-call work a little faster, that they too could be a top dog, rather than one of the doomed.

Thereby, the doomed work very hard to eke out marginal commissions from marginal possibilities leaving the privileged to be free to grab all the low-hanging fruit with ease. The first question that comes to most people’s minds is to wonder how anyone can control who gets what opportunities. It goes like this:

There is a feature of most computer-controlled automated dialing systems that allows for a practice called “skill weighting”, meaning that a select group of “closers” get access to the wealthiest, or most vulnerable targets, or the ones who have never been called before, people who are new to the offering, never cancelled the service, never declined the product, etc.

Also, the difference between being next in line for the first available call, as opposed to waiting your turn as the dialer marches through the list of assigned positions makes a huge difference, especially on inbound callers. It quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy as to who are the top dogs and who are the underdogs.

It is no accident or euphemism that sales call centers are called “boiler rooms”. The pressure is intense. The time constraints are totally unreasonable, and no one is such a superstar as to be immune from having their jobs and success dangled over their heads like the proverbial carrot on the string hanging from the stick in front of the jackass that continues to plod along relentlessly, just a hairsbreadth away from its goal.

Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and clinical depression run rampant among the sales force due to a combination of stress, too much coffee and too many cigarettes, sitting for too long without regular opportunities to get up and walk away from their desk, and poor diet due to a limited ability to access nutritious meals in the half-hour allotted for meal breaks.

Most modern call centers now track every second of every aspect of your workday. How many “personal non-work related (“bio-breaks”), counseling time, meeting time, time spent getting back online after the meeting, after-call work (the amount of time it takes to record the results of the call and get back online), “system problems” if your computer, or the mainframe, or some aspect of the program you are utilizing fails or slows down, including the amount of time it takes for you to re-boot or initialize your system…all of it is recorded, and reported and printed out and presented to you on a weekly basis. No one is immune.

Middle management is prohibited from fraternizing with the rank-and-file, even the top performers, and generally given such ridiculous workloads (as exempt salaried employees, they are the new wave of indentured servants) that they have little time for friends or family anyway. They have a gun to their heads to extract as much work from their charges and are just as likely to be terminated as the other employees are. This tends to bring out a very mean-spirited neurosis very quickly in even the most well-adjusted supervisor.

Years ago, factory workers who were subjected to repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome were finally recognized as a legitimate work-related health insurance claim. Until it actually cost the employers money, they paid no attention. Workman’s Compensation claims finally got their attentions long enough to result in attempts to prevent the injuries by modifying their methods to more worker-friendly conditions.

A very good case could be made for repetitive thought injuries being documented amongst telemarketers. The data is certainly there to support the claim. The victims are everywhere you look amongst any telephone sales force, but PharmaCorp’s casualties, including suicides were becoming difficult to ignore.

Had they been test subjects, it would have been obvious, but no one was paying much attention or tracking the data, except to suppress it.

Although human Resource departments are quick to reassure the employees that because it is so costly to advertise, recruit, train and hire new employees, they are a valued asset, in truth the longer they stay, the more benefits they accrue and use, and the more their salaries rise, the more of a liability they represent, especially in terms of matching 401K pensions and healthcare benefits, considering that the longer they work, the sicker they become.

Workplace employee surveys began to show an alarming degree of mistrust, dissatisfaction, resentment and outright hostility despite the fact that most employees did not believe the surveys to be confidential or without some risk of retaliation.

An online internet survey of adversarial workplaces placed PharmaCorp so high on the list of worst places to work in the country that even their board of directors began to look for band-aids to cover up the problem so as to create the impression that they actually gave a shit.

It was like giving cough drops to tuberculosis patients.

The real shock came as a result of the “Talking Monkeys Project”. More and more of the Chimpanzee test subjects began to develop gastric ulcers, heart conditions, and suffer cerebral vascular attacks (“strokes”).

Because the chimps returned to their natural environments and families at the end of their workday, alarmingly higher and higher numbers of incidents involving violence among other chimps, including mates and their offspring were being recorded and documented.

Keep in mind, the entire project was unknown to almost all of the employees in the sales force, and the use of the chimps as “feeder-qualifiers” was considered to be an experiment conducted by one of PharmaCorp’s subsidiary research companies to test the cognitive, learning and language skills of primates. It just happened to be convenient to use their sales and marketing operations as their test lab.

The stress-induced physiological effects and behavioral dysfunctions began to become so prevalent that the handlers of the chimpanzees began to express concern and alarm.

Management’s answer to the growing dilemma was to strongly discourage written reports being generated in favor of unrecorded “discussion forums” and “feedback opportunities” in dialogues between the staff and Management.

Frederick was such a high-performing test subject that he was quickly utilized as a liaison between the trainers, handlers, and the chimps themselves, so he was not subject to the rigorous demands placed on the chimps on a long-term basis, and therefore had not suffered the mental and physiological damage that his comrades faced.

Mark was in charge of the American Sign Language training of all the chimps, including Frederick. Darcy was assigned to Lilith, Malkira, and Frederick as a family group. Each handler was responsible for one family group, including all offspring. Frederick’s superstar status within the research group brought many perks, bonuses and unofficial accolades to both Mark and Darcy, but because of the secrecy surrounding Frederick’s very existence, they were prohibited from publishing any of the results.

As was stated before, even a massive conglomerate corporation like PharmaCorp is answerable to “other concerns” known to only the most highly-placed corporate officers who are subject to being played like marionettes if the right strings are pulled by the right individuals.

Off in the distance, those other “interested parties” were monitoring the results of the entire “Talking Monkeys Project” for entirely different reasons. Fortunately (and somewhat amazingly), this necessity of distancing helped preclude detection of Mark, Darcy, and Frederick’s extra-curricular off-campus activities.

And that was especially fortunate on this special weekend when Frederick became truly sentient by virtue of administration of The Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

 

 

 

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