I wrote “How a Telemarketing Company Got Rid of Cheaters” in February of 2015, on a website that no longer exists. It was a website that paid writers based on a confusing mix of page-clicks and ad revenue.
At the time I wrote this piece, the website was having a gigantic problem with plagiarizers who stole other people’s work (from both outside and inside the website) and expected to be paid for it. This was my response – a gigantic “subtweet” – to the plagiarizers and the website itself.
I read “How a Telemarketing Company Got Rid of Cheaters” in episode 6 of my Words of Jen podcast.
One of the many jobs I had when I was in college was that of a telemarketer. I know, I know, that’s an awful thing to do. But, I was young, and needed the money!
This was back in the early 1990s. We had black computer screens with a blinking orange (or green) curser on a monitor that weighed as much as an old television. Eventually the script would appear. This was, like, maybe one or two steps away from DOS.
The phones we used were push button, with a handset that connected to the phone with a curly cord. They were hooked to an automatic dialer. We would log in to the computer, pick up the handset of the phone, and wait. Another computer automatically dialed someone’s phone number for us. If they answered, we started reading our “script”.
Most of the time, people hung up the phone shortly after realizing a telemarketer had called. When that happened, we were supposed to make a note of it on our computer and then push down the button that hung up the phone (while keeping the handset to our ears). The push told the dialer that we were ready for a new call to be sent to us.
Some people who worked there figured out a way to cheat the system. They realized that the computer that controlled the automatic dialer had no way of knowing when someone was done with a call – unless that person pressed the hang up button. They would log in, take their first call, and fail to hang up after the person on the other end of the line was gone.
This allowed them to sit there, and talk to their friend in the cubicle next to them, and continue to get paid without having to do any work. They were smart enough to keep the handset of the phone to their ear so that it would look like they were working. If a manager walked by, they stopped their conversation and mimicked the call “script” … until the manager was out of earshot.
Eventually, the managers caught on that something was not as it should be. Unfortunately, the computers at the time weren’t able to catch the people who were pretending to work (without actually doing any work at all). Some of the honest workers started telling on the cheaters, frustrated that those people were getting paid for doing nothing (while the honest people worked really hard for their money.)
I remember that to me, it seemed like nothing was being done about the cheaters. The managers never said anything about them, and those people kept showing up and scamming the employer. I knew that telemarketing companies were notoriously sketchy, but this seemed outrageous!
One day, small fliers appeared on the walls of the break room, the bathroom doors, and even in some of the cubicles. The fliers said that there would be mandatory drug testing happening starting the upcoming weekend. The implication was that the company wasn’t going to continue to employ those who didn’t pass the drug test (but the fliers didn’t specifically say that).
That weekend came…. and something unexpected happened. The honest workers arrived as usual, but none of the cheaters showed up. They didn’t come back the next day, or later that week, either. They realized their free ride was coming to an end, so they left. I don’t think any of them came to collect their last payment.
The next weekend, the managers took down the fliers about the drug testing. They never intended to have everyone take a drug test. It was their way of weeding out the people who were cheating (instead of producing quality work), and who were expecting to be paid for doing so – forever.
All they had to do was imply that it wouldn’t necessarily be so easy anymore for the cheaters to get paid for doing almost no work. Some of them may have used drugs. Others may have intuited that a company that wants to do drug testing might also start paying more attention to the quality of the work people produced. Instead of having to do actual work, these people chose to quit (and go in search of another free ride)
Image by Denise Krebs on Flickr.