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My niece April is a telemarketer in the Philippines. The Urban Dictionary defines a telemarketer as “a heartless cretin making minimum wage whose job involves calling prospective clients to sell them goods or services they don’t want, can’t afford and have no use for.”

 Call center workers in the Philippines

(April’s former co-workers at TeleTech)

A bit harsh? Perhaps. My niece is one of the sweetest Filipinas (aside of my wife) that you’ll ever meet. I don’t consider her a “heartless cretin.” But before she took this new call center job in Iloilo City, my niece had no idea what kind of negative responses she would encounter from her American customers. After two weeks on the job, she does now. 

I knew my niece had a new job. She had resigned from call center giant TeleTech  two months ago.  April, 19, and her twin sister,  Michelle, live with us in our subdivision outside of Iloilo City. They both call me “Dad.” Rest assured, “Dad” was extremely disappointed when he heard the news. My daughter?  A quitter? 

April was giving up a prodigious paycheck.  P12,000 a month. 284 US Dollars.  That’s twice what her sister is making as a cashier at a local SaveMore in Iloilo and Michelle works six days a week. April was only working five.   Plus, my niece had an opportunity to become a full-time employee with the call center after a year.  Michelle has a five month contract. 

April and Michelle

 (April and Michelle modeling the SaveMore uniform)

But why did my niece call it quits with TeleTech?  Jobs are hard to find in the Philippines, let alone one that paid as well as April’s did.  After four weeks of training, April started handling live calls from T-Mobile customers in the United States.  She survived her first week out of training but told her Tita Daday (my wife) it was a demanding, stressful job. 

When I heard about the stress complaint, I tried to coach April:  “Do your best.  Don’t take what your customers say to you personally.  Yes, you’ll encounter some rude customers. And you’ll talk to people that won’t be happy that you’ve taken away a job from an American. But deal with it. And always be polite.” 

April started her second week that next Monday. A few hours later she was already home. She resigned. Negative customer feedback from her first week of taking live calls convinced her she was going to be terminated. Told me that if she did not formally resign, she would not receive her last paycheck. As it is, she still has to wait three months for that last check. Why? “It’s the Philippines” said my wife. 

I was extremely unhappy with my niece’s decision. I felt April should have stuck it out and,  if necessary,  force the call center to fire her.

  • “What reason are you going to give your next employer for quitting?” I asked.  
  • April hesitated for a moment and replied: “I’ll tell them it was for personal reasons.”
  • “Personal reasons?” I said, “that’s not a good answer. I wouldn’t hire someone who gave me a reason like that.” april miss shylent

(April was recognized by TeleTech as “Miss ShyLent.”  She is neither “shy” nor “silent.”)

Several weeks passed by when a former co-worker and friend from TeleTech told April that a company called Avatar was hiring.  I assumed it was a call center job in the Philippines much like  the one she had resigned from.

When I asked April who her customers were going to be in America she told me “everyone.” “Everyone?” I repeated, “how can everyone in America be your customer.”  But I decided to drop it. She was making a whooping 56 pesos per HOUR (1.32 US Dollars.)  I didn’t need to know any more at that time.  She was earning big bucks in the Philippines. 

But my niece has been on the job for two week’s now, so I decided to find out more about the company she works for.

That’s when I discovered she is now a telemarketer. She “pre-qualifies” seniors 62 or over for “Reverse Mortgages.” If the potential custom meets certain criteria, April asks them if they would agree to be transferred to another agent. “A closer?” I asked. “Yes, a closer,” she replied. “Is the closer in the Philippines or America?” I inquired. She did not know. My guess is that the closer is probably in the States.

I told my niece that I’m sure a lot of her customers tell her that they want to be put on her company’s “Do Not Call List.”  I signed up for the “National Do Not Call Registry” when we lived in Central Illinois.  I absolutely hated getting calls from telemarketers during dinner time. She said many of her customers made that request right away.

The calls are all computer-generated.  April has made some successful call transfers to the closer’s and replaced one young man who was terminated after a week. She had been a “reliever,” someone who filled in occasionally, before her former co-worker was let go.   Here are the “three strikes,” written warnings, that will get you fired:

  1. Making a “forced transfer,” sending a call to a closer without the customer’s consent
  2. Sleeping on the job, also called “tardiness”
  3. Violating the “EOP” rule. “English Only Policy.”

