Thursday, September 30, 2010

Do You Know What Time It Is?

"Do you know what time it is?"

Working in outbound call centres, I've been asked that question quite a bit, by people who are outraged at being called at 6pm, or 9pm, or whatever time they find objectionable. And I'm puzzled as to what kind of answer the people who ask this question expect.

"No! I let myself get so wrapped up in my enthralling work that I forgot the time and stayed past the end of my shift!"

"No. They keep us in windowless cells. They clang on the bars to tell us when to wake up, and feed us once a day. All the days bleed together. I don't know what year it is, much less the time of day. It has been so long since I've seen the sky..."

Seriously. There's a clock on the computer. And on the phone. And on the wall. We know what time it is. More to the point, though, we don't decide what time to call. The supervisor and the computer do that. And legislation, which says we're allowed to call until 10pm.

"Do you know you're calling at dinner time?"

"Really!? Goodness me, I'll inform my manager. I'm sure that once she finds out what a horrible mistake she's made, she'll reschedule all the shifts for the call centre."

When I was doing telesales for an arts organization, one of my co-workers, when confronted with the information that he was calling people during dinner, would answer, "Oh I'm sorry, I don't have my videophone today, I couldn't tell." He was so courteous and matter-of-fact when he said it that the supervisor let him get away with it.

I am awfully tempted to give such answers sometimes.

"Well, I'm not eating dinner; so obviously, it isn't dinner time."

It's not the result of some gross oversight that outbound call centres call people when they do. It's deliberate. We try to reach people when they're at home, which happens to be around "dinner time".

Once in a very rare while, I'll get someone who asks,

"Why are you calling on a Sunday?!"

They're really rather insuffrable. They imagine that most other people are just like them, and would be offended by a phone call from a market research company on Sunday. When really, such people are in the minority.

A couple of years ago there was a television ad for the Telezapper. It depicted a brash, chatty telemarketer, cheerfully dialing up some meek, balding man and steamrolling him over the phone. But then he got the Telezapper! It blocked the telemarketer's calls, leaving her looking all distressed and confused.

That ad botherd me. There seems to be this misconception that people work at outbound call centres for fun. That there's nothing we enjoy better than asking grumpy people what brands of tuna they can name off the top of their head, or trying to convince folks that, yes, they really do want a subscription to the opera this season! Telemarketers might sound like they're having fun, but that's because they're trying to sell you something. Telemarketers have grins plastered on their faces, but only because it comes through in their voice. And we definitely do not get upset and confused when we cant't get through to someone. We move on to the next call.

Working in an outbound call centre is a job. If someone doesn't want to talk to us, then we want to talk to them even less. But we're paid to do it anyways. We're counting down the hours to the end of the shift. So yes, we know what time it is.


  1. It's not the people you call's fault that telemarketing is irritating any more than it's the fault of call-centre employees like you.

    Just out of curiosity, how do you know that these irritated people are in the minority? I'm always polite to telemarketers because I know the person I'm talking to is just trying to pay the bills, but that doesn't mean they don't annoy the hell out of me.

    Of course, those on the receiving end have the advantage in that they can be rude to a telemarketer without being fired, so a bit of ranting seems perfectly reasonable!

  2. The people who complain about being called on a Sunday are in the minority. I know because many people don't have a problem being called on a Sunday more than any other day, and even request that we do.

    I'm not saying that people aren't allowed to be irritated. I just have to wonder what some people think it's like working in a call centre, due to the way they express their irritation. Really, I just find these sorts of questions - do you know what time it is, do you realize you're calling at dinner time, etc. - rather odd.

  3. Well, I expect these questions are mostly rhetorical...

  4. Just 'cuz it's rhetorical, doesn't mean it's not stupid.

    It's like, you know you're not accomplishing anything by complaining, right? I mean, other than making someone's work day that much more difficult. If you don't want to talk to a telemarketer or survey researcher just hang up. Or tell them, "I'm not interested, please don't call back" and then hang up.

  5. As a student I briefly worked at an outbound call centre doing surveys. At least once a night I was sworn at and personally insulted. At least once. It was also common for people to scream and/or bang the phone repetitively against something. I never understood why it was so hard for some people just to say a polite no.

  6. agreed with op and Kristine! Although I loved my telemarketing job. :)

  7. @tml83

    That's good. :) What were you selling, if you don't mind me asking?

  8. When I am asked "Do you know what time it is" I answer " is...(pretending to consult my watch)...6 o'clock!

    When I am asked "Why are you calling on a Sunday?" I reply dramatically "Research never sleeps. It goes on morning, noon and night. Seven days a week!" Sometimes they are flummoxed.

    Actually those who are angry you call on a Sunday can get really ugly - not showing a Christian attitude at all - ironically. Whereas Muslims and Jews do. Explaining gently when it is there day of worship or holy day. I have worked in a research call centre for over 6 years and the difference between these groups in attitude of 'entitlement' is marked and consistent.

  9. "Research never sleeps. It goes on morning, noon and night. Seven days a week!"

    I love it!

    Actually those who are angry you call on a Sunday can get really ugly - not showing a Christian attitude at all - ironically. Whereas Muslims and Jews do. Explaining gently when it is there day of worship or holy day. I have worked in a research call centre for over 6 years and the difference between these groups in attitude of 'entitlement' is marked and consistent.

    This is so very true.

