What Working At A Call Center Taught Me

 During the initial years of my university life, I was volunteering part-time at a call center to gather local exposure in the hopes of bolstering my CV and building connections. I was in my first year, and without prior experience or a concrete qualification, the idea of working over the phone seemed more lucrative than anything else. The pay wasn’t great, and as I progressed, I realized I was hardly ever going to get paid anything substantial. Most of these jobs require one to close deals.

If you happen to work for a telemarketing firm, the number of times you manage to sell a particular product will determine your weekly and, in most cases, monthly wages. There is a basic salary that the company assigns each salesperson, but eventually, if they fail to meet their targets, less than a quarter of that amount usually gets paid to the employee.

Over the last couple of months, I have received hundreds of emails from various professionals. But most can be classified in one of two categories. The first category consists of people who are simply trying to promote their product: be it a physical commodity, their YouTube Channel, or anything self-promotional. The other consists of people who ask for a referral with regards to a job.

IfI was to give my verdict regarding the former category, I can testify that regardless of one’s choice, such individuals often sell or promote products that they themselves would never purchase simply to make ends meet. But this notion of working for pennies and cut-throat bosses empowers these individuals with a unique skill. The power to negotiate. You see, for the most part, I used to be an introvert. I would rarely go to any sort of gathering or event that involves masses of people.

But what I realized was that it is the people that I tried avoiding the most that had the power to change my destiny.

The conversations were not meant to be personal, but professional. However, every single deal I closed had a “personal touch”. People will buy your idea, only if they can relate to you in some form or another and that is where the “personal” touch comes into play.

If you are solely focusing on “selling yourself” most people won’t even bother knowing the minute details.

Most top-level sales executives appear to be inhuman to their subordinates, but when it comes to a client, their tone drastically changes to one solely focussed on “society’s wellbeing”.

Learning to negotiate and making the person on the other side of the conversation hear you out completely, is what can make or break a deal. The same deal which could fetch you a “handsome daily wage” if you happen to do things right.

As for the latter, the current COVID-19 situation has caused most employees around the world to be terminated abruptly. As the economy worsens, random messages from strangers on LinkedIn is going to become the norm for most of us.

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Image: benedettocristofani.net

What do you do when you get a message from someone desperately seeking a job to make ends meet?

Previously, I wouldn’t necessarily pitch in a word for anyone I hadn’t interacted with, simply because I was unsure of what the person was actually like. My referees are mostly in the upper echelon, with little to no sympathy for outsiders, and I was afraid if I kept pitching in every single person who had approached me ever, they would simply stop taking my word seriously. But the current landscape of things made me reconsider my approach. I tried pitching in a word for every single person I met.

When I spoke to such candidates, I made sure to break down my jargon into simple terms and not confuse them with industry nomenclature. The key was to reply in a way that would be helpful.

Most messages are along the lines of “I have been out of work for three months and I am losing all hope and my sanity. I have a wife and two kids who are depending on me and I don’t know what to do”.

What I had come to realize from all these conversations was that ‘a glimmer of hope is all one needs to make it to the next day’.

Even if you are not in a position to refer or employ someone, refer some books or other technical manuals that might help them upgrade their skills for their next role. Keep them mentally motivated until they find a role. Follow up once in a while as you would do with your sales clients.

Viktor Frankl, one of the great psychiatrists of the twentieth century, survived the death camps of Nazi Germany. His little book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is one of those life-changing books that everyone should read.

In the book, Frankl mentions the story of a woman who called him in the middle of the night to calmly inform him she was about to commit suicide. Frankl kept her on the phone and talked her through her depression, giving her reason after reason to carry on living. Finally, she promised she would not take her life, and she kept her word.

When they later met, Frankl asked which reason had persuaded her to live?

“None of them”, she told him.

What then influenced her to go on living, he pressed.

Her answer was simple, it was Frankl’s ‘willingness to listen’ to her in the middle of the night.

A world in which there was someone ready to listen to another’s pain seemed to her a world in which it was worthwhile to live. Often, it is not a brilliant argument that makes a difference. Sometimes the small act of listening is the greatest gift we can give”.

The fact of the matter is no one likes on the receiving end of a cold call or cold e-mail. But we ought to remember that there was a point in time when we all were in a similar spot. The hardest part you deal with when looking for a job is not losing belief in yourself.

If you happen to be working at a call center now, I can promise you things will get better, and you will come out of this whole thing as a better negotiator and more importantly a stronger human being.

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