Nine years ago, I had a real challenge finding a day job here in the Metro; however, the bottom line was I needed a job, and it didn’t matter if it were a day or a night job. Being in the broadcast industry (who refused to go back), I could get the closest work in the call center industry.
I was having second thoughts. My friend’s opinion of the call center work was not encouraging – that it was nothing more than a glorified telephone operator (I believe this impression persists up to now, ask my wife). I was in for a shock.
My first three attempts at applying in three big centers all failed. 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 applications then, so the good old Manila Bulletin showed me a vacancy in the Mandaluyong area (I stayed in a friend’s house in Kalentong, so this was convenient for two short jeep rides). The ad was for an outbound call center agent.
The former EasyCall facility housed the recruitment center. A swarm of job seekers stood in line beneath the hot sun, hoping to get a job. The post didn’t say much about the job; it simply stated that they were searching for an outbound sales agent and that the only requirements were a résumé and an NBI clearance. I tried to strike up a conversation with other applicants, but they were just as perplexed as I was. When the recruitment office finally opened, the security guard yelled at all the applicants to form a line before collecting our resumes. Because I arrived early and had the opportunity to befriend the guard, I was first in line for the initial interview.
The hiring procedure was quick. The process includes an initial interview, a brief test consisting of grammar, math, and an IQ test, and a final interview with an American (who turned out to be the principal investor in this operation). I was nervous during the interview and realized that I was talking fast, so I failed the previous call center interviews I had.
As soon as I passed the initial interview and the tests, they endorsed me to the American interviewer, who asked me to read from a script. I agreed when he asked if we could perform a simple mock call. I laughed and felt dumb when the interviewer started by saying “ring-ring.” I read the entire spiel, and he just listened. He didn’t object to anything; instead, he closed the interview by telling me that I start at 9 PM the following day.
When I arrived at the employment site for my first shift, I felt overwhelmed by cigarette smoke. The guard led me to a room full of recently hired applicants from the day before. When each of the 49 of us received a new copy of the script, the training began. Two hours later, we moved to the next room with computers, headsets, and phones; we were all going live.
I felt a wave of nervousness sweep over my entire body. I felt as though I needed to smoke, but there was no time. We wore the headsets and to test the dialer and the amplifier. Then finally, a test call came in to see if the data pop was working. Before we went live, we took a 15-minute break.
That was the most stressful 15 minutes of my life; in fact, it was during that time that I had my first cigarette taste. I didn’t smoke, but I felt compelled to do so due to my stress. I didn’t have the required training. I didn’t have any sales experience. The longest chat I had in English was with the foreigner who just interviewed me, and my exposure to Avaya, the CRM, and a contact center headset was minimal. The worst realization was to sell something that I believed was utterly bogus. My first puff of cigarette made me feel sick. I coughed and gagged, but it helped to relieve the strain.
Thus begins my first job as an outbound sales agent for a resort in New Mexico, selling timeshare. Anyone who worked in such a center will never forget the place’s ragged appearance and feel. On the floor were thin, unpainted plywood dividers and pipes running the operations floor and ceiling length. Literally, a boiler room contact center (I later discovered that this was the building’s executive parking spot).
The center makes use of an auto-dialer with a two-second avail time. You could make up to 250 calls in a single day if you didn’t mind the slave labor. There were no bio-breaks or system auxes – just two fifteen-minute coffee breaks and a 30-minute lunch, and if you arrive late and your sales performance is below average, you will no longer be allowed to go back; only top sellers were granted that privilege.
When you’re on the phone with an interested customer, most of whom are retirees with spare money, you need to establish as much rapport as possible, putting the customer in a yes mode while prepping for the big pitch. If you’re lucky, he’ll take over the call, take the credit card information, and exclaim, “Sale!” This phrase always caused an uproar throughout the floor, simply because you earn spiffs – a solid Php500.00 for each transaction you make. The lesbians on the team usually made at least Php 3,000 per night, so I always wanted to sit next to one and listen to their presentation and learn their selling skills. Their secret? When dealing with the elderly, they had a relentless energy and were superb at saying the correct thing at the appropriate moment.
However, not everyone was lucky. Whether you’re a good seller or not, if you go a week without making a sale, you’ll be fired no matter what the reason. There were no long-term employees or friends. There were no walking papers. The Americans will tell you not to come back next week. You don’t get to say goodbye to your new friends either; there was never time for that because your first goal was to find work.
No benefits, no SSS, PAGIBIG, or tax deductions were available. If you received Php11,500 (the going rate at the time), you would receive money in a little brown envelope every week. The American team leader monitored attendance, and it was critical that he knew who we were, otherwise, we run the risk of not getting paid if he didn’t see us. In this boiler room call center, there was no card-swiping or fingerprint access to doors or Avaya, and if you were absent or tardy for any reason, don’t bother coming back. They won’t let you in. I lasted six months at this job.
Why did I take that job? Because I needed it. I failed my first three efforts at SVI, Sykes, and VXI. Therefore I wanted to get experience to grasp what a call center agent does, confirm whether it was a no-brainer, and figure out why I was failing.
My spirit is unyielding. If there were something I didn’t understand, I would explore it until I was satisfied. The answer to the puzzle of my three-strikes came as a flash of insight; slowly but steadily, I began to comprehend why I had failed. As a result of my self-study, I changed how I applied for work and how I answered during interviews. In one week, I had five job offers.
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. So, my next stop? Inbound customer service account.