Stressed Out, but Working, in Omaha

Omaha is one of the top telemarketing markets in America.  I’ve heard that this is due to the fact that we are one of the most plain spoken people in America today.  Me thinks it also has something to do with the fact that the cost of living is low in Omaha, and as a result so are the wages.

Working in Omaha is the same as working in any state in any region of the country.  If you have a nice degree or valuable knowledge in a particular craft or trade, you’re probably going to land yourself a pretty good job.  If not, you’re probably going to land in telemarketing, the service industry, or the unemployment line.  If something is going right in America, it’s usually going right in Omaha, likewise if times are getting tough.  Telemarketing and restaurant jobs are all over America, so I know that my plight in the workforce is no different than any other unqualified worker in any part of America, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to hold back.  I know I’m lucky to have a job, but I’m over that.  I usually get over it about two weeks in when the reality of what I have to do slides down on me.

A rule of thumb I had until the last year was that the more they pay you, the worse they treat you. Until recently, I believed that the less they pay you, the more enjoyable the job.  Sure, they treat you like a grunt and they may force you stand in a certain area for hours at a time, they don’t want you to talk to your neighbors, and they discourage smiling in a roundabout way, but most of these bad jobs are largely stress free.  They know you feel lucky to have a job, and they take advantage of that, but they usually don’t treat you like a dog when you’re making peanuts.

The telemarketing jobs that are in Omaha usually go this way.  They send you in for a week’s worth of training, and they cover some of the basics of what it is you’re going to be doing, but that aspect of the job soon becomes irrelevant when they start in on the second week of training: the sales training week.  The entry level customer service positions of these companies do not generate revenue for the company anymore, so they’ve brought in think tank types to try to generate some sort of revenue out of these positions. As a result of this, customer service is not the goal of these positions anymore.  This is why, when you call a company to get your cable fixed, the agent you’re speaking with probably knows little-to-nothing about your cable box.  They’ll hit the reset button and ask you to watch the box, they’ll diagram your problem with you and ask you to do some stuff from your home, but the reality is that they know little-to-nothing about your actual problem.  If your problem is outside their sphere of knowledge, and most of yuor questions are, they’ll transfer you to a “specialist”.  The specialist does know a bit more about your problems than the front line grunts, but their knowledge is still limited, and you’ll usually get a $40.00 an hour specialist sent to your home.  The point is that as you work your way through the chain, usually from the bottom up, you’ll get hit with little sales pitches along the way.  You may even find some of them to be rude, or ill-equipped to handle your phone call in a number of ways you find surprising.  The reason for this is that they’re usually poorly trained in customer service skills, but proficiently trained in sales pitches.  They won’t get in trouble for this either, because they’ve hit all of their bullet points, and they’ve delivered their sales pitch in a manner that allows them to pass their quality reviews, even though you didn’t get anything fixed for you.

To train you in these sales strategies, these companies send in inspirational coaches to pump you up and make you think that you’re the bee’s knees.  They ask you what your dreams are, and they’ll get you all dream-oriented, then they’ll ask you how you can apply these dreams to your work.  The latter point will not be something they say outwardly, but they’ll quickly bring you back to the sales training after talking about your dreams to get you associating the two together.  Their goal is to get you focused on sales, their goal is to have you finesse the customer away from the problem they called in about and onto other products the company offers, and their goal is to get all of their agents whooping and hollering whenever an agent does this successfully.

This whole psychological game reminds me of detentions in grade school.  Detentions in grade school were an hour after school.  No big deal right?  Well, it was among the grunts.  We grunts talked among ourselves and said: “Gretchen just got a detention!” and we’d laugh behind our hands at her.  We’d all ask her the specifics of it, and she would either plead her innocence or say she didn’t care about detentions.  We all knew she did.  We knew we did when we were on the other end of this conversation.  The tale of her wrongdoing would spread like Grecian Fire throughout that day, until Gretchen was forced to walk around with a proverbial, scarlet letter ‘D’ on her head.  She was ostracized, talked about, and made fun of.  She was the subject of scuttlebutt among those of us who needed something to talk about for a day.  We generated this hype, we did this to ourselves, and we made something that was largely no big deal the event of the day.  The psychology of this is obvious.  Detentions would’ve been no big deal to me if they were the equivalent of a severe frown from a teacher directed at my behavior.  They were an hour after school.  Who cares?  When my began peers began to speak about the detentions I was getting, I was embarrassed.  When the girls that I liked began asking me what I did to warrant a detention, I was crushed.  I was so crushed that I still feel the need to justify my behavior.  A teacher could not have corrected my behavior near as well as peer-pressure did, and they knew that.  The point in including this is a company can set sales quotas, and institute fear for those that fail to meet the mark, but none of those rewards and punishments will be half as effective as that which a peer can inflict, if the company can get the employee’s peers to believe in what you’re selling.

