Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part II - Malaise

Despite the dearth of training I was quickly flushed with immediate success in my (admittedly) simple new role as a Telephone Sales Representative for "Sears Canada Catalog".  Early monitoring reports came back with "Aw, shucks"-inducing praise like "Excellent TSA!  Very good with customers!"

But the job quickly became repetitive.  I'd say that about 90% of the inbound calls to our toll-free number were to place an order.  The structure of the call rarely deviated from this:

TSR: "'Sears', this is Shekie, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: (in heavy Newfoundland accent)  "Yes, my dear, listen...I wants to place a horder on me budget."

TSR: "You mean your 'Sears Card'?"

CUSTOMER:  "Yes, me 'Sears Card, 'das what I said."

TSR: "Okay, could I get the card number, please?"

CUSTOMER: "Okay, 'old on now while I gets it..."

(Sound of the phone receiver being set down on table then slowly sliding off from the weight of the cord.  The TSR's hermetically headset-sealed ear is assaulted with a horrible 'THUNK!' as the receiver hits the floor.  Slipper sounds can be heard scuffing across the floor.  The distinctive sound of a purse being unzipped can be detected amidst the random mutterings.  This is eclipsed by scratch muffled noises as the receiver is picked back up)

CUSTOMER: "Oh my dear Lard, I dropped the foam!  You still there, Bucky?!"

TSR: "Yes, Ma'am, I'm still here.  Take your time, there's no rush"

CUSTOMER: "Okay, I got's the number for you right 'ere!" 

TSR: "Anytime you're ready then."

CUSTOMER: "Alright, d'number is...far, one, tree..."

(fast forward)

CUSTOMER: "Hate, six, seven..."

(fast forward)

CUSTOMER: ", far, two."

TSR: "Okay, and can I get your name, please?"

CUSTOMER: "FUDGE!   Mrs Wavey Fudge.."

TSR: "And your address, Mrs. Fudge?"

CUSTOMER: "Yes, 'by, i's R.R.Two, Box Farty-Far, Jerry's Nose, and the hairea code is 'Hay-two-hen, far dubya far!"

TSR: "Thanks, Mrs. Fudge.  So, just to confirm this will be going out on your Sears Card to the catalog pick up desk in 'Budgell's Convenience and Bait Shop'?"

CUSTOMER: "Yes, me lover."

TSR: (shuddering from 'lover' reference) "Okay, I just need your first nine-digit catalog item number."

CUSTOMER: "Right on!  I's tree, nine, tree..."

(fast forward)

CUSTOMER: "...two, tree, two."

TSR: "Ooooooo, I'm sorry, Mrs. Fudge.  It appears as if that item is currently not available."

CUSTOMER: "Oh, s#!%!  Any clue as to when yer gonna get mar of 'em?"

TSR: "I'm sorry, Mrs. Fudge.  If our buyers know when we're going to get more they usually give us a back order date, but it's just saying 'not available' I'm afraid."

CUSTOMER: "Jasus!  I just got the friggin' catalog 'de udder day!"

TSR: (exhaling a pronounced sigh) "Well, our catalogs are sometimes made up six months to a year in advance and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get the inventory from the..."

CUSTOMER: (interrupting) "Sure, 'das alright, me love.  I'll try 'dis one now...six, hate, one..."

(repeat previous conversation two more times until...)

TSR: "Alright!  Finally!  That's a vista blue mica-colored wool, um...dickey.  Uh-huh.  Whatever that is, it's available and it's scheduled to arrive in, um...Jerry's Nose October the 16'th."

CUSTOMER: "Alright then.  It's not the friggin' color I wants, but I'll take it."

TSR: "And your next catalog item number, ple...'

CUSTOMER: "No, by, das all fer now since das the only friggin' thing you got dat I wanted."

TSR: "And would you like to hear about our exclusive phone sales today?"

CUSTOMER: "No, 'by, I already gots a foam."

TSR: "No, Ma'am, it's not a phone on sale, these are sales we have on various items available only to our telephone customers."

CUSTOMER: "Ohhhhhhhh!   I sees.   I never 'eard about dat before, whattaya got?"

TSR: "Well, we've got a 'Shinsonic' brand piston engine on sale, normally seven-hundred and ninety-nine dollars down to forty-nine, ninety nine..."

CUSTOMER: "Oh my Dear Lard!  Why the frig would I want dat for?"

TSR: "Well, it would make a great centerpiece if you ever wanted to build a replica of an ancient Roman sawmill, or if you wanted to power a torpedo, for example.  Plus, just look at that deal!  It was normally eight hundred dollars now it's under fifty bucks!"

(momentary silence save for a horde of hitherto unheard youngsters in the background who all start crying on cue chorus-style in for attention)

CUSTOMER: "Yes, 'by, dat's a good deal, iddin it?  T'row one of them on the horder dere, Bucky!"

