Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 47

The Time Mookie Sold Bible Videos As A Telemarketer

Back when "Megan (*)" and I lived in Colorado Springs, I was always on the lookout for a good paying job.  While I had a full-time job working at the suck-hole that is Walmart, it was certainly not my career ambition.  Odds are good I would have walked into oncoming traffic if I would have furthered my career there.  While the pay wasn’t “terrible” as far most jobs in Colorado were, it definitely wasn’t enough to pay the bills.  I had recently graduated college with two law enforcement-type degrees, but the jobs I wanted in the law enforcement community were very few and far between. So I had to improvise and make due with what I could find.

I combed the classified section of the newspaper every day looking for a job that was going make me some coin.  I can’t even remember how many interviews I had or applications I filled out while living in Colorado Springs.  It was A LOT.

One type of business that ALWAYS seemed to be hiring were the call-center/telemarketing firms.  While I personally wish they would all burn to the ground, these places were advertising an hourly rate of $9 - $10 bucks.  While this isn’t great, it was definitely better than the minimum wage rate that every other place in town was paying.  Plus, since the hours were during the day, I could do that and keep working my 2nd shift job at Walmart.  So I sucked up any dignity that I had left and went and applied.

This business was on the 2nd floor of a two-story multi-office building.  The door to the business opened into a small lobby that had a reception desk, about 4 chairs, and a closed door that led into the telemarketing area.  I asked the lady at the desk if I could have an application for the position they had posted in the paper.  With very little enthusiasm, she gave me one and told me I could sit in one of the chairs and fill it out.  I did as I was told, and then gave her the application when I was done.  She said if they were interested, they would call me.  Uhh yah.  Thanks sunshine.

A few days later they actually called.  They said that they were interested in my “computer experience,” and asked that I start the following Monday at 8AM.  As I had no other prospects lined up, I said “sure.”

So on Monday morning I arrived at the telemarketing place as I was told, and entered the same lobby I completed my application in.  The room was already full with about 7 or 8 other people sitting/standing.  I tell the receptionist (a different one from the last time I was here) that I am here for my first day, and she tells me with very little enthusiasm that “someone” will be with me in a moment.  After a few minutes of standing around staring at the closed door that led into the telemarketing area, a man and a woman came through the door.  They each had a list of names, and the guy read off 4 names – including mine – and asked us to follow him.  The four of us walked through what appeared to be the “call center” towards a small conference room on the side of the building.  As we walked across the room, I curiously looked at the couple hundred workstations that were lined up in rows across the room.  At each workstation was a push-button phone and a chair.  That was it.  No computer.  No fancy phone equipment.  A push-button phone and a folding chair.  What. The. Hell.
This is what they looked like....
except with crappy folding chairs

Across the room I could see people already busy at their workstations, dialing their phones, and making their pitch with a very rehearsed script about something.  The first question dinging in my head was “Why were they interested in my ‘computer experience’ when they obviously don’t have any computers?"  So we get into the conference room and the guy in charge shuts the door and we all sit down.

The Chewlie's Gum Guy from "Clerks."
Have you ever seen the movie “Clerks?”  There is a character early in the movie that is revealed to be a representative of “Chewlie’s Gum.”  THAT is exactly what this guy looked like.  Exactly.  It was the first thing I thought of when I looked at the guy. He had the fuzzy hair, beard, the white dress shirt, and the black tie.  He introduces himself as “Tony”(*) and starts talking to us with this intense sort of demeanor as he begins explaining what we are going to be selling.  As he is talking, he starts concentrating his vision on one of the guys sitting there at the table. Finally he stops and asks “Do I know you from somewhere?  Where did you work before this?”  The guy unflinchingly says “Me?  Before this I worked at Future Call.”  Tony continues looking at him with this intense look, starts nodding his head, and calmly says “Yeah.  I remember you.  You were good.”