To implore these tactics of group mentality that I first saw in grade school, the company posts your sales before all.  This is to leave you feeling proud or humiliated on a relative basis.  It’s to get you motivated.  Then the big boss, we’ll call him Arnie, steps out of his office, and he walks near you, and he occasionally graces you with a smile, but he never pets you for that would make you feel like a dog.  “How are you doing?” he may ask you if you’re a top performer.  “How are the sales numbers?” he will ask you.  He may then talk about how many sales Joanie made for the day, and he says that within earshot of Joanie, and Joanie smiles and blushes and tries to think of something to say, but her throat is dry.  She is overwhelmed, and she will probably go home and cry to her husband, and she may say it’s her greatest day ever without knowing exactly why.

If you’re near the bottom of this sales ladder, you get the proverbial scarlet letter attached to you.  You get talked about, and people laugh behind a hand at you.  And you may be having a tough time, but at least you’re not at the bottom.  At least you’re not Jeff.  Then, when you are Jeff, you wish you could be Jeff, because at least he learned from his mistakes.  When you reach the point that you join Jeff in mocking the new bottom Joanie, you’re in.  They got you by the short ones.  You’re their marionette from that point forward.

To get the marionettes amped and ready to run through walls, one of these firms hired an attractive female to train us on the sales portion of the job.  The lead trainer, the one who trained us on the boring, general minutiae of the job, was homely and mousy.  When we were first introduced to this mousy and homely lead trainer, I wondered why the company made her a trainer.  Sure, she knew her stuff backwards and forward, and she had enough hands on experience that she could flip out an answer on a dime without having to look it up, but her looks were such that she wouldn’t be able to inspire us to do anything beyond that which we were capable.  The answer to my quandary stepped forward a couple of days later in the form of the attractive female they chose to train us on the sales portion of the job.  She was thin, attractive, and cute.  She was everything we wanted to be.  She was the combination of cute and thin and attractive that for centuries men have walked through fire to save just to see her smile.

We’ve all heard the studies about students outperforming their natural abilities when their teacher is attractive, but when you combine that with a cute and silly disposition that you just want to eat, you’ll have them running through walls for you.  When I write cute as opposed to attractive, I mean personable, I mean fun, and I mean the type of person that is the opposite of the aloof blonde with an incredible figure.  I’m talking about the type of person that makes you feel like you can be one of them, and that they’re one of you.

After implementing this association, this cute sales trainer let us know she was driven hard to succeed, and through implication how driven we would have to be if we, in fact, wanted to be one with her.  She asked us our dreams, and she was impressed with every one of them.  She had us write our dreams down on paper for further association, and she asked us if we’ve made any progress towards those dreams.  She was attractive and cute and she was impressed with us, and we were ready to take on the world to show her that we were one with her, until we got on the phone.

When we got on the phone, we realized how poorly trained we were.  Either that or we put so little prominence on what the mousy, lead trainer had to tell us that we didn’t retain.  In fairness to the employers, and the mousy trainer, most of the material these telemarketing companies teach is so overwhelming that you may not be able to train the employees to comprehension in six weeks.  So, they give you databases to find this information to answer customer questions.

The databases are usually poorly designed and difficult to navigate, and you usually have two to three minutes per call to properly navigate them to answer the caller’s questions.  Then, you have to take what that attractive cute, sales trainer gave you and put it into play on an individual that is already disgruntled that it took you two to three minutes to navigate the incomprehensible databases to sort of, somewhat, kind of answer their question.  They give you coaches, and if the coaches are around to answer your question, they usually don’t have a quality answer that fits the individual question the customer asked you.   They give you an Instant Message (IM) board full of tenured agents to answer your questions, and in the beginning this is great, because all of the questions are so basic.  When the questions start to become more advanced, your questions sit on the IM board and roast away while your customer impatiently waits for the sort of, somewhat, kind of answer their question.

