Thursday, September 13, 2007

So How Do You Respond to that 'pesky' call?

‘You bloody f&*%# b*&^%##, go jump from the window, that's what I like to say’. This was intoned by one of the distinguished guys, salt-n-pepper hair et al , with a great deal of relish, in a perfect staccato public school accent.

To which the other guy in the golfing attire responded. “No, yaar, for me ‘You dare call me again and I’ll have you a r r e s t e d’, when said menacingly, works best”.

We were in a Club in South Bombay (roundabouts here we say South Bombay, never South Mumbai), where a cocktail conversation was in progress.. This was about that unsolicited sales call received yet again on the cell phone. From banks, credit cards or insurance companies.

But, hold on....

In all likelihood, weren’t these very same corporate honchos, or their MBA pals heading these companies? I was curious. Had they ever received a call from their own bank / credit card/ insurance division, selling it to their own Big Guy inadvertently?

Sheepishly, one of them admitted, yes. Worse, it had happened while traveling internationally. This was received with much glee by the others, in the party.

And out there, the souls in the BPOs making the calls, have the same letting-off-steam sessions with one another. I was at one such place in New Delhi doing a study on something or the other, and in the open plan office, one guy who had just been at the receiving end, put his phone down and mimicked loud laughter. The next two quickly waited till their own calls got over (next 10 seconds), and in the cubicle, with low voices asked ‘kya kaha usne?’… What did he say?

‘Yeh wala naya hai. Bolta hai, pichhla boss ka number deta hoon, uska phone laga, chutiya’. ‘This is a new one. Says, I’ll give you my old boss’s telephone number, call him, you bastard’

What they were doing was, chalking up the responses, and by chuckling and sharing it with one another, reducing its potential sting. This was a necessary survival tactic to be able to make the hundreds of calls they needed to, all through the day. Being at the receiving end of a steady stream of invective was the rule rather than the exception. Not very different from the Club set, who were using this occasion to say the unmentionable loudly not just to the telephoning persons, but later, to one another also. A chance that the usual ambience belonged to, rarely gave, in the polished lives led. This was the 'carnivalesque' time obtained, when they could truly let their hair down.

And just like we all recognize the call that needs to be given a complete ‘put-down’, from the real bank person we need to speak to, urgently, the folks making these calls have their own systems too, to figure out which way the call will progress. Both ways, it is just the first few seconds when this direction is worked out. Do we modulate our voices to be welcoming while receiving that call? Or should we be suitably brusque? What is it in the intonation that we quickly recognize often in a split second? Is it the singsong chanting style of talking (irrespective of whether we are being exhorted to go for that credit card or insurance, in Hindi or in English – my friend tells me that in Bangalore, it is even in Kannada nowadays) that sounds so pat and standardized? Is it the way they jump in and start to speak 30 words in 10 seconds? Is it that they call just when we’ve found that rare moment to snatch a snooze in the middle of the day?

Once I began mulling over this question, I decided to allow the next pesky call a longer stretch than usually given, before I finally put myself on the ‘Do-Not-Call’ list. Strangely enough I did not get any such call for over a week (moral so far: If I had only sought that next call, I may have been able to avoid it altogether).

‘Good afternoon, this is Sonal, I am calling from Standard Chartered Bank…..’ came the much sought after singsong voice this morning.

‘Oh, hello! How are you’ I said, delighted at the opportunity presented.

Silence… even the pesky caller must have got alarmed. She had her own template that helped make a judgment of the ‘client’ and I think my response did not fit in with the usual ones she receives, and that they in the BPO cubicle, have learnt to laugh over/ ignore/ hate.

'Yes?' I said most encouragingly, 'You wanted to sell something, didn't you?

'Yes', she said somewhat doubtfully.

Hmmm, must be a new recruit. 'Yes, tell me what are the details', I repeated encouragingly.

'You have a credit card with us, and based on your payment performance, we wanted to upgrade you....' again her voice petered out.

'Go on' I said. Her voice had not yet perfected that absolute singsong tone that five thousand calls in two weeks can bring. I pegged her as being in her first week at her job.

continued on page 3, column 2.....

nah - to-be-continued …

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