|HER WORLD||Sunday, April 20, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Storming a male
lacklusture without a sister!
For that elusive call, telemarketeers, who are mostly women, are shoved ahead to rummage through irate, moody, wolfish and some Romeoish customers with zest and élan. Such tolerance! It makes us wonder who the proverbial weaker sex is, writes Peeyush Agnihotri
Hasdi ne side mang laayi
Asi sarak hawale keeti
(Smilingly she asked for a pass on the road, enamoured I surrendered the whole highway.)
PROFOUND apologies for starting off with a plagiarised slogan scrawled at the rear of a truck. But why just blame an illiterate truck driver for his ‘creative slogan’ when this is what is happening the world over.
After deploying top models to sell products ranging from lollipops to limousines, the corporate world is now relying heavily on female voices to sell. Yes, thanks largely to high urban teledensity, the nightingale-throated telemarketers are invading homes and offices. And they are producing results.
An example: Women marketers at Nike implemented a dialogue campaign through 800 phone lines to answer customer queries. The men pooh-poohed and then watched in amazement as the sales boomed.
No wonder most call centres, PR agencies and telemarketing companies are hiring women professionals. "It’s more of a trend now. Men like to listen and hear female voice the world over. It strokes them. Women like to hear it because they identify with the voice and are more comfortable with the call. A win-win situation, irrespective of the client’s gender," former CEO of a call centre says.
In customer interaction, women score better than men. "Yes, I agree men tend to listen to women more carefully as women approach with a particular concept. They give a positive comfort level in communication that is pleasing. In public relations, women professionals have the abilities of communication, presentation, understanding, personality, and, above all, feedback analysis. These attributes make them more successful than male counterparts," avers Monita Sharma, vice-president of media relations and client servicing with Mutual PR, a public relation company.
Most men tend to flaunt a king-size ego if they find girls asking for a favour (read please-buy-a- product). Noted anti-feminist author Warren Farrell has been actually quoted as saying "being with engaging young women is like being an alcoholic and seeing drinks all around." For some men a phone call has the same inebriating effect.
"Such calls make a man feel important. It soothes him. That is why the success rate of women telemarketers is high. No doubt, women are kinder, gentler and speak softly but then this ‘female attractiveness card’ should not be played to extract an unfair advantage. This undue exploitation should stop," opines J.M. Jerath, Professor, Department of Psychology, PU.
The very word telemarketer instantly draws jeers and contempt from everyone not associated with the profession. Some call them privacy-invaders while others term them mithi-churi (sugar-coated knife), primarily because sweet voices waste your time and seek your money. Given that 98 per cent of 1.78 million responding to a recent online survey said telemarketing calls made them ‘angry,’ it perhaps makes more sense to have a calming voice as a salesperson.
The foremost reason for a lot of women being employed as telemarketers is because sending a product message across through a woman is an age-old marketing tool, according to Sanjeev Kumar, HRD manager, e3R, a call-centre. "They are good at starting discussions. Their mere presence and the gender-benefit make them clinch a sale-call conveniently. Even if a customer has to say no, he’ll say so politely to a female telemarketer. Sometimes, they play the role of a steam-valve and clients actually start discussing their personal problems on how they have been jobless or how his girlfriend ditched him evincing a oh-so-sorry or never-mind-that’s-how-life-is kind of responses from the agents," the manager says. Consumers see them as a shoulder to lean on.
Most agencies function late till night. Add to it, a guy trying to act fresh on the other end of the line and security issues crop up. Though the agencies and call centres have pick-up-with-doorbells and drop-at-home-door cabs, still the idea of working at the dead of the night is scary. "This is the primary reason why a lot of women do not prefer such kind of jobs in first place. It is a deterrent. Being modern, they may have the courage to face such professional hazards yet chances are their family members may not allow night jobs. I feel people tend to rely on them more as they perceive that a woman telemarketer is less likely to commit a fraud. They enjoy more credibility," says Anuj Mahajan, director, KallDesk, a Chandigarh-based call centre.
Anuj says women have the ESP to know when the situation begins slipping out of hand and then they instantly say goodbye, thank you and hang up. "On the other hand, if the call has a sale potential but the customer is a kind of ‘mushy’, the receiver is promptly handed over to the floor supervisor," he says.
