I’m a telemarketer. This is not something that makes me proud, and certainly not something I intended on doing. When I was twelve, I didn’t look at my parents and announce, “Forget being a doctor or attorney. Nevermind being an architect or physicist. When I grow up I want to cold call businesses and ask them if they need insurance.”
Prior to being a telemarketer I had naively (arrogantly) assumed that anyone who would phone complete strangers for a living must have zero education. Or perhaps they had education but made some poor choices which led them to this very sad job. Regardless, I found telemarketers intrusive at best and rather pathetic as worst.
And now I am one. An educated (I have a master’s degree from a well respected NYC University) telemarketer. What led me to telemarketing was a series of, as Lemony Snicket would say, unfortunate events: putting my career on an eight-year hiatus to stay home with my kids, cancer diagnosis and treatment, then needing full-time employment ASAP because of a divorce.
I had standards though. I would never call someone’s private residence. At least, that’s what I told myself to lessen the sting of calling random strangers all day. However, I was quick to find that calling businesses is merely one step above calling someone’s home. People are busy at work and already have the insurance I sell. As so many people have told me when I call, “If I wanted your insurance, I would call you.”
I am expected to make 75 calls a day: The more calls I make, the better likelihood of a sale. It’s a numbers game. I’m supposed to call each business every other week. This means twice a month I call in the chance they suddenly decide to use us – in the hopes the person who makes the decisions about insurances has changed. Or, magically, the person who has been avoiding us for years suddenly decides one morning to answer the phone and give this pesky telemarketer their business.
The boroughs of Manhattan are the worst; Nassau and Queen Counties a form of audiological torture. I knew New Yorkers were rough, but cold calling them for insurance releases a whole new side of this already aggressive humanity.
I’ve been threatened (“I don’t ever want to hear your voice on my phone again, is that clear?”) demeaned (“I would never work with someone as low as you,”) and messed with (“this sounds fascinating, tell me more” and then hanging up while I was explaining). I cry less than I used to, but some days I still get a sinking feeling in my chest before each dial.
I call armed with scripts – an algorithm of how to respond to their responses. Happy with their insurance? Then I say this. Recently switched and don’t want to switch again? Then I say that. It’s dancing through the raindrops – if I get that far. Most often I am hung up on or sent to a general voicemail, which is equivalent to a verbal shredder.
I speak with dozens of receptionists (or as we call them: gatekeepers). Some are akin to highly trained offensive linemen keeping callers like me from speaking with their superiors. When I ask to speak with a specific person, Nassau County gatekeepers are notorious for simply saying, “No” and hanging up.
Despite the number of businesses I have called, I have made very few sales. I stumble over my words when I finally get the correct person on the phone, shocked they’re even listening. I’m also bracing myself for the impending hang-up, insult or quickly deciphering which script I should use in response to why they’re not interested.
My manager tells me I need to shrug it off, to not take these people personally. So basically I need to possess some attributes of a sociopath. There is nothing natural in calling complete strangers and after being treated poorly, hanging up and immediately calling another one.
I dial on, trying to meet my quota, hoping I make a sale, though I have found making a sale doesn’t thrill me as much as kind people do.