Avatar has a large operation in Iloilo City. They have a total of three branches with a total of 500 employees. April’s office has around 200 Filipinos employed. April tells me that the job is just as stressful as the call center job with TeleTech, but she’s going to keep trying and do her best. And isn’t that all a “Dad” can ask of his “daughter.” Even one that’s a telemarketer?

24 thoughts on “April, Telemarketer in the Philippines

  1. April’s new job? No comment… If I got calls like that back in the States I just told them I was “so and so” from the police and the person they trying call had been shot and killed. How did you know this person? Will you come to the police station and make a statement? We just traced your call and have a police car coming to take you away. Who did you pay to kill this person??? You could hear the crying in the background… 😛

  2. Maybe joining the military might have been a better option for April. Free medical, dental, housing, advancement opportunities if she qualifies for officer candidate school, and a military pension when she retires. My dad joined the Philippine military and it opened up a lot of opportunities in his life. He became an officer and was able to travel around the world on goverment missions. Tell April to consider the military as a career choice.

  3. Dave,
    Hopefully April will stick it out and be successful. I can understand how stressful those jobs can be having dealt with the phone calls several times in the past. Just recently had to deal with Travelosity Customer Service on a change to Annes flight to the US. They were in India, could not understand them, they stated they could not solve the problem. Finally had to call Delta Airlines themselves to solve the problem. Goodluck to her and stay safe

  4. Thanks for the story Dave, my sister-in-law is the same age as Michelle & April, she works at a retail store in Zamboanga City. Unlike my wife she didn’t have a college opportunity, so she works long hours for short pay. I set her up with a friend of mine, he made the trip to visit her and although they spent some enjoyable time together, my friend is more interested in an older girl from Manila. Rats!

  5. I did general telemarketing and phone sales for several years from my early to mid 20s. It was hard work and certainly many of the people I called were none too happy. Why did I do it? For the same reason I suspect as April. Compared to other jobs for a young person the money was good. As I got more experience and skill I took jobs with better products and services – ensuring that more customers would listen and I would make more sales. I would never do such a job again but for a young person the money and feeling of accomplishment can be rewarding. Good luck to April!

  6. Dave, at this point I am a little nervous to unleash “Baby Sister” on Cherry Blossom. She is 19 but she hasn’t “fallen off of the pineapple truck” yet, so to speak. The family in Zamboanga has only had electricity for a few years, and being poor, Baby Sister has limited experience out side of the village. The job was a big step for her. So for now, she is only being introduced to guys we know or know of.

    I have still not recovered from our vacation, staying in the village with my wife’s family. I knew they were poor but not “third world poor.” Damn. For this one family though, everything is different now, we are sending more financial support as well as sending a brother to college. I have even bigger plans in mind for the future. I needed a new mission, good timing!

  7. Dave,

    I remember previous posts about this young lady’s difficulties and talk of the military. A few thoughts:

    1. There is economic lying going on today beyond anything I’ve ever seen or heard of, and I have an MBA. The Phil’s deceptive numbers are nothing compared to the US deceptions.

    2. Applause for having her seek an American man. I see parents all over the US still aligned to the frame of mind that everyone can make it big via their own hard work and education. Sorry, that was the Old Normal. It’s never coming back. US kids are wiser not to go to university now. The costs make it suicidal. People have not quite grasped what has happened. Jobs didn’t leave the country. They left the universe. Computers do a lot of jobs now, and that’s never going back to how it was. Therefore, the time honored path for the success of young ladies has reappeared — marry very rich.

    3. The education she should pursue is how to cook spectacular American meals, how to supervise helpers or cooks her foreign husband will employ, where he can get clothes in his size — things in general that further her new career hopes as a rich wife of a rich husband.

