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The majority of calls into our department are from repeat customers with wireless accounts who are already well profiled in the AT&T database. Typically they'll call in to add lines of service for family members and friends to their cell phone plans, or to start new accounts. The ROC instantly reviews their past ordering/non-ordering history, drawing also from past information input on the account by customer service reps. Even for a first time caller into the system, the area code and zip code of their residence is register and sets in motion menu options that route the potential customer through a hi-tech maze to either favored or non-favored sales reps.

The ROC matches each caller/customer with a parallel database for AT&T sales reps. Worker profiles are compiled by management, who are seemingly free to use this system's filters to intentionally sink the close-ratio for whatever rep they happen to hate that day, ensuring that the "loser" stays below eligibility for commission pay that month. Needless to say, the physically attractive sales reps "somehow" get all the breaks, it seems. Favored reps can expect an endless procession of upper class customers to grace their headsets.

In each of our cubicles is a list of "Prohibited Zip Codes" from which we are forbidden to process orders. These are all low-income/high-crime neighborhoods that the ROC has identified as too high a risk for the company to grant service to. We are told to inform these callers that telesales cannot process their orders. Conversely, an opposite list of zip codes exist, these are the "zips of the rich" which trigger "high probability" of income for the company. The phone rings at AT&T and the ROC, this Brain of AT&T, swings into action to size-up this particular caller's qualifications. The computer system then calculates a formula:

rich customer + pretty sales rep = management's rigged system

Workers in cubicels across the floor are pidgeon-holed along a pecking order stacked by managers. All calls coming into this asylum seem to be surgically routed according to each workers' favored/unfavored. The results are violence provoking/revolting.

At the start of our employment we are each photographed and profiled in an AT&T management database. This company "Face Book" is used by remote peeping-toms who oogle and Google their subordinate worker-prey based on what seems to be that person's looks. I soon opined that attractive reps are "fast tracked" from the start to give an impression to co-workers that these people are "naturally gifted" to an unnatural extent. Expectations are set to dispel any question as to why Little Miss Close-Ratio never misses a sale - after all, look at the effort it's taken her to answer a phone and recite a script. It's not everyone who can accomplish this while looking so cute. Surely she deserves more pay then her Plain Jane neighbor (who can't possibly appear so pretty in a headset).

It seems behind-the-scenes string-pullers indicate their preference for a rep and skew the pool of calls in that agent's favor. Everyone is in awe of Mr. Midas Touch who is "earning" ten times more than us - the awe, the mystery, the wonder over how he manages to process orders from Westchester, Palm Beach, Bellaire, Bellevue, and Orange County - anyplace where Paris Hilton might be shooting her next porno flick. Geeee, such an astounding powerhouse of innate talent as Mr. Midas certainly deserves much more pay than us…

In the opposite corner we spy Mr. Middle-Age Homely Prole, struggling through the toils of lost callers in post-Katrina New Orleans and East Bumfuck West Texas - an endless dirge of cell phone wannabes in Appalachia who've never heard of "them thar debit cirds." Day after day he patiently explains (slowly) to these callers how income is required to pay for cell phone service (after which he has to define "income" for them).

By the middle of my first week in this zoo I was "concerned to learn" that I'd been relegated to the loser cubicle - a Lost Continent no-man's land of call centers, from which, like black holes, even light can't escape (much less commission pay). I found myself struggling in the mud-pits of the South Bronx on calls an order of magnitude more difficult than the streamlined ease with which the good-lookers breezed through sale after sale. It was almost as if AT&T had placed a big neon sign over my workstation: "You'll work here for subsistence pay, or look for another job." This was an abrupt reversal of my past years at call center customer service/sales positions. The infuriating thing was that this company was artificially creating a "track record" seemingly aimed to demonstrate that I have no ability for call center work. They seemed to be artificially keeping my number of sales to a minimum.

AT&T seems to me a place of fraud and employee character assassination.

