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Mar 2011
When I was eighteen I worked for a company called GLENCOM. You probably haven't heard of them, you're not supposed to.
They're the invisible middleman.
What happens is, when a company wants to set up a call centre but doesn't have the space or the manpower to do it themselves, they call Glencom.
Glencom then puts together a team of people in Swindon,
teaches them the bare minimum about the product they need to sell and sticks them around a table with headphones on,
completely cut off from the people around them being force-fed phone numbers for eight straight hours a day.

They do this for dozens of companies. And there are dozens of companies just like it.
Producing nothing, just doing other peoples ***** work.
The jobs they don't want to do themselves.
Like Telemarketing. Cold-Calling.
You know when you've just got into the bath,
or you're sitting down to dinner and the phone rings and you think
'I don't want to answer that but it might be important'
and when you answer it it's someone you've never met desperately trying to sell you something you don't want?
And no matter what you say they don't seem to listen, or care,
they just keep reading standard procedure from a script until you can't take it any more and you just hang up?
Chances are, that person is a Glencom specialist telephone agent.

I loved that job, I really did.
You probably think I'm crazy for it, it's the kind of job that middle class kids do for a little extra cash while they're at university,
until they get sick of the soul-crushing routine of getting yelled at and hung up on, yelled at and hung up on and they stop showing up after six weeks.
Year after year, cold-calling is rated in the top ten things people hate about the modern world.
I was part of the problem.
And I loved it.

You see, when you get one of these phone calls, you don't realise that it's a real person on the other end of the phone.
Of course, you do know that it must be a person, that's common sense.
It's just not in your nature to think of that disembodied voice as having a face and a mind
and a favourite food .
and a family
and a history
and a home that they go to every night at seven thirty.
They're a spirit.
One-dimensional.
So you don't treat them like a real person,
and that's OK, really it is, we're used to it.
As far as you're concerned, whoever you're talking to is just a faceless corporation,
so you yell, and you swear,
way more than you would if you were face to face with someone, say, at your bank or in a shop.
Every little thing that has ****** you off that day gets unloaded onto that person because,
for those five minutes,
with your bath getting cold,
or your dinner getting overcooked and blackened,
they are everything that's wrong with society.

So by the time you finally slam the receiver down, and return to whatever it was you were doing,
you're face red, out of breath, can't remember the last time you were that angry
they've ruined your evening.
You swear you're going to complain,
but you know that if you do that you'll just get caught up in their red tape and rhetoric all over again.
There's nothing to do but let it go.
So you do, and with it, something strange happens.
All that anger and tension that you've been carrying around all day just leaves your body slowly.

The traffic that morning;
your workload at the office;
that cold you just cant shake;
the barista who got your coffee order wrong, but your were running late so didn't have time to complain and get a new one;

All those little things that you can't control,
it doesn't seem worth worrying about them now.
You think of how angry you were at that little voice coming out of the telephone speaker and you feel sort of proud,
like it makes up for bending over and taking **** from your Boss all those years.
from your bank all those years
from the gas and electric companies
and your phone company and internet service provider all those years
from your politicians all those years
all that doesn't sting so much any more.

Because you just stuck it to the man.
You stood up to the big corporations and you got the upper hand.
You start to see the funny side,
you'll tell everyone at work about this.

That's the thing about telemarketers: They're one of those little annoyances that people love so much,
like the weather or queue-jumpers.
Something we all hate, but can all relate to,
a lynch-pin of small-talk,
that inoffensive comedian you like so much was talking about it on tv the other night.

But this time you get a chance to stri ke back.
It's not like getting a parking ticket,
or stubbing your toe,
you get to yell at this inconvenience, tell it exactly how you feel without any fear of repercussions.

Without you realising it, that telemarketer has just done you a valuable service.
You've just saved yourself an hour in front of a punch-bag,
or a session with your therapist or *****.
Without knowing it you are in a better mood than you've been all week,
so you don't smack your kids when they spill paint on the carpet.
And you don't yell at your wife when she forgot to pay the electric bill.
You float on a cloud of air until bed time, and probably make love to your partner for the first time in weeks.
You sleep a healthy eight hours and wake up to breakfast  and coffee and drive to work feeling like you did when you first started there,
when you could still see a bright future ahead of you.
All thanks to that soulless,
faceless,
nameless
disembodied voice on the other end of the phone.
All thanks to me.