"Why just the outside world. Even offices have some ‘wolfish’ colleagues and there have been instances when agents have been fired on complaints. For women, we hold induction workshops and programmes on dealing with this menace," Sanjeev says. Any woman telemarketer will have interesting anecdotes to narrate on how a few male would-be clients literally freaked out. "One of them dragged on the conversation and then started asking my name, address and whether I was free that evening," discloses a credit-card telemarketer almost suppressing a giggle.
Agrees Abha, Head, Operations, at a call centre, "There was a case wherein a guy on the other end of the line said that he liked the voice and wanted to have the e-mail id etc. of the agent. Such things do keep on happening but the rate of occurrence is just once or twice a week. Maybe less. The advantage is that with such a call coming through a phone’s receiver, the telemarketer can hang up at will," she says.
Then what does a telemarketer do? "Basically it all depends on how you react. It is always better to handle such situation with a very positive frame of mind making things clear during the first interaction. After all, it’s a matter of one’s attitude toward such situation," opines Monita.
According to Private Citizen, Inc., telemarketers place 148 million junk calls a day. In the USA, nearly 100 million Americans (one out of three) purchase goods and services over the phone each year. Paradoxically, though half of the Californians recently polled said interruptions from telemarketers irked them more than sitting in traffic, doing their taxes, or waiting in a queue.
It shouldn’t, however, be forgotten that telemarketing industry for consumer sales is expected to grow 8 per cent annually. The hitch is that behind one call that matures, many go waste. And where is that one call is the question that rankles the mind of the corporate czars.
For that elusive call,
telemarketers, who are mostly women, are shoved ahead to rummage
through irate, moody, wolfish and some Romeoish customers with zest
and `E9lan. Such tolerance. Makes us wonder who the proverbial weaker
Storming a male bastion
CHONIRA Belliappa Muthamma (79), India’s first woman career diplomat in 1949, minces no words while commenting on the system she was once part of when she says, "Corruption is the only trickle-down in our country." Muthamma took the Indian Civil Service Examination in 1948 and joined the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) at a time when most women preferred to be teachers rather than diplomats. At the recent launch of her book, Slain by the System, published by the Viveka Foundation, Muthamma enthralled a distinguished gathering— which included Ramon Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy and former Indian foreign secretary Chokila Iyer—with her wit and charm. She also offered wonderful insights on why the corrupt system does not change.
"Way back when I wrote the articles now compiled in the book, the response was blank, even negative. I was called a lady for causes," says Muthamma, now living a quiet life mostly in Bangalore. Writing on crucial issues of corruption, electoral reforms, foreign policy and the Constitution, Muthamma found most people reluctant to change for the better.
Her biggest clash with the system came when she questioned the Ministry of External Affairs on why she and another woman colleague were deprived of a senior slot, despite adequate qualifications and experience. The Ministry informed them that their performance was not up to the mark but failed to prove so. Muthamma took the Ministry of External Affairs to the Supreme Court in 1979, charging it with discrimination against women officers in the foreign service. The ministry promptly promoted Muthamma and therefore the case got dismissed. But she had made her point and paved the way for women IFS officers to get promoted to Grade I
Though the case was dropped, the judge said that the issue raised by Muthamma was important. Justifiably, Muthamma wrote in her book: "Being the only woman in the service in its formative stage, I was the first to run into every hurdle. my struggles have made life easier for the women who came after me."
Born in 1924, in Coorg, in the southern state of Karnataka, Muthamma graduated from Presidency College, Madras, and applied for the Civil Services soon after. She was third in the merit list. "As long as I was an anonymous number on a question paper, I was consistently on top," remembers the seasoned diplomat. Only when it was revealed that behind the high scoring roll number was a woman, did the trouble begin.
When Muthamma joined the IFS she had to sign an undertaking that she would resign if she got married. The anti-marriage clause was scrapped later; but not before forcing women like Muthamma to make hard choices.
In the beginning, the male-dominated foreign office spoke in one voice of discouragement: "How will she go to the airport in the middle of the night?" was a common poser.
In her tribute to Muthamma, Iyer said the veteran diplomat has been a path-breaker and an inspiration to her juniors. She saluted Muthamma’s courage and determination to fight the system at a time when women were either given unglamorous posts or those that were not wanted by the men.