  8. Owen, I agree with you about all of the economic rhetoric, it can really cloud ones career path decisions I think. However I still think education is very important, just not the traditional universities in most cases. I think community colleges and even online is the way to go. Just looking at my wife’s extended family in the Philippines I can see the ones with more education opportunities have a better life. Finding a rich husband is to much like winning the lottery, however there are lots of guys whom have decent jobs, add a career minded wife and you have a comfortable family income that makes for a nice life in the US and skimming from the family budget to send to the Philippines although barely noticed to us, is a huge game changer for the family there. Just looking at Dave’s situation, I don’t think he is a wealthy man (if you use money to measure wealth?), but he and his lovely asawa have obviously greatly effected the lives of many family members for a greater good. Seems like they make a great team.
    Dave, fascinating story about your wife and her background. It is amazing to me that people can be so adaptive to go from the “impoverished jungle life” to living in middle classed US and everything your wife has accomplished. Now that is what I call “character development!” hahahaha

  9. I’m going to weigh in more thoroughly here.

    Remember Pride and Prejudice? The early 1800’s novel that gave us a look at what life was like for middle class young ladies in England. “It is a universal truth known to all mothers of marrying age daughters, that a young man of good fortune is in need of a wife.”. This is timeless stuff, guys. Only in the past 40ish years have we (or academe) pushed the idea that marrying rich was distasteful in comparison to “doing your own thing”. One does wonder if academe orchestrated all this to fund their pay raises and six figure pensions.

    My comments here are Phil’s focused. It’s a lot easier for young ladies in the Phil’s to marry rich than for a US young lady. Almost any American in his thirties or early 40s has his life well underway, provided there was no impoverishing divorce along the way. Frankly, that is the only thing that would make an American a bad target for your nieces. That age makes him young enough that he isn’t uncomfortable for them, but old enough to have a career and maybe even plans for a Phil’s retirement.

    Contrast with American young ladies who would not think an insurance estimator is rich. I am often amazed at overheard comment by young ladies about how nice it would be to have a rich boyfriend or husband, but then they get in their car and drive to work at a beauty salon, instead of at the country club’s golf pro shop.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents worth. A rich husband elevates them immediately with high confidence, vs going to college and then working at McDs.

  10. Ok Owen, I am good with that, I suppose my in-laws believe my wife and I (lower middle class in US) are filthy rich, we have a big screen tv, ok house, 2 cars and we can travel to the Philippines each year on vacation.

    As for education, my wife’s BS in nursing from the Philippines was easily accredited to a BS in the USA and accepted by the Oregon Board of Nursing, based on what I have seen the Philippines education system is slightly better than here in the USA, they start earlier and seem to take education much more seriously than we do here. But I will say that none of my wife’s class mates from college are working as nurses in the Philippines, what a waste. I would love to send my kids to the Philippines for college for p19,000 a semester!!! 🙂

  11. Interesting post and the comments are great. Love Gary’s response to the telemarketers. We just got back from a visit to the Philippines. Melyn has a young cousin who graduated with a BSN from one of the more expensive schools there, Cebu Doctors. She makes 10,000 a month as an RN. Anther cousin makes 20,000 a month in a call center for Comcast.

    I have to agree that education brings more opportunity. However, students need to be smart shoppers. When I was last there, everyone was crazy about nursing schools. Now there are so many nurses they now work for nothing. The education craze now seems to be Criminology. One of my wife’s nephews wants to go that route because everybody is doing it.

    In choosing education, a career, or business opportunity, you have to identify a hole in the market that needs to be filled. Going after what everybody else is doing just makes a deeper hole.

    This is why I refuse to fund sari sari stores, piggeries, caregiving, restaurant/hotel management, or fishing nets. I will gladly fund any family member interested in aquaculture, science, technology, engineering, math, or physical therapy. The are where the holes are that need to be filled.

    I read too about the economic growth. I suspect the growth is happening where the are “holes” that need to be filled. This is why it makes sense to me that economic growth is not seen in the local piggeries and sari-sari stores.

    1. I have to agree that working abroad seems to be the only hope for Filipinos. I think the nursing craze was largely fueled by hopes of working abroad. Unfortunately, only about 6% of graduates were able to pass the test required for working abroad. This is why I’m not willing to fund a field of study or a school that does not have a good track record.

      1. These numbers are way up from several years ago. One delightful change I noticed on this trip was the absence of the store front schools and training centers. I had heard there was a crack down on those. It seemed terrible to me that all of these no name schools were taking money people didn’t have for education and training that would get them no where.