I worked out that in any given day,
I got yelled at or told to ******* or otherwise unnecessarily lashed out at maybe thirty out of every hundred calls.
That was thirty families who were going to have a nice dinner,
without the usual arguments for once.
Maybe a few times a week I could prevent an abusive husband from having that one whiskey too many and bashing his wife from room to room.
If you believe in a butterfly flapping it's wings in Tokyo, and all that,
then maybe I, without ever leaving my desk, could stop a ****** from happening, perhaps once a year.
I was making a difference and all I had to do was let my computer dial a random phone number and to introduce myself as
'whoever calling from wherever to let you know about a valuable promotion...'

When I realised all this I decided I would work harder to up my productivity.
A hundred and fifty calls a day,
two hundred.

And I had to provoke more anger.
Subtly of course, I would try to be more obnoxious and inept.
I got peoples names wrong;
I talked over people.
Soon I was getting fifty hang-ups a day.
So I, like a good employee, constantly tried to better myself.
I sniggered at peoples names;
I requested needlessly extensive and intrusive personal information;
asked to speak to 'the man of the house'.
I was getting balled out with every other call.
Seventy, eighty, ninety times a day.
Every time I was called a nuisance I gave myself a pat on the back.
Every time someone said they wanted to speak with my supervisor, I just said they weren't in and then rewarded myself with a cookie at break time.
I got more competitive with myself.
I considered it a personal gift when I got someone with an Indian name,
or a speech impediment.
Gay couples were a Godsend.
I corrected peoples grammar;
I cursed;
I slurred;
I made thinly veiled ****** references.

I was thorn in the side of everyone just trying to enjoy a quiet Sunday afternoon.
I was the itch that no-one could reach.
I invited venom, longed for hatred.
Because if it was aimed at me, it may as well have been aimed at the moon.
I was a necessary evil.
I was the common enemy of the whole country.  
I can't say how many relationships I must have saved,
how many lives I touched.
Suicides prevented? You never know.
I was making the world a better place, one botched customer service attempt at a time.
I was saving people without them even knowing my name.
The anonymous benefactor,
the masked hero.
I was Zorro, I was Batman.
And I loved it.
I thrived on it.
I had found something I was good at.
I could have stayed there, soaking up insults, absorbing peoples troubles, lightening their burdens, forever.

Until three months ago when my manager saw my sales reports.
He, of course, didn't understand why we were really there.
He thought it was about money, about generating figures for whatever company we were hired by that month.
He threw buzz-words and management speak at me.
Improving Revenue.
Optimising Productivity.
Promoting Synergy.
Utilising Opportunity.
Sentence fragments that wouldn't make sense if he meant them.
Nonsensical ramblings littered with capital letters.
By Glencom's standards, rather than my own, I was the worst specialist telephone agent that he had ever seen.
I didn't bother trying to explain.
He wouldn't have understood,
I wanted something real.
Glencom could have been the first call centre to truly,
what's the phrase he would have used? Attain it's Potential.
We could have been pioneers in the business world, providing a service that the public really needs.
But there was no point, he had listened to recordings of my calls and had no choice but to fire me on the spot.

That job was the only thing I had loved for a long, long time. T
he only thing that gave me purpose,
my reason for getting out of bed,
for putting on trousers and shoes.
It was all I had and I lost it,
blacklisted by the employment agency that placed me there.
For a while I tried calling people at random from the phone book but it didn't work out.
You have no idea how much it costs to make a hundred phone calls a day on a pay as you go mobile.
Ten pence a minute
times by sixty minutes an hour
times by eight hours a day  
minus a half hour for lunch equals more than jobseeker's allowance is willing to provide.
I switched to contract but these days everyone has phone number recognition,
so everyone can see that you're calling from a personal phone rather than a business one.

Eventually I started getting phone calls from the phone company explaining that I'd be cut off
and fined if I was using a personal phone for random telemarketing without a license.

The operator was clear, polite and ultimately very helpful.

******' Amateur.
Charlie Miles
Written by
Charlie Miles
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