The Telemarketing Story: I just could not stop laughing

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(I laughed several times just writing this.)

You’ve gotten the junk mail before.

It’s from some no-name company whose name doesn’t convey what they do. You never heard of them, but they’ve obviously heard of you — your name’s on the envelope.

The letter gets right to the point.

YOU ARE ELIGIBLE FOR A DRAWING TO WIN $10,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS!!! Just call this 1-800 number to verify your entry for the drawing. 

Most of us toss these in the garbage as junk mail. Have you ever wondered though, why these letters keep landing in your mailbox? How are these scam companies not out of business by now?
Here’s why: not everyone throws those letters in the garbage. Some people actually call the number.

Who exactly, are they calling though? Where I once worked for two weeks, they were calling me.

It was this huge call center in one of those office buildings that you can’t tell what kind of business happens there because all the companies have acronyms. My workplace was called SDP, for Special Data Processing.

I didn’t handle any data, but there was a process.

Imagine a couple hundred people all in a huge room, each with a computer and a headset. Each call to that 1-800 number would be routed to “the next available agent” — we’d get a prompt on our screens with an option to take the call. If accepted, the caller would be live in our headsets immediately. The computer would display a script of exactly what to say to them.

I don’t remember the script exactly, but it went something like this.

  1. Greeting and asking their name
  2. “Congratulations for being entered into the grand prize drawing of $_______!”
  3. Smooth transition statement: “Because you called today, you’re also eligible for…”
  4. We offered magazine subscriptions for cheap — something like $10 for a year for 5 magazines — and we would ask the caller what he/she was interested in.
  5. We had a list of mags with checkboxes to select for the caller based on preference. If they liked sports, ESPN magazine, some fishing stuff etc.
  6. Choose 6 magazines with the caller and transfer them to a “manager” who would collect the credit card info and close the deal (<<< this was SDP’s REAL business).
There were only two types of callers: hanger-uppers and prospective buyers.

A good number of callers would hang up on us once they realized what the real deal was. Those calls were essentially wastes of time. I only wanted the buyers. The buyers were patient and willing to go along with whatever we presented. They were the ones who’d get sent to the managers for closing (though not all of them closed).

In the big incoming call room, where I worked, we would find out 10-20 minutes later if our call had been “closed” by the manger they’d been transferred to. A close equaled a commission.

If this job sounds like boring, monotonous, dead-end work, good perception: that’s exactly what it was. There were no special skills required to do this job. Not one to strictly follow rules, I needed to make it somewhat fun.

My alteration was to send as many callers as possible to the closing stage, which meant I needed to be fast in going through the scripts. The hanger-uppers would get smoked out faster, the buyers would still be buyers, and I’d be the top salesperson, at least in volume. My closing percentage be damned.

This strategy actually worked pretty well. The uninterested people still hung up on me mid-script. The buyers still listened, chose magazines to buy and cooperated with the scheme. And I was making it happen faster than anyone else in the room. But one day a lady called in and refused to be limited to hanger-upper or buyer. She created her own category.

As I’ve explained, every caller would classify themselves pretty quickly as soon as they realized the real business of the day was the sale of magazine subscriptions. This woman was quick to uncover the scheme. As soon as I mentioned magazines, she made her position clear.


I laughed, but well, the script was the script. Our only job, as call center automatons, was to read the script. She had said no, but not hung up — most people just hang up at that point. Maybe she thought there was an alternative offer coming. I kept reading the script, waiting for the inevitable sound of her landline phone clunking into the receiver (that’s hanging up, for the smartphone generation). But it never came. She kept listening and kept responding.

“No. No. No.”

This woman obviously did not want any magazines, but at the same time would not end the call. I wasn’t gonna end the call; our job was to keep you on the phone for as long as possible to separate you from your money. It was a battle of wills.

I laughed more now, enough that it interrupted my script-reading. A few heads turned in the call room to see what could be so damn funny in this dead-end job.

I was talking while laughing hard, which, if you’re experienced, know makes it hard to understand what’s being said. I was feebly reading the script while tears formed in my eyes from the laughter. The whole area of automatons around me were now staring at me like the one bad kid in class who’s always disrupting the lesson: part annoyance, part fear of what it would be like to be so bad, part watching a train wreck.

All the while, this woman stuck to her script. “No. No. No. No. No. No. No.” And she WOULD NOT HANG UP.

It got to the point that I was laughing so hard, I ended the call. Yes, I hung up on her while doubled over in hysterical laughing, which kept going for another 4-5 minutes. She had beat me. I don’t think I made any sales at work that day.

I quit that job shortly thereafter. Too boring.