Nine years ago, I had a real challenge finding a day job here in the Metro, the bottom-line of it, however, was I needed a job and it didn’t matter if it were a day or a night job. I thought that, being in the broadcast industry (who refused to go back); the closest work I could get was in the call center industry.
I was having second thoughts though. Apart from the impression that the work they do here is nothing short of blue-collar, my friend’s review of the call center work wasn’t too encouraging – that it was nothing more than a glorified telephone operator (I believe this impression still persists up to now, just ask my wife). I was in for a surprise.
My first three attempts at applying in three big centers all resulted to failure. The recruitment specialists who handed me the dreaded regret letter never bothered to explain why, and because I’m research oriented, I needed to find out for myself.
I didn’t know much about online application then, so it was the good old Manila Bulletin which showed me a vacancy in the Mandaluyong area (I was staying in a friend’s house in Kalentong so this was a convenient two short jeep rides). The ad was for an outbound call center agent.
The recruitment center was located in the former EasyCall building, and the people in that company never bothered to hide the shabbiness and lack of organization of their operation, yet still a lot of people were waiting outside, under the hot sun, in the hope of landing a job at the soonest possible time. The ad did not offer much detail, it was just an outbound sales agent post and the only requirement was the resume and an NBI clearance (getting one is another story), and because of my curiosity, I tried conversing with fellow applicants, they too we clueless about the work and the company.
When the recruitment office finally opened, the guard scowled at the applicants to form a line, and then he started to collect the resume. Being early and had the opportunity to befriend the guard, I was first in the line to be called for the initial interview.
The recruitment process was short. An initial interview, a short test composed of grammar, math, and an IQ test, and a final interview with an American (who I learned later was the major investor in this operation).
The initial interviewer was nervous, perhaps because it was her first time to do the job, or maybe because she read from my resume that I was a radio DJ, and felt conscious of her language skill, I don’t know. This was where I realized that was talking too fast, my first clue as to why I failed the interviews in the other centers.
After passing the initial interview and the tests, I was immediately endorsed to the American interviewer who asked me to read a script – apparently the actual one used on the floor, and he asked if we could do a simple mock call, I agreed. When the interviewer said “ring ring”, I laughed and felt stupid. He didn’t find it amusing so I started reading the script. He did not challenge me with an objection; he simply ended the interview and advised that I will be starting the day after tomorrow, which will allow me to get enough rest. The shift will start at 9:00PM.
When I arrived at the site for my first shift, I found myself suffocating from cigarette smoke – I wasn’t a smoker. I was led by the guard to a room full of freshly hired applicants from the previous day. All 49 of us were given another copy of the script, and the training started. Two hours later, we were led to another room with computers, headsets, and telephones, we were all going live.
I felt the pang of nervousness envelope my entire body. I felt like I needed a smoke, but there was no time for that. We were asked to wear the headsets, shown how the dialer works, asked to test the amplifier, and a test call came in, they were testing the data pop. When everyone was done, we were told to take a 15 minute break then we will go live.
That was the most stressful 15 minutes of my life; in fact, it resulted to my first taste of a cigarette. I didn’t smoke but because of the pressure I felt, I felt the need to. I did not have the proper training, I did not have any experience in selling, my longest conversation with a foreigner was 15 minutes and this was during an interview just the other day, my exposure to Avaya, the CRM, and a call center headset was very minimal, and I was being asked go sell something I thought was a complete BS. My first puff of smoke made me feel nauseated. I gagged and coughed, but it helped ease the tension.
And so it begins, my first job as an outbound sales agent selling timeshare for a resort in New Mexico. Anyone who worked in that center can never forget the shabby look and feel of the place. I vividly remember the floor being damp with occasional puddles as if it were hosed down in the morning (which meant electrocution for anyone who steps on the puddle and on an exposed wire at the same time), with thin plywood dividers and pipes running along the length of the entire operations floor and the ceiling. Literally, a boiler room call center (I learned later that this was the building’s parking area for executives).
The center uses an auto-dialer with a two-second avail time. In one day, you can make as much as 250 calls if everyone’s voice mail was on. There were no bio-breaks, no system auxes – only the straight two fifteen-minute coffee break and a 30 minute lunch, and if you are late and your sales performance was not at par, you will not be allowed to log back in; only the top sellers were allowed that privilege.
When you are on the phone with an interested customer, mostly retirees who had the extra money, you need to build as much rapport as you can, putting the customer in a yes mode while preparing for the major pitch. When that moment is on, you get the customer’s agreement to the sale, you raise your hand to call the attention of the American “closer”, he comes over and you introduce him to the customer, continues with the rapport you built, answers a few questions, and, if lucky, he takes note of the credit card information, ends the call and shouts “Sale!”. This word always resulted in an uproar all over the floor, only because you a get spiffs – a solid Php500.00 for every sale you make. And for some reason, the lesbians in the team were always getting no less than Php 3,000 a night, this is why I always wanted to sit beside one, to listen to their pitch and learn their secret to selling, that is, they have a relentless spirit and they knew which buttons to push when talking to an elderly.
Not everyone was lucky though. Good seller or not, spend a week without a sale, no matter that the reason was, and you get fired. There were no permanent employees, no permanent friends. There were no walking papers too; the Americans just ask you not report the following week. You don’ get to say goodbye to your new-found friends too; there was never a time for that because your next priority was to find a job.
There were no benefits, no SSS, PAGIBIG, or tax deductions. If you were offered Php11, 500 (the going rate at that time), you will get it on a weekly or sometimes daily basis, in a small brown envelope. Attendance was checked by the American team leader and so it was essential that we befriended him, there was always the risk of not getting paid if he doesn’t see you or if you do not call his attention. This was a boiler room call center, there were no card-swiping or finger print access to doors or Avaya logins linked to your attendance, If you were absent for whatever reason, there was no way you can inform your team leader (he never gave out his phone number), just don’t bother coming back, only sellers with proven track record gets that benefit. I survived this job for six months.
Why did I take that job? Because I needed it. I failed in my first three attempts at SVI, Sykes, and VXI so I needed to get the experience to understand the work of a call center agent, to validate if it indeed was a no-brainer, and to find out why I kept failing.
Just like lesbians I worked with, my spirit knows no relent. If I did not understand something, I will research it until I am satisfied. The answer to the mystery of my three strikes came in like an epiphany, slowly but surely, I began to understand the reason why I failed. I began to work on some reforms as a result of my self-study, and applied at a few centers just to test my theories. I got five job offers in a span of one week.
I found the work environment to be too stressful. I decided that the six months of immersion in an outbound environment was more than enough for me. Next stop, inbound customer service account.