SAN DIEGO — The names vary, the voices are different, and you recognize the approach before he or she is a third of the way into the pitch.
She could be 18 years old, or 64 years young. He or she usually has a pleasant speaking voice, better than average diction, and a well-rehearsed, pleasing manner. She or he is also overworked--and underpaid.
Maybe you don't know it, but telemarketing is here to stay.
In the past four years I have done it all: setting appointments for salesmen, selling products for the blind. And whether it's a pitch for a home improvement or a carpet cleaning company, it's all the same.
When it comes to fund raising, there is a slight difference. The approach is commonly referred to as a "beg pitch." It makes no difference whether it's for underprivileged children, old folks, the blind, the cancer or heart foundation; or whether you're selling tickets to a sporting event to support underprivileged children, old folks, Meals on Wheels or the cancer foundation. The common denominator is the numbing, grinding monotony which can freeze the soul and paralyze the spirit of the telemarketer.
The thing to remember, however, is: This has become big business.
You don't have the advantage of eye contact, so an image must be created--a blind image, true, but an image nonetheless. If you have ever been a performer in the strict sense of the word, it helps. Every successful telemarketer rapidly recognizes this and, in a manner of speaking, becomes a performer, because without the enthusiasm, the upbeat tempo, the "hail fellow well met" in your voice, you are finished before you start.
At all costs, you must always have a smile on your face. Even though your customer does not see you, he hears you loud and clear. The first "Hello, my name is Susan" creates that first impression, and if that fails, the call fails, and so you go on to the next one, because anyone will tell you that this is a numbers game.
In some offices, you are not allowed to put the phone back on the cradle but have it constantly draped over you shoulder as you go on to the next number, the same pitch and, hopefully, a new customer. Your livelihood depends on it.
You must not get tired, irritated or even slightly angry. It somehow reflects in the voice no matter how good you think you are, it comes through to the customer, and you lose. The best of us lose more than we win, because that's telemarketing.
Some places, the better ones, or perhaps the less greedy or those with more intelligent employers, allow for frequent short break periods to stave off burnout. The rate of burnout is very high, an undeniable and understandable fact to anyone who has been in the business for any length of time.
Make no mistake, we also understand what the public is feeling. We know that people are bombarded with phone calls. To make things even more difficult, the media has brought to light, and rightfully so, a number of scam operations, making people wary and frightened. But it is safe to say that most of us are legitimate.
I will frequently begin my pitch with: "Mrs. Jones, I know this is the 10,000th call you have received this week." She knowingly laughs or chuckles, but she now knows that I am aware, that I am not insensitive, and sometimes she will relax and listen. She may cut you off midway, or allow you to finish before she rejects you, but she has been polite, so you don't mind it as much.
In many instances, a customer becomes apologetic and tries to explain why she cannot give or buy, and at times you actually feel as though you have made a friend at the other end of the line. But all too often, the response is snappish, rude, sometimes crude, and before you have the third word out of your mouth, a phone is slammed down on you, leaving you feeling dull and angry and rubbing your ear because it has been assaulted.
Most calls take less than five minutes, but it takes less than 30 seconds to say "no thank you" in a gentle, polite way, without slamming down the phone--bearing in mind that the person on the other end is earning a living to feed a child, or work their way through school, or simply to earn enough money to pay the rent.
We the telemarketers do understand, ladies and gentlemen. We know there are times when you are napping when we call, or asleep after working all night. We know there are times you are not feeling well, and maybe you have just come out of the hospital, or you are preparing for a stay in the hospital because you need surgery, and you are worried half out of your mind.
We really do know, because we are people just like you, with the same kinds of feelings. We laugh, we cry and we bleed, and sometimes just making the effort to dial the next number becomes a Herculean feat.
So we do understand when you strike out, and who better to strike out at than an impersonal voice, without a face who has simply said, "Hello, my name is Susan."