You know it’s funny when I search Google images all I see is happy attractive people working in outbound call centres. Obviously none of these people who staged these photos have worked a day in their life in a call centre. SWIM has worked in a call centre for the guts of a year. When SWIM started inside of one week he had literally started bleeding out of his ears. Every rejection on the phone he took personally and he debated with people the logic of whether or not they should take part in the surveys. Cut forward about one year and a comparison can be drawn with chicken sexing.
First of all Chicken sexing is the practise of distinguishing the sex of hatchlings. Why the comparison works here is that chicken sexers just know, perhaps on an unconscious level, the sex of the chicken. Over time they get so good at discerning the sex that they cannot explain on what basis they are distinguishing the sex of the chickens. The process of cold calling people is much the same. SWIM can tell in a fraction of a second whether the person is going to the survey without necessarily being able to tell why. In saying that the following are a few indicators that the person will not do a survey with you.
First of all there are the obvious ones like ‘how did you get my number?’ and ‘who is this calling me from a private number?’. There are, however, the more subtle ones like the double ‘hello’. The ideal respondent says ‘hello’ once and then waits. The problem respondent says ‘hello’ a second time and changes the tone incrementally in the direction of inquiry or aggression. Then there’s the person who answers as the number of their household -’Hello this is 2886754’. Not going to do it. If someone offers to pass you to their parent or someone else then the chances of getting a survey drop drastically. If there is barking, the sound of a baby, the ambience of restaurant or pub or anything- they’re not going to do the survey. In fact not only are they not going to do it but there is a huge probability that what you can hear in the background will form the basis of their excuse for not doing the survey.
So SWIM has gone from being a sensitive person in these situations to a cold blooded survey getter. He has learned over time that if you read out a person’s name this disarms them and they are much less likely to be aggressive on the phone. He has learned that if he asks can you hear him before he proceeds into the survey introduction that this also disarms the respondent.
If he gets the survey he has learned to mirror the tone, mood and sensibility of the respondent. He begins to notice trends. Certain things are entertaining and build rapid rapport with people. He tells the same flattering jokes at the same points in surveys and people react in exactly the same way each time. He tells the same self-deprecating jokes about himself in the same place and gets the same reactions.
In a very real sense working in a call centre makes SWIM behave more like a psychopath. For obvious reasons SWIM and others can never get angry at people he is trying to get surveys from the most he can do is break a pencil or give the screen the finger and that is just not enough. So there is this whole body of divorced emotional affect that you are being trained to deal with. Gallows humour helps people relate their experiences of people on the phone and they become caricatures and everybody retains their sanity. Well, sort of.
At the end of the day you still are calling people and there’ll always be one person who is still able to surprise you by being aggressive in a slightly different way. No matter how much you remove yourself from the situation you are still dealing with other people. This is something that definitely comes across when SWIM tries and cut someone of in the middle of an excuse for not doing a survey. SWIM says ‘It’s fine’ because SWIM can tell immediately that this person is not a survey. The person though despite not knowing SWIM desperately wants his excuse to be believed by SWIM. SWIM appreciates that it’s just a psychological thing but SWIM tries his hardest to treat calling like a videogame.
One last phenomenon SWIM has experienced is something like the following. SWIM will be approaching the end of a shift or a break. Nobody wants to do his survey but as it gets closer to the break time or end of the shift he doesn’t want them to. So he’ll play the survey up as being longer and more boring. He’ll say oh it’s a long enough survey to do with industrial boredom and phone apps whereas before he was saying it’s about high-tech stuff. This does not dissuade them though. As you get bang on break time the person who loves surveys appears. Like that sketch in Black Books where someone wants books very early in the morning just to prove Bernard Black wrong. In that episode Graham Linehan comes in and says he doesn’t know what book he wants he just really wants a book before swinging by the bakery. This also proves Manny’s analogous suggestion that people want early morning bread.
B: Half Ten! Half ten! I’ve never been up at half ten. What happens? Have you ever bought a book…at half ten in the morning?
M: Well, no, now that you mention it.
B: That’s right, that would be a world gone topsy turvy. People don’t want books in the morning, it’s too early.
M: Well if this were a bakery this would be quite late.
B: What!? I won’t have any cheek. I’m sorry son. I’ve made a mistake. You don’t have what it takes, to sell a book. People don’t want them in the morning.
Customer (wearing a ‘I Love Books’ T-Shirt: Hello (B looks perplexed) I’d like to but a book please
B: What books?
C: I dunno I’m just really in the mood to by a book.
B: Get out we’re closed!
C: Maybe I’ll swing by the bakery.
The same thing happens with surveys. The eager survey doer appears at exactly break time and says I don’t know what survey I want to do I just really want to do a survey.