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5:28 a.m. - 2002-06-07


In honor of National "Be Nice To Telemarketers Day" (which was sometime last October, but I just found out about it this morning ... sorry), I would like to impart some wisdom if I may.

The nicest way to cut a telemarketer off in the middle of his spiel is to say politely "I'm sorry ... could you hold on for just a moment?" put the receiver down and then go about your business until you hear the automated voice saying "If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again."

No ... there isn't a handbook for telemarketing etiquette that you may have somehow overlooked. This is merely a pearl of wisdom that only a former telemarketer like myself can enlighten you with.

It was during my salad days (not to be confused with the "soup" days that I am currently lavishing in), that I made the career decision to become a telemarketer.

I figured the exciting lifestyle of calling total strangers and persuading them into buying useless items was what I had really been striving for my entire life.

I had finally found my niche.

And for me, it sure beat robbing liquor stores. Seeing as how I didn't have a gun and all.

I struggled through the interview for the job, hoping that I was impressing the interviewer enough to the point that she realized that her business would never be profitable until I was a valid team player on their winning telemarketing team, scoring those valuable goals that would win us awards, if in fact telemarketers had their own awards ceremonies.

What I didn't know was that in the hustle-bustle world of telemarketing, they will train anybody with a tongue on how to call and pester people over the phone.

I tend to stutter whenever I get nervous, which I'm sure the interviewer must have detected throughout our conversation unless she was deaf. I must have sounded like Mel Tillis strapped to a mechanical bull and yet I STILL got hired.

But that's the cool thing about telemarketing. Happen to be a stutterer? Cl-cl-cl-climb aboard! Got Tourette's Syndrome? You've got a fucking career in motherfucking telemarketing, fucker! Yes, everybody is given the same opportunity when you're a telemarketer. Except for people in iron lungs. You don't see many of them getting hired as telemarketers, because they have trouble holding the receiver to their ear.

"Hi! This is Sheila! I'm calling tonight....SHIT! Would somebody PLEASE come pick up the receiver for me??"

In fact, she told me I seemed like "just the right type of person" for the job.

I beamed.

Naturally, she said the exact same thing to every single down-on-his-luck person who walked in the place.

The first night on the job, I was introduced to Kathy, my new boss.

Apparently, Kathy was God's gift to chain smokers and never once during my tenure did she adhere to the designated smoking areas rule.

Kathy regarded these smoking areas as cruel and unusual punishment. So she smoked like a chimney all night, defying management and hacking up loogies all night and spitting them into her empty Arby's cup.

I tried to rationalize in my head how a manager could show such blatant disregard for the rules. I soon found out that Kathy had only been with the company for three weeks. She was an innocent telemarketer the first week. Became an assistant manager trainee the second week. And was promoted to manager by the third week.

This little bit of office gossip proved to me that this telemarketing business had loads of room for advancement. I dreamt of the day ... three weeks from my starting date...when I too could be a manager of an entire shift.

Kathy gave me a brief rundown of the product that I was going to soon be bugging people about over the phone while they tried to take a dump. Described as an "exciting and revolutionary new breakthrough in aluminum siding design," this product guaranteed that the "sheen on our aluminum siding would outlast the nearest competitors as much as eight percent longer."

I nodded my head as if I fully believed in this product that had yet to be assigned a proper name ... it was THAT revolutionary.

Yet I was as confused as if she had been speaking Japanese with a German accent.

Myself and my new fellow sheep were handed stacks of index cards with names and phone numbers on them and were seated at long tables with phones covering the tables.

These cards indicated that I would be spending the evening taking people away from their dinners in Montana.

People had carved several cute messages into the tables with knives over the years. Things like "Jesus, please help me" and "I'm in telemarketing hell". I giggled as I read the messages, not really getting the joke, but pretending to so I didn't feel anymore out of place than I already felt.

I dialed the number on the first card and waited for an answer.

"Hello," the haggard voice on the other line croaked.

"Hi! My name is Clifford (the pseudonym I had always convinced myself that I would use in case I ever took that big step into the exciting world of telemarketing)! I'm calling you today about ..."


Hmm. That's odd. They just hung up on me.

Second card. The line was ringing.


"Hi! My name is Clifford! I'm calling you today about a revolutionary new ..."


What the...?? I didn't even finish my sentence.

Third card. Third time's the charm. This guy was not going to hang up on me.


"HimynameisCliffordandIamcallingyou todayaboutarevolutionarynewbreakthrough

inaluminumsiding," I spat out in rapid fire fashion.

Booooyahhh! I had gotten the first sentence out. Kathy had said that if they're still on the line after the first sentence is out, your chances of closing the sale can climb as high as 18%. Them's good odds!!

During this moment of personal glory as I was thrusting my fist in the air and silently screaming the word "YES!" over and over, I made the cardinal mistake of all telemarketers ... I checked to see if the person on the other end of the line was still there.

"Hello?" I asked.

There was silence. Then I heard the receiver laid quietly back in its cradle on the other end and a dial tone soon started.

As time went on, I quickly developed the skills it takes to become a successful telemarketer.

And who knows? Maybe if I had stayed at the job longer than three days I could have made assistant manager trainee.

Ahhhh...but life is full of gambles.

...And Waffle House was paying 25 cents more an hour. Which is not only ten bucks more a week ... but working at Waffle House gives you a bigger self esteem boost than being a telemarketer.

Trust me on that one, kids.

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