The dark side of telesales work

By Pham Nga   May 1, 2021 | 05:20 am PT
The dark side of telesales work
Telesales workers face stress due to sales targets and noise pollution. Photo courtesy of Ngoc Minh.
Though claiming to have a "thicker skin” after three years at her telesales job, Minh Phuong still cannot be blithe about being abused on the phone by a stranger.

At 8:00 a.m. every day the 32-year-old leaves home in Thu Duc City in HCM City for her office four kilometers away.

She receives a list of 200 numbers from her team leader, pulls on a headphone and begins to dial. She needs to introduce real estate projects that are about to begin sales.

A call must last at least 15 seconds to be counted as one.

But often she barely introduces herself before the abuse begins. "Crazy bitch, I just woke up and you are already trying to sell me something," shouted a recipient.

Before she can even say sorry, the phone is hung up. With almost no change in expression, she dials another number and gets another scolding. She repeats this hundreds of times a day until she completes her quota.

Three years ago she was transferred from online sales to the telesales department and given training.

"In the beginning, when I was first abused by customers, I panicked and sometimes even feared they would come to the company and assault me.

"Now I have got used to it but still feel anxious every time there is a negative response."

The job has left such a scar that she does not want to touch a phone when she is at home.

The phone numbers of more than 200 potential customers that Phuong needs to call to sell goods. Photo courtesy of Minh Phuong.

The phone numbers of more than 200 potential customers that Phuong needs to call to sell goods. Photo courtesy of Minh Phuong.

Telesales trainer Pham Thi Hai Yen said: "Telesales is a very cost-effective brand promotion channel. In fact, even when customers react negatively and do not buy anything, telesales workers help spread awareness of a certain product or service."

Phuong cannot remember how many times she planned to quit her job during the past three years due to work pressure. However, with the pressure to provide for two young kids, she has held on.

"Being insulted all the time has made me numb. I know it's annoying, but it's the nature of the work."

Nguyen Thu Trang, 23, another telesales worker who has worked for a company in Hanoi for two years, often cries after calling clients.

"People are so disdainful it stuns me," she said.

"Of more than a dozen people trial employees, only a few stay. They drop for different reasons: some feel discouraged, some have no income with no sales pitch."

Despite getting a base salary of just VND3 million ($129), she persists at the job, hoping to get a KPI bonus on top. There have been months when she could not hit sales targets and had to borrow money from friends to pay her basic expenses.

People who sell things on the phone often have a sore throat or an earache from constantly talking and listening. The bottle of lime juice that Phuong carries every day helps protect her throat somewhat.

Once during her early days at work she was coughing after lots of calls, and a customer shouted, "How can you be a seller if you cough like an old dog?"

In such cases she has to try and suppress her anger and apologize anyway since all the calls are recorded and telesales staff can never argue with clients. So it is always "sorry" or "thank you."

Trang has nearly 400 colleagues in a shift, with their tables placed next to each other. So in order to converse with and hear clients, everyone needs to speak loudly and focus fiercely. The room is always chaotic.

"We suffer from severe noise pollution," she lamented.

Last month, a coworker sitting next to her ticked off Trang for having her headphone volume set too loud. She realized with a start that she often had headache and earache and lacked focus on her job. After going to a doctor she found out she was suffering from a slight hearing loss.

According to Yen, telesales workers need to be assertive and flexible.

Ngoc Minh, 24, claims to possess those qualities. She jokes when people refuse to buy from her, follows up and ends up getting some of them as customers.

Ngoc has a secret: "two minutes."

Every time a customer refuses to play ball she pleads: "Give me just two minutes. If after two minutes you still feel annoyed, I won’t bother you any more."
This way she manages to close a lot of deals, and it often takes her only half a month to achieve her KPI.

"This type of work makes me more assertive and flexible in dealing with unfavorable situations," she said.
Trang and Phuong have not thought about changing jobs yet despite the high pressure and low pay. After all, telesales also helps them interact with all kinds of people.

Phuong said: "There are annoying customers and there are also lovely ones. The more professional I become, the more potential clients I can reach.

"I try to look at the bright side while accepting pressure as an inevitable aspect of work."

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