  12. Okay, here’s more, and please excuse the doom and gloom, but it all flows how it flows.

    “Growth” is an increase in GDP. The GDP equation is in the wiki. G is a direct addition to it — meaning Government Spending. Spend more, and the equation will give you a headline. It’s not that some independent measure like personal income went up, or some other item like hours worked went up. They may have, or they may decrease. Doesn’t matter. The calculation looks at the gov’t budget that month and adds that spending to other measures, and then the final number is compared to the previous number and a % increase is fed to the media for celebration.

    Oil was $25/barrel (42 gallons is 1 barrel) just 12 yrs ago. The Phils imports nearly every drop, and pays over $100 for every barrel. Oil pretty much defines economic activity. Burn less, you have a weaker economy. That price doesn’t look like it’s poised to drop. There is enormous hype about all the new oil coming out of the ground. There is rather less hype about what it costs to get it out of the ground. $15 million per well in North Dakota, and the ugly secret about that well is that its flow rate falls be 60%in two years. So they drill frantically to maintain or increase flow rate.

    This is not how you get cheap oil. The Phils cannot be vibrant paying $100/barrel, and if the price rises, what little growth they have will be crushed.

  13. GDP = C + I + G + ( X – M )
    Personal Consumption, Investment, Gov’t Spending, Exports and Imports.

    The point I’m trying to make is undercut by their phrasing in that article about infrastructure sector being “the sectors that showed strong growth”. That doesn’t matter. If the G number gets big, GDP goes up, and it doesn’t matter what you did with the G. You could take the pesos out and burn them and it’s still G and increases GDP.

    As for high failure rates, that looks a LOT like what the AMA does for medical schools in the US. If you graduate too many (or let too many into the school) then salaries fall. Supply and demand. The AMA looks out for its membership salaries.

    If you want to know how the Phils are really doing, find a source for the oil consumption. If that rises, then GDP is rising. If it’s not rising, and GDP is said to be rising, someone is lying.

  14. Hi Dave,

    I’ve read some of your posts – very interesting. I am an expat who lives in Iloilo (Savannah) and has worked in the Call Center business for many years in the Philippines (even at your niece’s first place of employment).

    There’s no doubt that jobs in the BPO industry are very stressful for a multitude of reasons (irate CXs, odd hours, difficult metric targets), however, there are some that adjust well and LOVE the “call center life”. The BPO industry in the Philippines is, IMO, helping to drive a creation of the new “middle class” and (unlike the States) is a legitimate career path.

    I wish her well – your advice was the the best, she should NEVER take a call personally, remember that SHE is the professional and it’s just business…next caller please. E-mail me if you’re interested in a deeper insight into the industry – we should write a book 😛

  15. Re: middle class building.

    Recent US articles have titles like “What Happened To Middle Class Jobs — And Why They Are Gone Forever”. Synopsis: Several things, but the one you can control is the choice of job, and when you make that choice think only about one thing — can this job be automated?

    The Robot Will See You Now –Computers were found to be more accurate diagnosing illness than human docs. Eye surgery for LASIK is automated.

    Switchboard operators — “For English, press at say 1. For Spanish, press or say 2” etc.

    Home Depot has self serve barcode checkout now.

    Sorry, guys, but I’d guess there is telemarketing software in development right now. Robots don’t call in sick and don’t sue for whatever slight. I’d venture to guess that just as soon as some semblance of middle class pay unfolds for telemarketing, the robots will become cheaper — even for Phil pay scales.

  16. The amount of lying is mind boggling. The reason seems clear to me — the truth risks upheaval, and the system globally is hanging by a thread. Any significant upheaval will snap that thread.

    I tell young folks that they are living in a terrible time. Unlike other horrible times of the past, there is no path to a bright future. The future is not going to get better. If a youngster wants a better life, the bigger piece of pie sought will be coming from someone else’s slice. The pie isn’t growing anymore. If you want more pie, someone else is going to get less.

    So in that context, if you’re one of the planet’s 60% youth unemployment, you have to do and seek unusual things to find work. If every Philippines teen wants to be a computer tech, and zero want to go to Bagaio to be cold managing a sandwich shop, then go be cold. Don’t do what everyone else is doing, because that will just get your pie slice eaten by someone else. Flee competition. Go be cold and smoggy for a few years to get several years of restaurant management experience on the resume.

