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.

9 thoughts on “What it’s like to work for a holiday club sales firm

  1. Ben says:

    That’s really interesting post.

    I got plagued with this types of calls – or the recorded American ones during the year.

    I started by just hanging up, or saying “not interested” etc – however the recorded US ones I *always* waited to be transferred to a rep, and the call would last as long as I could be bothered or until they twigged I was ‘telling them’ that I was 14. Even being a bit older than that, and having a reasonable deep voice – it would carry on until they would ask for details and I’d mention something about getting my parents credit card….

    I now haven’t had a many of these callsin a couple of months. What really gets to me is that I’m now registered on the TPS.. but the occasional one *still* gets through.

  2. Gary says:

    Even when calls originate in the UK, the TPS works on the assumption that firms buy legitimate lists rather than just grabbing the phone book and going through it. Which is rather naive.

  3. Squander Two says:

    No, the TPS works by having a list of numbers that you’re not allowed to call. Whether the lists you’re using are legit or not makes no difference — you run them against the government-provided list of numbers Thou Shalt Not Call and face possible punishment if you do call any of them. Same with diallers. Even if you’re using a random one (a very rare practice), you can plug a do-not-call list into it, and you get in trouble if you don’t.

    Anyone calls you when you’re on the TPS, ask for their company name and report them. If they don’t give you the name, use caller ID to get their number and report them. If the number’s withheld, call your telco with the time of the call and report them.

  4. Gary says:

    Whether the lists you’re using are legit or not makes no difference — you run them against the government-provided list of numbers Thou Shalt Not Call

    Sure, but a firm who’ll happily use the phone book as a contact list won’t bother with don’t call lists.

    I’m pretty sure the TPS is overridden if you neglect to spot one of the billions of “if you don’t want to receive information from…” tick-boxes on forms.

  5. Squander Two says:

    > Sure, but a firm who’ll happily use the phone book as a contact list won’t bother with don’t call lists.

    Yes, which is why I said you should report them. They’re breaking the law. Put them out of business.

    There are actually very few firms out there running deliberately illegal call-centre operations. There’s no future in it. I’d be very surprised if you ever got a call from one. You’re far more likely to get a call from a firm who have been sloppy or are cutting corners but whose directors don’t actually want to run a criminal enterprise. So, when they call you, report them to Trading Standards or Ofcom. Even if the eejit who decided to go through the phonebook doesn’t care about the law, one of his managers does.

    > I’m pretty sure the TPS is overridden if you neglect to spot one of the billions of “if you don’t want to receive information from…” tick-boxes on forms.

    Hmm. Not sure about that. I know that the TPS was based on the US’s DNX, and DNX overrides everything else. Call someone on a DNX list and the feds fine you to hell and back, no excuses.

  6. Squander Two says:

    Hmm.

    It is a legal requirement that all organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have your consent to do so.

    Typical: whenever our government copy a decent bit of American legislation, they water it down so as not to give the public too many rights. Gits. You’re probably right, Gary: I imagine an unticked box on a form would be interpreted as “consent”, at least by the firm calling you. Crying out for a legal challenge, though: I’d argue that ticking a “Please contact me” box is consent but neglecting to tick a “Please don’t contact me” box isn’t. More to the point, if they’re using such tick-boxes, they’re trying to obey the law, so will remove you from their lists if you ask them. Whenever anyone calls me, I just say “Can you remove me from your telephone list, please?” Might get a couple more calls from them in the next couple of days while they sort it out, but then it stops.

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