A friend of mine said: “I’ve had fast food jobs, and I’ve never been this stressed out!”

It’s All On You

Here’s another key to their success: It’s all on you.  You get poorly trained, the availability of coaches is sporadic, the website is awful, the knowledge database is almost as bad, and the IM board is filled with people who have answers that aren’t as helpful as the coaches are, and you hang up on the call feeling like it’s your fault that you sort of, somewhat, kind of answered the customer’s question.

I don’t know if I’m unique in this aspect or not, but I live with this belief that I’m not doing it right.  That it’s all my fault.  If I’m at a restaurant, and the soda dispenser is not working properly I will probably stand there for five minutes trying to do it right, before I ask for an employee’s assistance.  If in my free time, I go to a person’s website, and I’m not able to navigate it properly, I will probably leave that website with the idea that I don’t know what I’m doing, or I’m not intelligent enough to figure out what I’m doing wrong.  I don’t know if I’m unique in this aspect or not, but it makes me the candidate that companies like these are seeking.

If I’m unable to answer that customer’s question, my default position is that I probably didn’t pay enough attention in training, I feel like a dunce for not being able to navigate the website or the database as well as I probably should be able to, and I get the feeling that I probably didn’t properly ask the customer’s question of the coach or the IM board. If you’re anything like me, you begin to think you can’t help it, you’re human, and you feel doubly flawed when you get back on the phone and the customer tells you that you didn’t answer their question.  There aren’t too many people who can survive training, go through the list of help products that I’ve provided above, and still think that it’s not their fault that the customer’s question didn’t get answered properly.  Most people think it’s on them.

In another job, I had a trainer, from New York, that was very impatient.  If we didn’t remember what he said last Tuesday, about a specific product, he would raise his voice and get impatient with us.  “I told you that last Tuesday!” he would yell.  The yelling and impatience he showed intimidated all of us against asking for verification for something we may have forgotten among the one thousand things he crammed into the week.  The only reason I mention that he was from New York is that there is something a little more intimidating in a speedy, no nonsense New York accent that makes you feel yokel when you need further clarification on things he said.  Especially when he sighs, and draws the class’s attention and says,

“I’m only going to say this one more time, so I want everyone to pay attention … “

Yikes, we said when that first cowered under the shadow of this obese man.  As I wrote earlier, attractive people can get people to play above their talent, but extremely unattractive, quadruple-chinned men can also cause people to believe they know something they don’t with the right accent and intonations.  At the end of every learning session, this greasy haired main with enough pock marks to qualify him for a decent impression of a golf ball, would ask us if we have any questions.  We would quake with anticipation for the impression it would leave on him that one of us didn’t understand what he had said.  I would love to write, right here, that I was the outlier, and I asked every damn question I wanted to. I wasn’t.  I sighed along with the rest of the group when no questions were asked, and we could all move on.

The fat slob concluded this training session by telling us about product Z.

“I’m going to be blunt,” he said, “This corporation does not care about this particular product.  It does generate some calls, but we’re not going to spend a whole lot of time on it today.” 

I don’t think I even need to write what product we received the most questions on.  I don’t think I need to tell you how difficult it was to answer those questions either.  Once we were finally ready to answer that question, it was onto the fat, New Yorker’s sales pitch on the money-making products.

In both of these jobs, the statistical measurements of the employees was almost entirely concerned with sales.  There is very little prominence placed on customer service, but of course adequate customer service leads to sales.  One plus one equals two.  A caller is more apt to purchase a product from those representatives they deem to be the most competent.  A caller feels validated when you are able to answer their question before moving onto the sales portion of the call.

