Monday, February 9, 2009

The Brink of the Abyss

The job market in our area for my particular profession has dried up to nothing since December. I had two really good interviews in early December, but both companies instituted a hiring freeze before the positions could be filled.

This has forced me to confront two possibilities:
  1. I may have to work out-of-state. I’ve done this before, commuting long distances, and it sucks. In this economy, not many employers are willing to provide a per-diem if you have to travel, and it’s expensive to live away from home.

  2. I may have to find some kind of menial local temporary work just to bring in a paycheck, no matter how small, until the job market loosens up. But with my aging knees, I can’t take a service-industry job where I’m required to stand all day.

Today I swallowed my pride and went to apply for a telemarketing job. The telemarketing industry is divided into “inbound” and “outbound.” “Inbound” means you receive calls from customers or prospects to handle their problems or inquiries. “Outbound” means you call people all day long and try to sell them something. I opted for “inbound.” One thing that attracted me to this place was that they advertised two shifts per day. I wanted to work the late shift from 4pm to 10pm, which would give me plenty of time in the morning to continue my search for a “real” job.

The telemarketing office was a small, shabby location that stank of mildew and cigarette smoke. Through a door I could see a dark room with people huddled in small cubbies, handling calls. I was offered a seat in the grimy lobby, where a half-dozen depressed-looking applicants waited for a guy named “Mike” to make his presentation. The gloomy atmosphere was contagious, and I started to feel pretty horrible.

Suddenly, my cell phone buzzed, so I stepped outside to take the call. It was a contract recruiter, offering to submit me for what sounded like a good job at Disney. Not great money, and it’s only a 7-month contract, but it’s a foot in the door at Disney, and it has to be better than telemarketing. I chatted with him enthusiastically for about 15 minutes. When I reentered the telemarketing office, all of the applicants had been tucked into cubbies, where they were muttering into headsets.

Mike emerged, and explained the operation to me. They have a service that makes automated phone calls to people with credit card balances in excess of $2,500, with interest rates exceeding 10%. I have no idea how they obtain this information. The person is told that they can reduce their interest rate, and is asked to press “9” on their phone to find out if they qualify.

The prospect is then transferred to a “Qualifier” (someone in one of the cubbies). The Qualifier asks a few questions to ensure that the prospect is eligible for a lowered interest rate, and then transfers the call to a “Closer” who makes the final pitch. There’s a fee for this, of course, but the idea is that the prospect’s interest rates will go down to a point where they won’t actually pay anything out-of-pocket. If the prospect agrees, the Closer passes the information to a “Negotiator,” who negotiates with the issuing bank to lower the interest rate to the point where the savings covers the fee.

There is no salary for this job. Instead, they pay a “Spiff” (bonus) to the Qualifier for every deal they pass along that closes. Here’s the payoff chart:


Mike handed me the script that the Qualifiers are required to read when handling calls. There aren’t any options for the Qualifier. It’s just a straight script, designed to extract some information needed by the Closer and the Negotiator.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand the flaw in this arrangement. The Qualifiers have almost no influence in the closing of the deal. The Closer and Negotiator determine the final outcome. In other words, the pay of the Qualifiers is not dependent on their skills or the hours they put in on the job. Their pay is based on luck and the skills of others.

Mike was unable to give me any metrics, so that I’d understand the average number of calls you’d need to handle before one of your deals closed. I’ll bet it’s a lot. I asked him if the second shift was available, and he told me that the second shift hasn’t been started yet. In a week or so, he’ll give me a call. I’m hoping I’ll be at Disney by then.


burton said...

Sheesh. That sounds mind-numbing. Good luck with the lead to Disney!

*Goddess* said...

I hope you get the Disney job, too. I'm looking for work, and gawd, just the thought of telemarketing makes me shiver. I hope it never gets that bad. But thanks for explaining what it was all about. They make inbound calls sound like you're giving them information on a product they already own, nothing like this. And at a time when people can't handle the credit they have, this is criminal.