Life of a Call Girl-A real Story
I remember the last time I was living at home. That was 7 years ago back in 2007. Home is Calcutta in India, by the way. I had finished high school and was looking at a 6 month gap before college. So I decided to join a call center for lack of better things to do and because it was the ‘rad’ thing to do back then.
India’s BPO industry was on the rise, there was a large demand for such centers all over the country, and Calcutta was no different. Anyone with half a brain and passable English (which in India is most everyone who’s finished high school) was given a chance. Those recruited would then be part of a 2 month long training/probation period after which around half were allowed to join the ensuing games.
I remember my trainer, I want to call him Devdas because that’s the first name that comes to mind and I don’t recall his actual name. Devdas was a tall, lanky man with a full moustache like the ones you see in old bollywood movies. He was a brown guy with a thick American accent and he had made it his life’s mission to ensure all his trainees would as well. Turn American or lose your job — that was the spirit.I recall being absolutely bored out of my mind on most days, but as I write out of memory it should have instead been utterly amusing. By the second week we had already been allocated to different teams working for different clients. Our days were spent half on understanding our client’s business, operating the interface, learning the actual tasks and the other half, which was my favourite half — we would be getting to know that fine lady called the United States of America and some of her favorite things such as Dr.Seuss and bacon.Call centers have two divisions, the outbound team and the inbound team. Outbound is sales — make a dozen calls to a bunch of folks and try to sell your (un)attractive product and hope that some poor bastard will fall for it and you will be able to keep your job. Inbound on the other hand is customer service — said folks call/e-mail you. So you get to either call and harass people and be really-frickin-abused or you get to pick up the phone and be harassed by a tad less abusive people. I was the latter — thank goodness. I worked for Mobile Messenger Australia which meant my hours were 4 am to 2 pm according to Australian time. The worst was the US shift, or more (un)popularly known as the ‘graveyard shift’ because you work through the night. Really busy call centers are active 24×7. As the US shifts goes offline, the Australian one comes online and after that the UK shift and so on.
Those in the inbound team considered themselves lucky; neither did they have sales targets to accomplish nor did they have rude and harrowed non-customers to face — which tended to be the rule rather than the exception. Oh the stories that we would hear from our friends down the hall. Americans had quickly gotten wind of the fact that a large number of jobs were being outsourced from the West to the East, they were angry and they were taking it out on us. Some people would cuss and scream profanities through their mouthpieces, possibly shaking and punching the machine like it was the poor thing’s fault. Others would be more subtle, and wished to catch you in the act.
American guy: “So John, where did you say you were calling from?”
Indian guy: “Oh I’m calling from Portland.”
American guy: “How’s the weather up there?”
Indian guy: “It’s wonderful today! The sun’s out and it couldn’t possibly be warmer today!”
American guy: “Funny you should say that, because I am in Portland too and it has been raining all morning.”
There were a bunch of things we had to keep in mind. For instance, quoting temperatures in degrees Celsius is a dead giveaway too, Americans like their Fahrenheit scales you see. Training soon started to get creative, one such lesson I had was “telling the difference between New Yorkers and Arkansans”.
The volume of business for these call centers have since been rapidly decreasing. In most cases, it is due to countries like the Philippines taking over, Filipinos naturally speak English with neutral accents, while for most Indians no amount of training can get that Indian accent out of their systems. It has been demonstrated to be especially irksome for the end-customer to have to speak to a non-native sounding voice on the other end of the line no matter how grammatically accurate it was. From the business point of view, clients possibly felt like that the service delivered to them was inadequate and imperfect. Mass recruiting meant poorly trained individuals who performed inadequately and erroneously.
From my personal experience, my team was far from high-performing. My team had consisted of a mixed group of barely-adults like myself, college goers, all the way to people in their mid-40s. Despite our age differences, we all had some common ground, we were the ‘in-betweeners’, we were all in between something, in between two jobs, in between high school and college, in between college and first real job. Nobody really cared for or stayed long enough to perform with zero error and maximum efficiency. Or perhaps it was because 9 out of 10 people smoked, and 8 out of those 9 people smoked every hour? Someone should do a study to find correlation data between smoking frequency and productivity losses among desk-bound employees.
Not surprisingly, we were fired by Mobile Messenger Australia less than half a year after we signed. And that was the end of my life as a ‘call girl’.
P.S. While we’re on the subject, there’s this movie called ‘Outsourced’, it’s absolutely cheesy, and exaggerates reality way too much, but it does have some funny bits.