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January 23, 2011 8:28 PM   Subscribe

What's it like working in a call centre for people who order things off the television?

My lovely roommate clawtros just bought me TWO MAGIC BULLET SYSTEMS for the LOW PRICE of just $99.99 (+ shipping and handling) after he got tired of me reciting all the lines from the T.V. commercial and sighing about how wonderful my life would be with a Magic Bullet to make salsa and grind coffee. I called the number on the television and spoke to some woman somewhere in America. After the 11 minute transaction was complete, I started wondering what it's like to work in a call centre for television offers. Is it busy? Or did I make that woman's Sunday night by calling and making a purchase?

I've worked in call centres that do outgoing calls before, but know nothing about incoming call centres (specifically for television sales). Do the CSRs make money by the sale or add-ons, or are they paid an hourly wage? Is it dead for hours or always busy? Do CSRs answer calls for several products or just one? Metafilter, please enlighten me.
posted by Felicity Rilke to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I worked in an incoming call center in college. We took calls for a couple hundred companies. I wore a headset and when a call came in it would beep. The script for that particular company would pop up on the computer screen in front of me. I'd then read through the script. If someone was calling in to place an order, there was usually some pretty forceful up-sellling involved. The supervisors would randomly listen in on calls and rate our performance.

The late night shift was weird - we took a lot of calls for late night infomercials and such. Sometimes you'd get a call from a lonely person that just wanted to talk. That was not allowed, so you'd have to cut the call short.

It was a decent short-term job and it paid well (over $10/hour in 1995) but it's not something I could do long-term.
posted by Ostara at 9:03 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Completely miserable from what I've heard. It's all about numbers. Number of calls per hour, amount of seconds (!) between picking up the next call, number of minutes spent on lunch/bathroom breaks, percentage of completed sales, etc. If you're not in the top 90% in all categories, you'll be constantly urged to work harder and achieve more like Johnny over there.
posted by Brian Puccio at 9:06 PM on January 23, 2011

And it was never dead for hours - we were lucky to get a few seconds between calls. The calls processed per hour were on a large screen in front of the room and we were encouraged to complete the transaction accurately and quickly.
posted by Ostara at 9:06 PM on January 23, 2011

Best answer: For a few months in 2000, I worked at a call center that did this sort of thing.

We were paid minimum wage--$5.75, as we were in California--with no benefits or bonuses. The center took calls for a variety of infomercials and internet ads, though I can't remember any of the specific products. I worked in the evenings, finishing up about two a.m., and was there in the months around Christmas.

Like most customer service jobs, it was sometimes slammed (twenty people on hold, every agent on the floor) and sometimes relatively dead with gaps of several minutes between calls. Agents were not allowed to speak to each other while they were on the floor, nor were we allowed to get out of our seats without permission. There was a manager whose job was to sit and listen in on random conversations, and failure to attempt to sell the add-ons or bonuses or whatever would result in your immediate termination.

As b1tr0t mentioned, we had very clear scripts that we weren't supposed to deviate from. Customer would call, script would pop up on the screen, and you'd read it off. You'd click the button or tick box or whatever to select the answer, and then the next prompt would come up. It was all very automated. Additionally, calls were timed, and if your call average got too long--even if you were following the script--you'd be fired.

The working conditions were pretty awful, and the company was very exploitative. Some of the people working there were in the country illegally, and the rest of us were desperate for a job (this was just as the dot com bubble was bursting, and jobs in California were rather sparse). Although I realize in retrospect that the working conditions were awful and sometimes illegal (requiring people on break to take calls when a bunch came in, refusing to allow employees access to restrooms, etc), I don't believe that any of us were in a position to complain.

It ranks right up there with telemarketing (selling house siding, of all the ridiculous things) as one of my worst jobs.
posted by MeghanC at 9:08 PM on January 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

As someone who called after several adult sodas on a Saturday night to order something once, I can say with a lot of confidence that it cannot be fun dealing with drunk and stupid people that called like me. He finally coaxed a credit card out of me after way too many "but dude! s" out of me.
posted by AugustWest at 9:20 PM on January 23, 2011

I used to work admin for a company that mostly did outbound calls for charities, but also did some work answering inbound calls for charities broadcasting TV ads calling for donations. I don't think they were paid on a commission, at least not the usual commission structure. Inbound calls (and "welcome/thankyou calls" for people who donate online or in person, not over the phone) are generally paid a flat rate and those jobs get given to the more experienced callers as a reward.

You can tell when an ad has just run by the increase in call volume. If it's really quiet, or a public holiday, it might go to voicemail (the charities are biled per hour in the callroom; they're not going to pay for someone to sit there when it's quiet).

The same person may well take calls - and have scripts - for all different charities. At the time I was working there, computer-based systems were only just being introduced, and most everything was recorded on paper. We had dedicated phones set up for each charity so you knew that if phone X rang, it was incoming for charity Y.

The weirdest thing I saw working there, was when a refugee charity was running a TV campaign around Christmas. Someone called and was very indignant about how all the poor people were running around and being irresponsible and impregnating each other and that was where the real problem was, and if we wanted to solve it we should sterilise them or put contraceptives in the water, and he'd be giving his money to a charity who did THAT. He actually took the time to watch the ad, write down the number, and call to say all that. The transcript from that call circulated around the admin desks for quite a while.
posted by jaynewould at 9:23 PM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

You get the occasional delusional person who thinks you can do something about Oprah's mind-control plots, too.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:17 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I worked at Home Shopping Netwrok when I was younger. Mainly 2nd-3rd shift.

I never really like talking on the phone and a lot of people who called during those hours were usually perverts, drunk college kids or lonely elderly people who wanted someone to chat with for an hour.

So, no, I wasn't really excited when the phone rang.

It was an excellent place to work for a first job. Lots of perks and luncheons... a cafeteria, discounts, etc. The pay was a step above minimum wage. Not really any scripts.
I learned a lot of about fabrics, jewelry and other stuff.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:45 PM on January 23, 2011

Best answer: I worked on the IT-side of a call center once. In-bound calls would get routed to the correct group of agents trained for that client. We had a couple hundred clients so you never knew what call you would get. These agents would sit all day in front of terminals wearing headsets. When the call came in an application would pop-up the proper script. They would read the script to the caller. There wasn't much room for improvisation and any deviation could get you in trouble when the call was randomly QA'd later. The client could also request recordings of all his/her calls too.

I believe agents started a little over minimum and could at most aspire to a dollar over minimum. Its clearly not a good job and we had high turnover. A lot of new hires would work a couple of days and never come back. I don't think commission is typical. Agents aren't treated like salespeople.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:27 AM on January 24, 2011

It's no longer updated, but Operators Standing By is a wonderful blog about the kind of callers those services get.
posted by JanetLand at 7:45 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used to work in a call centre and took inbound calls from a variety of companies, again, the name came up on your phone and the PC flashed up the correct script, and off you went. We had the ad times posted on a board and did get quiet times in between if working on an ad campaign (eg if the ad showed mid-soap episode, we'd get the calls at the end of the ep). Not too much upselling, but it was mainly information lines or recruiting sales people for party plan stuff. I moved over to an electronics firm support which I ended up working on most of my time, where we were informing about different products and helping with very basic tech support, so that was easier.

I did early morning and late night shifts and in the down-time I was allowed to do my work for my masters I was doing full time at the same time! I'd do call centre inbound again (not outbound, oh gosh the hell of that!!)
posted by LyzzyBee at 6:20 AM on January 25, 2011

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