Telemarketers wanted in town

Most people don’t dream of becoming telemarketers, but hey, it’s a job, and in Oak Harbor they’re hiring.

CAI, a telemarketing firm, set up business in Oak Harbor last October. They’ve got 48 new computers sitting empty, and Tom Jones, assistant director, is hoping to put people in front of every one. That will make 96 total work stations in the building off Goldie Road, doubling the present capacity.

We all find ourselves on the receiving end of those often-annoying phone calls trying to sell us something. But what about the other end? You can find that end at CAI, and it’s probably not like you imagine it.

One might imagine telemarketers as modern-day inquisitors who take satisfaction in tormenting people. Perhaps they’re chained to their telephones by an evil overseer, and whipped if they don’t make their quota of calls. It’s an interesting image, but it’s dead wrong.

At CAI, there are presently 48 cubicles filled mostly with young men and women, who chat amiably when not making phone calls. Some sit in their chairs, while others stand and gesticulate while talking to potential customers.

The “overseer” on Wednesday morning was a young Norwegian immigrant named Linn Parks, an energetic, high-spirited woman who inspires her workers with words of encouragement, not whips. She shouts out goals, scratches them off a blackboard when achieved, and generally keeps the atmosphere peppy and competitive.

Jones said Parks started out like everyone else at $7 an hour, but now is making a good salary and bonus. He agreed her style of management is quite positive. “I’m the one with the bullwhip,” he laughed.

But when Jones walks among the workers he too is treated like a friend, even though he’s in charge of the automated dialer, and thus the workload. “I control the dialer. It dictates the pace, and I dictate to the dialer,” Jones said.

On this particular morning, the dialer was set at 15 seconds between calls and the workers didn’t have much time for small talk.

But in the little time they had, the workers spoke positively of their jobs. Robert McIntyre is the Barry Bonds of the telemarketing team. His success rate is remarkable. Jones said the company aims for a 16 percent success rate in calls, meaning the customer wants more information. These customers are said to be converted. McIntyre leaves that goal in the dust. “He converts 65 percent of his calls,” Jones said. “He has what I call focus — it’s remarkable.”

McIntyre, now a supervisor in training, says he enjoys his job. “It’s a learning process, but when you get comfortable with people it’s fun,” he said. “Sometimes they say ‘I wanna rip your head off’, but you’ve got to be polite.” He considers even the calls to rude people as good experience in learning how to deal with the public.

Jones said telemarketers quickly get used to being told no. “If you get beat up by hearing ‘no’, this business is going to drive you crazy,” he said. As for people who don’t want to receive such calls, the answer is simple — you don’t have to be impolite. “Just say you want to be removed from the list,” Jones said. “We don’t want to call someone who doesn’t want to be called.”

In another cubicle is Alda Torgeson, who has worked for CAI since February. Talking between calls with her ear phones attached, she said she enjoys the people she verbally meets. “All the different accents are interesting,” she said, adding that “I like talking on the phone.” She even does it during her off-hours.

Another employee, Raymond Folwer, described CAI as “a good place to work, it’s a good environment.” And, he added loudly as the big boss walked by, “Tom’s cool.”

CAI’s two major clients are Nextel, a cellular phone company, and Chase Manhattan Bank. Jones said the day shift calls businesses for Nextel. Most daytime workers are Navy spouses and 60 percent are women. He would like more senior citizens to apply. In the afternoon, high school students take over and start calling Chase Manhattan credit card holders, starting on the East Coast and working their way west.

Jones will give almost anyone a chance at a job. “Anybody who speaks clearly in English we can work with,” he said. It’s hard to predict who will be successful. “I’d be a genius if I could answer that,” Jones said. “People succeed I wouldn’t expect.” He said he was reluctant to give a chance to one young man with very poor reading skills, but he memorized the scripts and is a top performer.

The main thing is to be willing to work hard and have a good attitude. “We weed out the bad attitudes,” Jones said. “We make a quick call on that.”

Anyone interested in telemarketing should, naturally enough, make a phone call. CAI’s number is 679-8662.

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