A tireless campaigner, Muthamma’s book cautions against the cancerous spread of corruption. She feels India’s growth in terms of equality of all citizens, abolition of untouchability, protection to tribals, compulsory universal education and social justice has been dismal. "The daily headlines scream a stark truth; the noble promises enshrined in the Constitution have not been kept."
The recent Gujarat carnage, attacks on Christians, the 1984 riots—where is the equality when minorities are still at risk, asks Muthamma. "Dalits continue to be lynched, the untouchables are forced to eat human waste or drink urine. I am not saying anything new. All of us are aware," says they fiery old woman.
A strong believer in electoral reforms, Muthamma says, " The fact is that there is no democracy. The majority in the Parliament is formed by parties which do not even win half the votes cast."
Muthamma learnt a lot from her postings abroad. She was the Indian Ambassador to Hungary, High Commissioner in Ghana and before retirement was posted to the Netherlands as the Indian ambassador. From 1980 to 1985, she was the Indian member of the Olaf Palme Commission for Disarmament and Security Issues, an independent international commission that presented a report to the UN.
like any optimist, Muthamma believes in the ‘Community of the Concerned’, referring to people who make social change possible. "You find them everywhere—in the bureaucracy, among the judiciary, even among the police."
Life’s lacklusture without a sister!
BOYS who do not have sisters miss out on so much. More often than not, parents are satisfied if they have only sons and no daughters rather than when it is the other way around—that is when there is no son but only daughter(s) in the family. I am not talking about the familiar issue of gender inequality, but of the painful and lonely experience of boys who don’t have any sisters. I too belong to that unfortunate class. Unfortunate, because I feel that a home without a daughter/sister is more likely to prove dysfunctional, with due respect to all such families.
Sisters give a completely different look to the house. I have been dying to see perfumes, skirts, hair-clips, jeans or minis scattered all over sofas, the TV set, the study table or my computer. I wish I could see my sisters fighting over a pair of shoes, the hair-dryer, pulling each other’s hair, and saying all sorts of crazy things about Shah Rukh Khan. I am sure growing up with sisters is an entirely different experience.
There would have been more order in the bedrooms of our house and certainly in our drawing room. I miss the hop-scotch squares on the marbled floor of our courtyard. My lawn could have been more beautiful since it would have been tended to with love and affection and an aesthetic sense. Just imagine the pleasure of hearing your two sisters talking for hours and hours about dresses, diets and boys, sharing secrets. Although I have the sweetest mother in the world, yet I miss the killer coffee in the evening made by an ever-smiling sister. I miss the way she would have asked me to buy her stationery, key rings, chocolates and books. I miss the shared laughter, whispered secrets and suppressed giggles.
I wish I could buy her dresses for marriages and birthday parties. Our ordinary dressing table wears a deserted look. If I had a sister, the dressing table would have been bustling with activity for the better part of the day. My working mother could have been relieved of fatigue because she would have got better support in the busy morning schedule. My father would have given up smoking with stiffer resistance and might have been in better health. Responsibility towards a daughter could have also helped him plan better financially—something he has hardly done now. Of course, I would have been more in the company of girls by virtue of her/their friends. Now, thanks to this disadvantage, I don’t have any girl friends.
In most of the lower as well as upper middle class families, I have seen that there is a certain degree of undefined tension in the ‘only-son(s)’ families. It is also seen that the members of families, which have sisters/daughters are more close-knit and there is greater communication among the members of such families. A sister brings cheers to the family and lends an air of freshness to the atmosphere, irrespective of the fact that she may be very good in studies or just ordinary, whether she goes out partying with friends or prefers to stay at home.
I can sense there is
something incomplete in our home. A male-dominated family is less
likely to have harmony in the house, however financially well-off it
may be. A sister keeps the spirits high and helps maintain peace and
harmony in the house. I wish my parents had the privilege of
performing Kanyadaan—one of the musts on the way to heaven. I
wish I could buy gifts on Raksha Bandhan. I realise that there
are many boys growing up with similar kind of feelings. The pleasures
of growing up with sister(s) are simply amazing. I certainly miss
them. Destiny deprived me of this wonderful experience and forced me
to lead an imbalanced life. A life wherein no way can I make up for
the loss of my growing years. That is why people who have daughters
and sisters should value them for the joy, colour and verve that they
add to their life. Growing up without sisters or daughters is
definitely dull and lacklustre.