To hell and back, once for all!!!!

Prabodh By Prabodh, 25th Jul 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Humour>Funny Stories

Read on to find out about my first job experience...

To hell and back, once for all!!!!

I graduated in commerce in 2002 with a second grade. I missed the first grade by a whisker (I always use this word to cover up my academic shortcomings). My hardly impressive grades meant that I had to join a pool. No, I am not referring to a swimming pool. I joined the huge pool, or shall we say ocean, of unemployed people in my country. And as my Nostradamus dad and Oracle mom had predicted, I started to struggle to find a job.

During my forced vacation at home (due to unemployment), I became familiar with a guy who stayed in the same apartment. He always left home at 10pm and came back in the morning. Since he was a guy, my corrupt mind could not think the same as I would have if it was a girl who left home at night, only to come back the next day. One day I asked him what he did. He said he worked with a call center and his job was in night shifts. For me, night shifts were only connected with security guards. I had never imagined any other job that could happen at night, except of thieves and security guards.

This guy was just a graduate like me. He worked in the nights and slept in the day. He partied on the weekends, smoked cigarettes and hanged out with girls. And he earned a cool 20,000 rupees per month. After learning all these statistics, I decided to try out a job at a call center. Before going for my first interview, my knowledge about call centers was as good as the call centers’ knowledge about me. Completely unaware of.

I grabbed a newspaper and started searching for a call center job vacancy. I observed that there were at least 10–15 companies that had advertised for call center jobs. I worked out the permutations and combinations in my mind and came to a conclusion that I stand to get at least one job out of the 50–60 vacancies advertised. And if I don’t, I can always say that I missed the opportunity by a whisker.

I zeroed in on one call center called Zen Global Services. I travelled to Powai, a suburb in Mumbai built exclusively for corporates and Non-Residential Indians. Fifteen years ago, the place was a huge mountainous area where cows and goats grazed while their master smoked somewhere. It was well known for its greenery until man’s greed took over. Now the place has plush residential skyscrapers, shopping malls and corporate offices, mostly BPOs and call centers.

My friend had said that attrition rate in call centers is very high. So they are hiring round the year. You just need to walk-in with your CV and some thin pretty girls (identified as HR Executive on their ID cards) would arrange for an interview. As I walked in, I got my first surprise of the day. There was at least 60–70 candidates waiting in the interview bay, waiting for their round of interview. As if the crowd in train and bus was not enough, I had to tackle this as well. “Patience is the key,” the pretty lady at the reception said with a fake smile. After waiting for two hours, I was (as anticipated) welcomed by a thin girl in a tiny room for the first round of interview.

"So you’re a commerce graduate?" the wafer-thin girl asked, while moving her thinner pen over my CV and spoiling it with tick-marks.
"And post-grad?"
"What did you after graduation?"
"I started looking for a job."
She twisted her face as if I had proposed to her. Then she asked me my family background and hobbies.

There was a silence of 30 seconds, after which she said, “Well Prabodh, it was nice talking to you. We’ll get back to you shortly. You can leave for the day,” and she offered her wafer-thin hand for greeting a good-bye. I shook the hand lightly, fearing that it may break.

Disillusioned, I left from the place. I was so frustrated at the turn of events during the day that I dropped my plans of attending interviews at other call centers. When I reached my apartment, I asked that guy why I was not shortlisted. He asked me to speak few sentences in English. “You do not have a neutral accent,” he explained. “You have a vernacular accent, which those guys don’t want at all.”

The next day, I came across a dust-filled banner: Spot Job Offers!!! Walk-in with your CV, walk-out with a call center job.

I stepped in. Yet another thin girl welcomed me. She asked me to speak for two minutes on ‘Mumbai’. I tried my best and covered all possible points about the city. I was about to get carried away when she stopped me. "Alright. Actually, I was not listening to the content. But primarily, I was focusing on your voice tone and accent, which in fact, is not up to the mark and hence, I am recommending you for our English accent learning course." "You’ll have to pay a small fee of 500 rupees and the course will be complete in one month." I had no choice but to pay that amount.