TSR: "Okay, Mrs. Fudge, with the piston engine on there, your order total is eighty-three fifty-two."

CUSTOMER'S KIDS: "MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA!"

CUSTOMER:  "SHUT UP!!!" (Customer makes vain attempt to cover phone receiver as an afterthought.  TSR is startled by the unexpected burst of rage and dribbles water down his shirt.  Customer turns attention back to TSR)  "Sorry about 'dat, my dear, it's a friggin' nut 'ouse 'ere.  EMMELINE!  Pass me dat pen and a tablet before I gives you a dallar."  (sound of customer snatching pen from pad from hands of confused child) "Alright, 'ow much was 'dat total again?"

TSR: "Eighty-three fifty-two."

CUSTOMER: "And when is it comin' in?"

TSR: "October the 16'th."

CUSTOMER: "Right on, Cocky!  'Tanks for yer time!  Bye, bye!"

TSR: "Good bye, Mrs. Fudge and thanks for calling... "

(Cue "click" sound as receiver is hung up, drowned out by sound of TSR banging head on desk)

TSR: "...Sears'!"

Okay, so I've exaggerated a bit for comedic effect, but believe me when I tell you that I'm not very far off the mark here.

In order to stave off the sort of unique madness that can only come from taking one nigh-identical catalog order after another, you had to be creative to amuse yourself.  Now, you weren't allowed to read a book (other than a catalog) because "Sears" obviously had no interest in paying you if you deriving any sort of self-enrichment or pleasure while you worked.

Now this didn't stop you from trying to stow a book under the sliding keyboard tray like a copy of "Barely Legal Asians", which allowed you to read a paragraph or two on the sly between calls.  In doing so, you ran the terrible risk of being caught.  If one particular manager (who, rumor had it, used to work at a woman's prison) caught you reading she'd publicly debase you as if she'd caught you playing with yourself.   Eventually I began to refer to her as "Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S" (the "S.S." stood for "Sears Seniors").

So, naturally, because you couldn't read quietly at your station, you'd end up speaking boisterously to a co-worker.  In fact, your peers became your greatest source of entertainment.  One game we used to play to keep ourselves sane was to challenge someone to shoe-horn a certain word into a conversation with a customer.  Some words (like "lantern", for example) might be easy because it was an item in our list of sales, but I'd always try to nail my buddy Jason with real crazy shit like "hovercraft".

And the fool would manage to do it somehow.  During an inevitable lull in the conversation (say when the customer was looking up an item number), Jason would ask how things were in Calgary or wherever the client was calling from.  He did so, knowing full well that the customer would say something like "Good...where are you at?"

Then my boy would go to work:

"Oh, I'm here in Halifax.  Have you ever been to Halifax?  It's beautiful, especially down around the waterfront.  I was down there the other day, and you wouldn't believe it, some crazy guy was piloting a hovercraft in and around the ferry until the harbor police told him to stop."

Just like on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" as soon as one of us said the secret word it would be complete and total bedlam in our isle until a manager was dispatched down to shush us!  I'm sure the customer's heard us and thought we were all nuts.   

One aspect of the job that I embraced to try and stave off the mental cobwebbery was the add-on and credit card sales.  Most sensible and ethical souls steered clear of this like latrine duty, but, oh no, not this good little soldier. 

I excelled at it.  I wasn't a pushy f#@$, I just did it well because it was the only part of the job I thought was creative.  I'm actually looking at my old stats here, and they're actually pretty friggin' impressive:

So basically, in averaging $19.55 in add-on sales per hour, I was likely paying my own sweat-shop wage of $7.40 an hour (and this was actually up slightly from the starting rate.)

And that's nothing!  I have a document here which shows years later that one of the women on the team I was coaching at the time was selling $70.00 extra per hour.  Let me say that again: $70.00 extra per hour!  Sweet Jezum crow! 

We were also asked to promote the Sears Credit Card as well, and usually got a $5.00 kicker for each, customer's neck we managed to hang this dead albatross of interest around.  I don't know exactly what the interest rate was when I was flogging it but in 2006 it was a criminally high 28.74%!

Now I did these things in good conscience because:
  •   My parents beat a near-fanatical work ethic into my head that told me to do what your employers asked of you without question.  Historians could have a field day correlating this sort of attitude to Germany in the 1930's. 
  • I was soon totally bored with the mechanical, by-rote nature of only taking catalog orders
  • Since "Sears" had been so kind as to hire my ass after so many terrible and borderline abusive situations I was quick to ask "how high" when my employment "Big Brother" ordered me to jump.  
In other words, I was mindlessly swilling the "Sears" kool-aid like it was rum and coke.

Next up I'll tell you what it was like working working at "Sears" when that accursed "Wish Book" landed every year.  Here's a sneak preview: it sucked



And here's this week's totally unrelated comic:

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