Satisfied with himself for figuring out where he knew the guy from, he continued his explanation about what we would be selling.  It was easily one of the weirder things I’ve witnessed.  Obviously Tony here worked at Future Call as well.  Or did he??  I never found out the answer, but was certain the guy was totally psycho.

Tony started telling us we were going to be selling computer software to auto mechanics and service garages.  The software was called "Centrum."  The first thing I said is "Like the vitamin?"  Tony looks at me with with arrogance, and says "No. Its a computer software."  I nod like I understand, but in the back of my head I'm going "Bullshit. I have a bottle in the cupboard at home."  He explains it is an organized inventory manager and invoice creator for mechanics and garages.  He says the software saves all of the information on your customers, so if you have repeat customers - oil changes..etc.. its extra handy.  What he's telling us makes it seem useful, but then he tells us the kicker.  Once you generate 1000 invoices, you have to order (purchase) an update to the software so that it will give you 1000 more invoices.  Riiiiippppp offfffff.

Now, I'm no computer genius - But I'm not stupid either.  My curiosity gets the best of me so I say "So what if someone loaded the software and ran through their 1000 invoices, couldn't they just uninstall the software and reinstall it from the source disk and get 1000 more invoices?"  This catches Tony off guard.  He says "Well you could try to do that, but you would lose your customer data."  So then I say, "Well isn't that information stored in a specific file?  Couldn't you back that part of the file up before you uninstalled it and then just put it back in when it was installed again?"  Tony does NOT like my questions.  He essentially says a person could do that, but it is not our job to explain that.  Then he gives me a "shut up" sort of look.

For the rest of the morning, we are told to sit with active telemarketers, watch, listen, and learn what they do.  Its clearly an intensive training style.  Pffffff.  I sit with a few people and watch them maybe sell 1 or 2.  I notice on the white board at the head of the room is this apparent bonus structure.  It basically says if you sell 5, you get X dollars.  Then of course the bonus went up with each further sale.  It seemed simple enough, except for the fact product was a piece of shit.  I must add I watched some of the most awesomely awful sales tactics while sitting with these people.  I can't even begin to describe what they were doing as "lying," because that would be doing the word lying a disservice.  Nothing they said was true, and these people were accepting something they were not getting.  Troubling to say the least.

They dismissed us for lunch, for which I had brought a sack lunch.  I sat in my car and ate while 75% of the people that worked there stood outside, smoked like chimneys, and shared stories about their parole officers.  Finally my 30 minute break was over and my little group met again in the conference room.  Tony came in and "trained" us for the rest of the afternoon. He presented us each with a "script" that explains the product, and several answers to  "frequently asked questions."  He elaborated on the "bonus" graph that was detailed on the white board outside, and said we could make some "crazy" money if we sold our product.  This of course gets a few of the guys all jazzed up because they think they are going to be the super sales guys.  Finally the day ended, and were told we'd be on the phones the next day.  Awesome.

I show up for Day Two, and as promised Tony puts us on the phones.  They gave each of us a list of phone numbers for about 50 mechanic/auto garage type places all over the country in which we are supposed to sell to, and sent us to a workstation where a folding chair and push button phone were waiting for us.  They also gave us forms to complete when we suckered sold someone the software.  I started calling, and was met with numerous hang ups, and obvious "no's."  Finally, I got some poor guy to try it out.  The hook was he could try it for 30 days free, and if he didn't like it he could return it.  Woo!  One big sale!  The rest of the day was a bust.  I was told "no" so many times, you'd have thought I was trying to score with Lolo Jones or something.  I burned through my list of numbers pretty fast, and when I went to the supervisors to see if I could get some more, they looked at me like I did something wrong.  They must have felt I was burning through the prospects a little to fast.

The morning of Day Three did not yield any better results.  I got some other poor bastard to try it out the software but that was it.  So by lunch on Day Three, I had only sold two of these crappy software packages.  When I came back from lunch, I was told they were going to move me to a different product.  I was OK with this because I certainly couldn't do any worse.  They took me into a conference room and gave me a quick "crash course" on what I was selling.  What was it??