After completing the course, I went back to Zen Call Center and appeared for the interviews again. This time, my English was far more polished. The wafer-thin girl who interviewed me last time was taken aback by my accent. She offered her hand to congratulate me, which I shook firmly ignoring the expression of pain on her face.

On my first day of training, I was asked to wait at a particular place from where a cab would be picking me up. Now, these cabs are no Mercedes or Audi. They are mostly Tata Sumo or Tata Indica. Sitting for more than an hour in these cars is as difficult as sitting on a wooden bench. Most call centers hire these cars as they are the cheapest. While going back, the cab will take you on a tour of the city, drop everyone else at their respective homes and then finally drop you, in case you are staying the farthest.

When the Sumo arrived, there were already five guys sitting inside. So I had to take the backseat. My expressions and body language conveyed that I was a new joinee. The guy sitting in front too seemed uncomfortable. Soon I learnt he too was joining today. He had already worked with a call center and quit it after completing the one-month training. I asked him why he did so. He said he was just interested in the salary. “Who wants to work? I have joined 12 call centers so far. Once the training is over and the salary is credited, I quit. Take a break of few days and then join another call center. The more new call centers you join, the more female friends you make.” His ideas were baffling for me. I started wondering how my mother had been working for 28 years in the same company and the same office.

“You know how Americans are. First of all, life in that country is not at all as rosy as it seems. Most of the people there indulge in dim-witted things. However, there are a select few who are extremely intelligent. Bloody intelligent. These few make America the world leaders,” the guy was decoding America for me. “The best way to make an American look down to earth is by threatening his credit score. No American can survive sans a good credit score.”

There was another guy called Sahil in the Sumo. He said he never got along well with his parents. His father wanted him to find a government job and get settled in life However, Sahil chose to move to Mumbai and stay with his girlfriend, who worked in another call center and who had influenced his decision. Working with an American call center changed his mindset. He was pretty good with his calls. When the first salary happened, he was on cloud nine. Freedom. Liberty. Self-reliance. He started loving these words. He was promoted to a team leader within eight months and started gelling well with the other female team leader. Steadily, his contact with his family and girl friend reduced. His girl friend called off their relationship. “When did this happen,” I asked. “Two months back,” he said. “So what does she do now?” I asked with curiosity. “Well, she is dating her manager now,” he said casually, without any sign of grief.

By the time we reached office, I had got lot of insight about America. Fast cars, endless fuel, junk food..all now seemed to be cinematic about that country. For the next four weeks, we were supposed to be coached on American culture, American style of communication, American society, etc. Our lunch and snacks too were to be strictly American. Burgers, diet coke, etc. The only thing Indian were the transport cabs as the company thought the Fords and Chevrolets are only for clients.

We were supposed to undergo a month-long training course, after which few of us would be selected to work on the floor. Our job was to handle calls from customers who had lost their phone or had it stolen. Most of the new joinees in my team were from outside Mumbai, sharing a room with several other guys, eating junk food all the time, and socializing on the weekends. Most BPOs have American clients. So one needs to be trained well on American accent before accepting live calls. Our training program comprised voice training, followed by culture training. Speaking Indian languages during the training was a reason big enough for the trainee to be shown the door. Our trainer’s name was Luela. I thought she must be American but she was pretty much Indian. Wheatish and plump, with catchy looks. Lot of eye candy for the male trainees. She spoke over-accentuated English and it took me almost a week to decode what she said.

The best thing about trainings is that they come with lot of breaks. And breaks in a call center feature only one thing–smoking. Though I did not smoke, I had to indulge in passive smoking as almost every one else was in love with tobacco. There were only three girls in our training batch. One of them stayed with two guys on rent in a tiny house. I had never met a bolder girl in life who shared an apartment with two guys. Her parents were in her native place and she used to send money to them regularly. Her boyfriend too was working for some other call center. He worked during the day while she worked nights. As a result, they would hardly meet. They met only on weekends, watched a movie, visited a disco or pub, and then enjoyed a make-out session either in the car itself or some hotel room. She said there relationship was strained and she hoped to find a new guy soon. “I hope our team leader is handsome,” she said. I smiled sheepishly.