The most recent job has implored a new aspect of the job I haven’t experienced thus far: The secret shopper. The secret shopper (or mystery shopper) for those not acquainted with the term, is a person who pretends to be a customer and tests the overall quality of your service skills.  The secret shopper, in this particular job, sought to push you to the limit and test your resolve, your temerity, and frustration levels.  I’m sure many of you are saying that that’s a great idea, but when it happens in call after call after call, day after day, and week after week, you get a little burned out.  They’re never rude to the point of being obscene, but they try to give you your worst call you’ve ever had in call after call after call day after day, and week after week.  They’re the impatient, but polite customer, and they’re the customer that is aghast when you cannot find an answer to their obscure question in a given time frame, a question that they’ve sat around and thought up, because it lies in interpretations of the poorly designed database or the impossible website, because you were never trained on either of them properly.  This happens on a daily basis, and it is most assuredly going to happen for the tenure of my stay at the company.  When I asked a coach about the secret shoppers she said,

“There’s a whole team of them.” She said, “The corporation that leased out this work to our company is regretting the fact that they bought the contract.”  She basically told me that the company who leased out their work services was looking for a way to break the contract without having to pay the fines for doing so.  In other words, if these secret shoppers could break a bunch of employees and get them to swear or be rude, the corporation could end their contract with the company by providing them a list of responses from these employees, and everything would look fine in the single script they present, because the secret shopper wasn’t entirely rude in that chat.  He may have been overly demanding, a little critical of the customer service agent’s skills, and on the border of rude, but that doesn’t become apparent in one chat.  So, you get your contract back, and you’ve only left one employee unemployed and a little more insane, all for an hour’s wage that is just a bit over minimum.

As I said, the job market in Omaha is probably no different than anywhere else in the world, but when you’re not qualified to do anything else you’re subjected to all of these fly-by-night companies that have incomplete ways of doing things.  Every parent who has a drifting young one that does not want to read their assignments, or go to college, or try to advance themselves beyond the call of duty should have that child read this blog, so that they will understand what happens to a person that doesn’t eat their peas, or dot their ‘I’s, and cross their ‘T’s.  Geometry may seem like a useless ball of mess at the time you’re doing it, but it’s a lot better than all this.

4 thoughts on “Stressed Out, but Working, in Omaha

  1. I’ve seen some flourish in telemarketing positions. They make money, their self-esteem flourishes, and they lead some happy lives. All the power to you if this is your chosen vocation. This was written more as a warning from someone that’s been there, done that, that this profession is not for everyone. I should also mention, lest I leave telemarketing companies off the hook, that they will lie to you to get you into the seat. I’ve been lied to by three of them, two being relatively prestigious companies in Omaha, and I sat in their seat believing everything they told me.

    “Why would they lie, when they’re just going to lose that employee that finds out the truth?” It doesn’t make sense. “Doesn’t it cost them a boat load of money to hire, place, and train every employee?” The only thing I can figure is if, like the general sales strategy of telemarketing, they can convince one-in-five (or whatever their metrics are) to stay, it’s cost effective. I don’t know the answer to this question, but it happens, and it’s happened to me now on three different occasions.

    So know the type of animal you are before you desperately sign on to work at this telemarketing company. Do some research on the company’s practices when it comes to employees, and their TRUE advancement opportunities, and sign on the dotted line with the knowledge that they’re probably not going to be entirely honest with you. I’d love to provide you with a list of companies not to work for, but I don’t want them making any more money off me than they already have.


  2. “the bee’s knees”…lol..I have never heard that expression. Thought I heard them.

    I did outbound telemarketing back in the Idelman days. I dont know how similar it is to what your doing now but I absolutely hated that job more then any job I have ever had. I learned early on how bad I was and how much I disliked trying to sell products to people in any way. Especially cold calling people on the east coast who treated me like dog poop on the bottom of their shoes.

    I have always hated the boss who comes out of his office and does the “Im the big shot up in this place” walk through the facility. Almost as much as I hate the people who get intimidated or feel like they are special when that boss says something to them. I’ll give the young kids some slack in this area but guys like the bizzaro version of you, Shon Riley should be forced to have a vasectomy as soon as they hit puberty. I had a boss like that at Weyerhaeuser and I made it a point to let him know I could care less if he even existed. Turns out he was the guy who gave me my first management job. Not sure what what that says about me but I know he is a super big shot now doing something like Southwest Regional Manager and Im sitting around writing comments to buddies blogs.


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