Bible School videos.  

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  Seriously.  The script explained how the cartoon stories helped kids understand good values, morals, and how they should listen to their parents.  I had legitimate concerns I was going to get struck by lightning for selling these given my lack of church attendance - and of course my dislike of organized religion in general.

They gave me lists of churches all over the country, and it was my job to call them and ask to speak to their director of "religious education."  So I set off on my push-button phone calling churches all over America. While I did get some answers, most numbers I called just rang and rang with no answer.  A lot of these churches were obviously rural, and did not have a whole religious education set up.  In many cases I was talking to the pastors of these churches, and telling them about the happy cartoon situations these videos would provide.  AND...just like the computer software, these came with a "try for free for thirty days" gimmick.  I actually saw a picture of these videos on someone else's desk and they looked like something Walmart wouldn't even carry. They were crap.

By the end of Day Four, I was somehow able to talk two of these religious education people into taking a chance on this video series of garbage.  But that was it.  The managers called all the new people into a conference room at the end of the day on Day Four, and made an announcement.  They said that tomorrow would be the "last day" for a number of people in the group as they weren't "meeting sales expectations."  Unless things turned around tomorrow, those "under-performers would be let go."  THEN they hit us with more news that showed how shyster-ish this outfit was.  They said that they would be telling people around lunch whether they would be let go or not.  If they were "let go," they were expected to stay the rest of the day and finish their shift.  If someone left before their shift was over (like when you were told you were fired), their hourly pay for the whole week would be re-rated to like $4.00 an hour instead of the $9.00 we were supposed to be getting.  Legally, I'm not sure how they could do this, but I'm sure there was some crap loophole somewhere.

So when I showed up for Day Five, I figured I was probably on the edge of being let go.  The sad part was that I did not care.  I started the day dialing up the religious community and pitching the "Jesus Loves You" videos and actually got some other poor pastor to order one up.  I have to tell you, I felt horrible trying to talk people into buying this crap.  Finally just before we broke for lunch, that Tony guy I met on Day One asked to speak with me, and pulled me into a conference room.  NICE.

Tony tells me that my sales numbers have not been that good, and they are going to have to let me go at the end of the day.  I said that I understood, but told him I didn't feel like I was given much instruction or opportunity to do what they wanted me to do.  I told him about them giving me crap numbers, and then being jerks when I told them the numbers were junk.  He said that they listened in on some of my calls, and while I was friendly, they felt that I wasn't made out to sell things over the phone.  I said "fine."  I wasn't going to fight him because it wasn't worth it.  Plus I wasn't going to lie on the phone to sell stuff.  He then reminded me I had to stay the rest of the day if I wanted the $9.00 an hour for my week's work.  If I left I would only get $4.00.  I told him "Oh! I'll be back after lunch."

I was damn sure I was not going to get screwed out of $5.00 more an hour, so I came back.  But I made sure the numbers I called were the same numbers I had called before where there was NO answer.  I made sure I did not speak to one person the rest of the afternoon on the phone.  Even if someone had answered, I probably would have hung up.  I didn't feel it necessary to inconvenience someone with the burden of crap this outfit was selling.

At the end of the day, I picked up my shit and left.  It was the first job I had ever been "let go" from, and do you know what?  That was perfectly fine by me.

In hindsight, I laugh at that job.  I have tried looking up that "Centrum" automotive software online, and have never found a thing.  I'm sure the vitamin company came in and shut that shit down.  In preparation of writing up this little story, I checked the internet to see if this telemarketing outfit was still in business.  I have to tell you I was SHOCKED to find out it is.  They are at the same place in Colorado Springs, and claim to be quite the successful operation (per their website).  The reviews I read say otherwise, and it appears business is as usual from when I was there.

I just hope the psycho Chewlie's Gum guy is still there.  (Nodding my head) He was good.

(*) Names changed to protect the guilty/innocent

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