  17. Hello Dave: Very interesting article. In the Philippines, as well as the rest of the world, education is very important. During my last trip to the Philippines, I chatted with a Filipina who is teaching math in a high school in Virginia in the U.S. Math and science teachers are needed in the U.S. She was very pleased with her job. She was returning to the Philippines to take her husband to the U.S. He will also be teaching math and science courses. They left their children in the Philippines to continue their studies. Because of their education and patience, I believe that they will prosper. She had a very positive outlook in life.

  18. Hi Dave: In today’s global world, a person has to prepare himself or herself for opportunities. A college degree does not guarantee an individual a good job. On the other hand, I have students who are successful in the fashion industry mainly in management of department stores. Here in the U.S., I also have students who have g.p.a’s of 2.0. These students will graduate with a degree, but have not learned much. These students will not scoop ice cream at McDonald’s, but would rather mooch some more on their parents as one of a friend’s daughter has done. My friend’s daughter has a master’s degree, but is content in living at home and not trying to find a job. I admire the tenacity and hard work of your sister-in-law in her efforts in running a school.

  19. Lots of good stuff here. I am having a similar conversation to this one on Facebook with a bunch of other old IT guys. I think we in technology are now the middle class here. A college degree is certainly no guarantee. I had a Master’s and was in a doctoral program when I realized I was in the wrong field if I wanted to make a living. I dropped post graduate studies and went back for another BS. This time, in Computer Information Systems. I live very well in the USA with that degree behind me.

    You simply have to be a good shopper when selecting a program of study and a school. When looking for a field of study and a school, you have to look at the job market. Don’t look at what everybody else is doing. Look at what will bring you good income. Get that, and you can do whatever you want to do.

    I too see the spoil in those who become dependent. My wife’s brother is hell bent on having a piggery. I told him that is fine but he wasn’t able to show me anyone who is rich from having a piggery.

    I offered to pay his way through school. After a year, he was done because he had gotten so fat and lazy, he wasn’t able to finish. Plus, he made another baby. When we were just there, they had 5 pigs and not much of anything else. I told him if he had stayed in school instead of reproducing, he could afford his pigs. Since he didn’t, we just ate lots of lechon while we were there.

  20. John T.: I have a sister-in-law here in town and she has a piggery and does very well with it. She has the right hired help and people pay top price to get one of her pigs. I wish I made as much money!!!

    Gary in Tagum City

  21. 1. The world has changed. It is pretty likely that most degrees will never repay their tuition required. Recently, Bill Bennett went further than that. He said even the right degree won’t pay for itself unless it comes from a VERY small number of schools.

    2. The number one corollary of The World Has Changed is that our personal experience cannot be used to guide youngsters. I did such and such and I have a good paying job is a zero value statement to youngsters now, because that world no longer exists. This is more true now than perhaps at any time since 1917. THAT is how profound the change has been — oldsters trying to give advice to Moscow teenagers as Lenin was taking over in 1917 … Imagine how worthless that advice was for those 3-4 generations.

    3. I know nothing of pig farms, but I have heard the same inconsistent data before. I think it is a matter of one farm having had a bad pig event, like illness, vs another which has not had that happen to them yet. Sort of like — there are two kinds of pilots in the world, those who have had an engine run rough over water, and those for whom it will soon happen.

    4. A comment in support of the “get a job that pays well and do not care about loving it” approach. Anyone who is good at a job is going to become a manager within a few years anyway, so what’s the point of worrying about loving a job you’ll only do for a year or two?

  22. Hello Dave: Just my two cents worth about your nieces. Job experiences are worth a bundle. They’ll get to know who they are, what career paths are available, and how to manage their lives. This will guide them through any professional development whether vocational or academic. The key is to think about a career path, not just a job. An individual needs to re-invent oneself along the way. If you love your career, you won’t mind the hard work. I have worked in the fashion industry and academia (all in the fashion world) for over 30 years. I have 4 degrees and all related to my career path. I am a tenured university professor in the U.S. and an author for Sterling Publishing Co., Inc in New York. I hold assets in real estate which I personally manage. I have a very busy schedule and work whenever needed (weekends and nights when needed as well). I don’t mind the hard work as I like my career path. As far as youngsters in my field, my advice and references are very sought after. However, I only give assistance to those that I know could do the work, otherwise my references will be of no value to the industry. It is a responsibility that I take seriously.

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