For the past six years, I have been a business-to-business telemarketer for a New Jersey-based business newspaper, and an independent contractor rather than an employee. It’s a very small office, so while I work I get to hear the writers and other creative people doing their jobs. I like that. I also like that I don’t sell anything, rather I give something away – complementary subscriptions to this publication – in the hope that the newspaper will sell itself to the people who find it useful. A typical call:
“Smith Smythe Smits Schmidt and Smith. How may I help you?”
“Hi, I’m Vin, I’m calling to confirm a mailing address for NJBIZ, which is a business publication. These are complementary issues and we will be mailing them to PO Box 1001, Smithville, NJ 08201… If that is correct.”
Between 70 and 85% of the time, the person on the phone confirms the mailing address, and I set the wheels in motion to get a 12-week subscription to that address. On average, I make 140 phone calls in a four-hour shift, and speak to between 50 and 60 people
Sometimes people say to me “Oh, we are a very small business, so there’s no need to spend the postage.” If they seem to be in a mood to listen, I might tell them the truth, which is that our advertising rates are based on how many subscriptions we send out every month, regardless of whether they are paid or free subscriptions. They really are doing us a favor by accepting a free subscription. Sometimes they sound dubious, wondering to me why we would be sending them free subscriptions, but I tell them that the best advertisement for our publication is the publication itself – only if they see it, will they know if it will be any use to them at all. And I habitually add to the end of each successful call, “We hope you will like our publication.”
I have really learned to listen to the people on the other end of the line, and I make subtle or not-so-subtle changes to my patter. If the person who picks up the phone speaks softly, I speak more softly; if they sound assertive, then so do I. Sometimes, in smaller companies, the person who answers the phone sounds to me like the business-owner. To them I get to the point and speak very quickly, because they already understand what I’m doing and why I am doing it, and they sound impatient for me to get to the end of my patter if I take too long.
Sometimes I get on the phone, I speak to someone who has a rare combination of being pretty sure that they have no need of my publication, and aren’t angry at me for calling. They speak very courteously to me, a lowly telemarketer who has interrupted their day. To them, I might say: “well it sounds like, for you, NJBIZ.com might be the best solution. That’s our website, and if you go there, maybe you’ll discover that you will like NJBIZ. There’s a lot of free information on that site. Also, if you like what you see, you can get the same free subscription that I would give to you over the phone.” All I have done is given them a different thing for free, which I already was intending to do.
When I do that, the person on the phone thanks me, and it sounds like they really mean it. I didn’t see what I was doing as going above and beyond the call of duty. All I had done was continue to serve my original purpose, which was to publicize NJBIZ. Nothing was really different, but it was as if they considered me a prince. It took me a long time to see what they might be thinking. I didn’t react angrily when they said no, and hadn’t alienated them by hanging up abruptly, I had listened to them and taken their concerns seriously. I guess I had treated them like princes.
The New Jersey office will be losing its telemarketing function at the end of the year – the parent company has decided to do all telemarketing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It has been a good job. It allowed me to work when my strength permitted, and when weather permitted. For me in winter, that is like gold. Also, it’s a very good job for a frustrated actor. 50 times a day, the curtain goes up on the new performance of Vin, the Happy Telemarketer, who likes his job and who even likes the people he speaks to on the phone. If things go badly, the phone call ends and the curtain goes down. But a couple of minutes later, the curtain goes up again. I really have enjoyed working this job. I’m going to miss it, and remember it with a smile.