  10. I survived working outbound market research by thinking to myself that the *expletives* that slammed down phones, used air horns or police whistles, and asked if I was wearing panties were shooting themselves in the ass.

    Because typically, they'll be the same people whining six months down the road because their favorite sandwich or flavor of soft drink, or brand of laundry detergent or what have you was discontinued. Because, shockingly, if the only person willing to talk to us is a 90 year old grandmother who thinks knitting is an extreme sport, the companies hiring us to do the research are actually going to assume that she is a representative sample of the marketplace.

    And while you, Mr. Airhorn blowing OMG I can't take five minutes to answer a few questions might enjoy SUPER X-TREME HABANERO FLAVOR SPICY CHIPZ, if you don't tell the companies that when they ask, they're likely to discontinue them based on the fact that the aforementioned granny thinks salt is too spicy.

  11. Holy fuck. I've had guys proposition me on the phone, or hand the phone off to a baby or someone with a mental disability, but never blow an airhorn. People are assholes.

    You're totally right about how they're just shooting themselves in the foot, too.

  12. I worked at a research call centre, and it wasn't the people on the phone that were so bad (although, I get pretty upset at people misgendering me. How many female Victors do you know?) The worst was my micromanaging boss. I could work very well if only I was respected like a decent human at my work.

  13. I have two things to say...

    One, I used to work in a call center, but it was an inbound call center for a bank. I did customer service, which meant that I took 20 call a day that fell along the lines of, "what's my balance?" or "my check card was stolen!" and about 90 calls a day along the lines of, "WHY AM I OVERDRAWN?!" "WHAT'S THIS FEE FOR!" "I HATE YOU FUCKERS, YOU'RE CROOKS! WHY AM I OVERDRAWN?!" People are assholes, and I really hated the people I talked to. That job put me (and just about everyone else) on the verge of insanity. We cried on a daily basis and most of us quit by storming out in tears. By the way, I'm talking about two different call centers; I worked for two different bank's call centers, one for a year and a half, the other for 10 months. I do not envy you! (I actually kept a blog during the time I spent at the 2nd one, at

    But that was a bit different than telemarketing. Telemarketing really is pretty much the most evil of things to a great deal of people. Not only is a stranger interrupting them in the middle of dinner, or any aspect of life, they're doing it for the purpose of getting money from then. I personally find that so utterly disrespectful that I don't think I am ever required to be nice if I don't want to be. You have to know, going into telemarketing, that you are the one choosing to consistently annoy people for your boss, right? I mean, it's a shitty system, because there's no one to clearly blame, in reality, so you end up feeling the brunt of it, on the front lines. You say your supervisors make you do it, but the supervisors, on the other hand, are only told to administer those rules, by another chain of management, and so on. Who is to be held accountable, and are you absolved of complicity just by virtue of being lowest on the totem pole of who benefits from what you do to annoy people over the phone? I don't necessarily think so.

  14. Sure it's not your fault that you're annoying those people. You're just doing what your supervisor tells you to, and if you quit someone else would just do it.

    And it's not poacher's fault when they kill endangered animals, because as long as there's a market for rhino horn, someone will do it.

    And frankly, if an SS guard as Aushwitz had said, "That's it, this is evil and I'm quitting," the Holocaust would have gone on anyway.

    Now I've broken Godwin's Law, so I'll wrap it up, but don't pretend you have no moral responsibility by participating in a morally dubious industry.

  15. @April
    I totally sympathize with you for your jobs at the banks. Its sounds like it was a terrible experience.

    About telemarketers though, interrupting your life to sell you something... how is that different from door-to-door sales people? Or even ads on TV or the radio? Sure, you can choose to change the station or mute the ads, but you can also choose to politely tell the telemarketer, "No, I'm not interested, don't call back." Or even just hang up without saying anything. Not to mention, there are national "do not call" lists (if you're in the USA or Canada) you can get added to if you don't want to get a telemarketing call ever again. Advertising has become extremely invasive in our lives, which is a problem, but blaming telemarketers isn't the solution.

    STFU dude. Telephone survey research is not a "morally dubious industry." Telemarketing isn't even a "morally dubious industry." Show me where it says in the Bible - or the Koran, or any holy scripture - "Thou shalt not contact thy anal-retentive neighbour during dinnertime"... and that still wouldn't make it a "morally dubious industry." Annoying you is not a sin. The world does not revolve around you. Get over it.

  16. Ok, my earlier post was over the line and I apologize.

    If you define 'morally dubious industry' as 'industry that a significant portion of the society in which it exists consider unethical,' then I think telemarketing qualifies. Here is my evidence:

  17. A significant portion of the population also thinks Barrack Obama is a Muslim born outside of the USA.

    SOME telemarketing might be unethical, but certainly not the whole industry. I worked in the telesales department of a symphony and a ballet company. Both those organizations depended on the sales generated by telemarketing to stay afloat. A lot of the people I talked to wanted to buy subscriptions to the symphony or ballet and were happy we called. And I'm sure there are people who are happy to buy other things over the phone too, even if they aren't as prestigious as tickets to the ballet.

    There is nothing intrinsically unethical about selling things over the phone.

    Telephone scams are unethical. There are telephone scams that disguise themselves as telemarketing. As I know from working in telephone survey research, a good deal of the general population has a hard time distinguishing between survey research, telemarketing, and scams. If it happens over the phone, people lump it all together into one group. People are justified in being wary of unsolicited phone calls, but they are wrong to classify telemarketing as "unethical."

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