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Bullshit Hell in a handcart

What it’s like to work for a holiday club sales firm

A wee while back I ranted and ranted about firms flogging holiday clubs. John – not his real name – has been in touch to describe what it’s like to be the person doing the phoning. He’s a 21-year-old student who, like many students, decided to get a part-time job to help make ends meet.

Over to you, John…

I was first aware of something strange on arrival. I stood outside in the rain, completely soaked, and wondered why there were no markings indicating the company name. No sign. Nothing. And I was worried about being soaked, partly because I was attending a job interview and looked like a twat, and partly because I was afraid I’d drip water all over their computers if I had to do a data entry test.

Turns out I didn’t need to worry, because there were no computers and there was no interview. Well, almost. It lasted about 30 seconds, and if I’d quacked like a duck or baa-ed like a sheep I’m confident I’d still have been offered the position.

There’s a small office at the front – with computers! – but I’ve no idea what actually occurs there. It was never mentioned. The main area is one large room and it’s the call centre. One lonely computer sits on a desk at the front manned by a manager, who’s about 20, and the rest of the room is filled with scabby desks equipped with two phones each. There is a complex filing system consisting of state-of-the-art cardboard pigeon holes randomly dumped on the floor, each one overflowing with sheets containing names, addresses and telephone numbers. Random coat hangers decorate the wall.

Basically I was told that they are a travel agent, and that my job would be to call people who’d filled in a survey and won a free holiday. I was to call them and inform them that they’d been awarded a free holiday consisting of luxury accommodation for up to four people and two return flights. I would then have to arrange appointments for the people to come and collect their prize.

I would be paid £6 per hour, and I’d be paid £10 commission for every person that collected their prize.

I’d done cold calling before and this sounded like a piece of piss. If people had filled in surveys to win a holiday, then surely they’d be well chuffed to have won.

Yes, the place looked like a squat but I was broke – and being fairly well trained on the phone in previous jobs, I was confident that I’d make loads of cash from the commission. And I probably would have done, if anything they’d told me was true.

So it’s my first day and I arrive an hour early for training before starting my first shift. The group consisted of me, one other guy and our manager. After training the other guy bolted for the door with such pace and conviction that he nearly bowled over a poor girl who had arrived for work, still wearing her school uniform. I looked at the manager with astonishment, and he was exchanging looks with another manager – but without any obvious dismay or signs of caring. On retrospect, it occurs to me that it probably happens a lot.

I was directed to sit beside some guy who I was to watch working for the first half of the four hour shift, and then I’d be let loose on my own. I say “watch”, not “listen in”, because there wasn’t a second headset, so I could only hear his side of the conversation.

I watched as he worked his way through – not surveys, but sheet after sheet of names, addresses, phone numbers and credit card details. I’m kidding about the credit card details. But still, it didn’t look as if this stuff came from surveys. He did have the odd survey form, but from what I could gather they were only given out a few times per week and only if you were doing well. I also noticed that half the time he wasn’t offering free holidays; he was telling people they’d won a shopping spree.

For the two hours I was there, he didn’t have much luck. He got through to about ten numbers, of which half hung up immediately. And no wonder, because everything’s scripted.  You basically start by saying “Hi, my name’s Gus from X Company, and I’m calling regarding a holiday survey you filled out for us.” You then ask if it’s okay to check a few details to confirm that you’re speaking to the right person. That checking is to see if you’re not married, don’t own your own property, are too old, are too young or don’t earn over £20,000. If you are, we say sorry, you’re not the person we thought you were, our bad, no holiday for you.

Halfway through we get a break, during which two or three people are sacked for not reaching the target of four appointments per hour. You’re warned about this at the very beginning of the shift. Apparently they can’t afford to pay people who underperform, even for just two hours.

The next two hours were the longest two hours of my life. I finished my shift and swore that I’d never again cross the door.

My friend – the guy who’d told me about the job in the first place – quit about a week later over a dispute with his pay or lack of pay. You’re paid cash, so I suspect they’re probably skimping on tax.

In summary, then: if they call you, please be polite – there are human beings on the other end, so don’t lower yourself to the company’s level. Say you’re not interested and if they persist, hang up.