Monday, March 16, 2009

Janet Albrechtsen, A Tick for Rudd, Dog Whistling, Racism, Call Centres and the noble art of closing

You know when Jane "Dame Slap" Albrechtsen gives you a ten out of ten, there's good grounds for suspicion. Especially if you're Kevin Rudd, always a dimwitted, difficult student who simply fails to understand Dame Slap's sometimes fierce lessons.

And generally there's not much to argue about in her sensible column The sensible side to Kevin.

There's a bit of union bashing, always as much fun as eel bashing with an ax handle, and talk of free trade and developing counties, and flexible and adaptable labor, and re-training so we can all make a living on the intertubes while the Indians do the menial work (oh wait, they're good at coding and programming and computers as well. We're all doomed). And where better to locate a call centre than in the sub-continent?

And watch out for that whiff of racism emanating from some of the argument used to prop up protectionism. We like to speak on the phone with local people with local accents at call centres 600, not 6000 kilometres away, goes the argument. But refusing to allow outsourcing call centres to India because Australians don't like the accent or won't trust Indian privacy standards should be exposed for what it is - bigoted dog whistling.

Well actually, there's usually only a couple of reasons for a call centre. First you might be trying to sell something, either by cold calling or going around the established customer base trying to drum up new business (and in that context, a charity is just another business). Or you might be trying to provide your customer base with 'help' advice, often of a technical kind, to explain just why your product fails to instal, keeps blowing up in your customer's face, or is otherwise generally a lemon.

Now any call of this kind is difficult enough within a cultural setting. Export the content to a different culture, and either selling or providing satisfactory information becomes doubly hard. Not dog whistling or racism, or a bid to stop businesses trying it on. Feel free. Have a go. No ideologues here. 

But it's just a fact of life. A fact that if your business needs a call centre you have to somehow find way to deal with.

Life in Mumbai doesn't prepare you that well for all the little irritations you experience from life in Gunnedah. The feeble, cheap assed briefing sessions many cheap skates give their new call centre teams are often woefully inadequate, and fail to deal with the deceptively difficult shifting sands of cultural unfamiliarity.

I've had some cheerful conversations with possums in India either trying to sell me stuff or trying to enlarge my understanding of my wonderful bank's range of services. We've even strayed into personal areas - I have an abiding fascination for India - but you can't do this too much, or the evil monitor will step in and fry the time-waster's brain. (Wise, since a sale was never likely).

Having done a bit of cold calling in my time, I have a deep sympathy for the art, and the people forced by circumstance to take up that particular game as a living. 

But at least on an anecdotal level, I wouldn't be as sure as Janet, in her righteous, internationalist, let's all help third world countries, way, that outsourcing call centres is always the way to go. Indeedy, you might even find yourself on the slippery slope to lost business. And it has little to do with local accents, though that counts, but much more to do with poor training, poor understanding of the local culture of your 'marks', and poor selling skills in the outsourced call centre.

We're much better off shipping our manufacture of jocks overseas. The Chinese do that very well and a heck of a lot cheaper. Call centres? Sure you can try to get away with it, but if you're trying to put a human face to your business in a local market, then good luck.

Bigoted dog whistling? I guess that's why Janet's better off being a columnist. Clearly she doesn't have the first clue on how to close a deal with a customer, or deliver a service to one.

So in closing, how about a bit of Glengarry Glen Ross, that definitive text on selling by David Mamet:

Blake: You call yourself a salesman, you son of a bitch?
Moss: I don't have to listen to this shit.
Blake: You certainly don't pal. 'Cause the good news is - you're fired. The bad news is you've got, all you got, just one week to regain your jobs, starting tonight. Starting with tonight's sit. Oh, have I got your attention now? Good. 'Cause we're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone want to see second prize? Second prize's a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired. You get the picture? You're laughing now? You got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them! You can't close the leads you're given, you can't close shit, you ARE shit, hit the bricks pal and beat it 'cause you are going out!!!
Levene: The leads are weak.
Blake: "The leads are weak." Fucking leads are weak? You're weak. I've been in this business fifteen years.
Moss: What's your name?
Blake: FUCK YOU, that's my name!! You know why, Mister? 'Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove a eighty thousand dollar BMW. That's my name!! (to Levene) And your name is "you're wanting." And you can't play in a man's game. You can't close them. (at a near whisper) And you go home and tell your wife your troubles. (to everyone again) Because only one thing counts in this life! Get them to sign on the line which is dotted! You hear me, you fucking faggots?

(Blake flips over a blackboard which has two sets of letters on it: ABC, and AIDA.)

Blake: A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-closing. Always be closing! Always be closing!! A-I-D-A. Attention, interest, decision, action. Attention - do I have your attention? Interest - are you interested? I know you are because it's fuck or walk. You close or you hit the bricks! Decision - have you made your decision for Christ?!! And action. A-I-D-A; get out there!! You got the prospects comin' in; you think they came in to get out of the rain? Guy doesn't walk on the lot unless he wants to buy. Sitting out there waiting to give you their money! Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it? (to Moss) What's the problem pal? You. Moss.
Moss: You're such a hero, you're so rich. Why you coming down here and waste your time on a bunch of bums?

(Blake sits and takes off his gold watch)

Blake: You see this watch? You see this watch?
Moss: Yeah.
Blake: That watch cost more than your car. I made $970,000 last year. How much you make? You see, pal, that's who I am. And you're nothing. Nice guy? I don't give a shit. Good father? Fuck you - go home and play with your kids!! (to everyone) You wanna work here? Close!! (to Aaronow) You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can't take this -how can you take the abuse you get on a sit?! You don't like it - leave. I can go out there tonight with the materials you got, make myself fifteen thousand dollars! Tonight! In two hours! Can you? Can you? Go and do likewise! A-I-D-A!! Get mad! You sons of bitches! Get mad!! You know what it takes to sell real estate?

(He pulls something out of his briefcase)

Blake: It takes brass balls to sell real estate.

(He's holding two brass balls on string, over the appropriate "area" - he puts them away after a pause)

Blake: Go and do likewise, gents. The money's out there, you pick it up, it's yours. You don't - I have no sympathy for you. You wanna go out on those sits tonight and close, close, it's yours. If not you're going to be shining my shoes. Bunch of losers sitting around in a bar. (in a mocking weak voice) "Oh yeah, I used to be a salesman, it's a tough racket." (he takes out large stack of red index cards tied together with string from his briefcase) These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you, they're gold. And you don't get them. Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. (he hands the stack to Williamson) They're for closers.
I'd wish you good luck but you wouldn't know what to do with it if you got it. (to Moss as he puts on his watch again) And to answer your question, pal: why am I here? I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to, they asked me for a favor. I said, the real favor, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser.

Great writing. And the moral? Always be a closer Janet. You don't close, you lose. Good luck getting your Indian call centres to close for you. Or better still making a new sale after your customers have experienced your very helpful, service and advice with a smile, exotic new call centre.

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