But it gets so much worse…

When I started this gig in August 2005, AT&T had recently introduced Pre-Paid Plans for the "credit-challenged" working poor. These convoluted cell-phone calling plans require no credit cards, but offer dauntingly complicated fee and billing arrangements, way beyond the comprehension of even NASA mathematicians. It seemed to me that the idea was to "trick" the income-limited subscriber into racking up hundreds of dollars of hidden fees per month and then suffer panic attack when they get their next phone bill. We were required to sell at least 10 of these legalese-laden plans per month to what seemed like an endless parade of inner city convicts who lacked capacity to fathom even cartoons in their local newspaper. Many of these calls for Pre-Paid Plans go on for an hour of hair-pulling, re-worded explanations for a vast array of options - only to find at long last that the caller's debit card is declined for "insufficient funds."

And then, these Pre-Paid nightmares are often followed by the opposite end of the hierarchy spectrum: Data Plans. Tech savvy subscribers call the phone company sales department and wade through pages and pages of digital gadgets: Blackberries, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), laptops, and smartphones. With each of these devices comes a dizzying litany of megabytes, kilobytes, multi media, and plan options. One can ask/imagine: what type of employee is required to handle this hi-tech information? Let me delicately explain…

If you ever visit one of these corporate call centers, like AT&T, right away you're surprised by how the workforce resembles a typical shift at an inner city McDonalds. A high percentage of reps use "unstandard," substandard, whatever-you-want-to-call-it so-called "English." Ghetto-slang is common here. Many of the reps are in their 20s and appear to have difficulty distinguishing megabytes from kilobytes. It's common for these workers to display low tolerance for getting their minds around digital device data plans.

As mentioned earlier, caller inquiries for the data plans are more difficult to process than a typical cell phone plan. There are more than a dozen different species of Blackberries alone. PDA and laptop options are about as complex as the Space Shuttle console. Almost none of the call center reps have owned and operated any of these fancy gadgets. We are supposed to read manuals and imagine how the printed instructions relate to the seemingly infinite functions on these hand held computers, without ever using the devices. For people who struggle to understand how to start their kitchen toasters, expertise with Treo is a bit of a stretch. How management manages this employee hurdle is exasperating…

The monitoring of our calls by management is extensive during the first week of employment. What AT&T supervisors need to assess is the employee's capacity for conversing in "data babble" - can they sling the lingo of Blackberries fluently enough to sound like they know what their talking about? Somehow, "streaming video bluetooth tethering" clashes naturally with ghetto-slang. So right away we perceive a hurdle that must be overcome. What happens is it seems that reps who can convincingly data-babble will find a disproportionate percentage of these more-difficult customers routed to our sales lines. The ROC easily distinguishes these calls by the 1-800 number menu selection filter that confronts the customer when they call AT&T. Potential customers are prompted by the menu to identify the issue they're calling in about.

All current AT&T subscribers who call in must punch in their cell phone numbers to enter the system, thus instantly feeding the ROC multiple dossiers with which to assess their "purchasing potential" and route these calls to either favored reps (saleable calls) or unfavored reps (who seem expected to sell service to the homeless, institutionally confined, and elderly ladies who dial 1-800 numbers at random looking for anyone to talk to.)

Data devise sales are much less frequent than cell phone sales. Reps who field these data calls sweat through frantic searches of dozens of websites to isolate bits of information about one function or another on the various handsets. During the months I tolerated this AT&T program, I never once heard the ghetto talker sitting across from me field one of these data calls. To have heard him pronounce "teethed Bluetooth GPS interface with infrared compatible data transfer" would have comprised a Helen Keller-type breakthrough, in short, a miracle. Yet it appeared this guy was making dozens of sales per day and taking home several thousand dollars in commission (more than me) each month.

At the same time, my cubicle was a repository for a continual march of calls from the ghettos of America. Rarely during my months at AT&T was I allowed to compile a modest commission. Then the supervisor who seemed to arranged that was summarily fired.

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