On Fridays, we were allowed to dress casually. While I stuck to simple t-shirts and jeans, guys wore funky jackets, Nike or Reebok shoes and an ultra-colorful bandana around the neck. Few over-funky guys wore glares even inside the classroom. Girls wore low-waist jeans, short skirts and everything else that could be billed as revealing outfits and something that would show-off their tattoos drawn on unmentionable places on the body. Some wore t-shirts with social messages such as ‘What are you staring at?’, ‘FCUK’, ‘They are not fakes’. Wearing traditional outfits on Friday was considered L.S. (low society). Married women wore jeans and full-sleeved tops. Their favorite pastime was to indulge in bitching and gossiping about girls who flirted with their team leaders and managers.

“Never call an American late in the night or during weekends,” Luela continued with her training session. “And never make fun of their pets.” “Most of the Americans do not like the fact that Indians are working for them. If they come to know that you are an Indian, they will either give you a mouthful or bang the receiver. And later, they will send a never-ending email to our top management, complaining how rude you were during the conversation.”

“So we all will take up aliases that sound American.” Consequently, Sahil became Steven and Manish was Michael. I wanted Barack, but Luela refused it by saying that it would make the caller suspicious. So I settled with Peter. Peter Parker. Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. We were also advised of not disclosing our true location. “If someone insists, tell them you are located in California.”

What people generally call departments, call centers and BPOs call them processes. Most complex processes were referred as hardcore sales. The only time I had heard of the word’ hardcore’ before coming at the call center was during my college days, when all friends used to gather at someone’s home to catch a ‘hardcore’ movie. It was fun then, but hardcore sales sounded scary.

‘I am from this process’, ‘I am from that process’, ‘this process sucks, man. I want to move out.’ Complaints pored in while going back home in the morning, after a hectic graveyard shift.

On my first day on live calls (and co-incidentally, the day of first salary), I answered the initial calls quite well. Then there was one guy who was too irritated. And from somewhere, he learnt that our call center was in India. Even before I could try to calm him down, he shooted: You f*cking Indian. As*hole. I will sue you and your company. I will make you pay through your as*. All of you there….you all are pigs….tell your manager…he is a son of a bitch.

And he banged down his phone. I called my team leader and asked him to listen to the conversation. He calmly said, “It’s okay. He won’t do anything. Concentrate on your next call and be polite this time.”

His abuses kept banging in my ears the whole day. While going back home in the Sumo, other guys and girls were casually discussing about the abusive customers they met on the line. Laughing and giggling. I couldn’t take the abuses out of my mind. I reached home and had my food. At that time, my cell phone blinked. It was a text message from my bank informing me that my salary has been credited.

My first salary!!! My mind starting running in different directions: Tomorrow again live calls. Few good calls. And then abuses. F*cking Indian and what not.

‘Do I really want this life?’ I kept asking myself. Why not find a language-based job? A job where my written communication skills can be put to use. I picked up a newspaper and scrolled to the recruitment section. One advert caught my eye: Wanted Editors. Proficiency in English, both written and verbal. Should have a flair for English language. Freshers welcome.

I had found my way.

I went downstairs to the ATM and withdrew my salary. Once and for all, from that particular call center.


American, Bpo, Call Center, Employment, Job, Outsourcing, Salary

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author avatar Prabodh
Humor, Satire

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author avatar Neha Dwivedi
26th Jul 2011 (#)

hay..interesting. working at call centers can be torturing at times...thanks a lot for sharing your first job experience on wikinut...

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author avatar Denise O
1st Aug 2011 (#)

I sure hope you do not think that is what us American as a whole is all about because, it is not. The stereotypes we get, just blow my mind. I worked at a call center once and only for 3 days, then I quit. What a pain and even with my southern Alabama accent, they too didn't like me much. Thank you for sharing.:)

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