A Day In the Life of an Indian CSR

It’s easy to get frustrated by the Indian CSR on the other end of the phone. Feeding them your problems by telephonic umbilical to a far off, Curry-scented land, they can be alternately obsequious or surly, less than fluent or overly versed in corporate binder CSR jargon. And there’s nothing more insulting than one introduces himself as ‘Joe’ and starts talking about the local baseball team.

So it’s easy to vilify the Indian CSR. But this piece over at the Christian Science Monitor from an American who trained them for over a year paints a rare human side of the strangely lilting foreign voice on the other end of the phone:

Most of these students lived in fear of irate customers. Horror stories circulated from experienced agents back to my students about enraged customers screaming at them, demanding to speak to an American – someone who could “speak English.” I would prepare them for this possibility by having them act out an angry customer berating an agent. They loved these little dramas. One would energetically pretend to be an outraged customer (“What are you doing? Playing computer games!? I’ve been on hold for 45 minutes! Get me an American right NOW!”), and the other “agent” would practice cooling him down.

Teaching the introductory classes was fun, but it was when I began teaching retraining classes that I began to get another perspective about what this job was like for agents.

Retraining classes were for five days and for agents who were getting lots of customer complaints. These agents did a lot of grumbling themselves. I was frequently asked, “How can we empathize with frustrated customers when we are so frustrated ourselves?”

Bad customer service is rarely the sole fault of the CSR: it’s the fault of the company that looks upon customer service as an expense to be minimized at the expense of quality and satisfaction. This is a charming, somewhat heartbreaking look at the extremely intelligent, well-educated people who are employed by companies for pennies on the dollar to take the shaft.

Inside an Indian Call Center: The Big Disconnect [Christian Science Monitor]

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  1. benko29 says:

    good article. it’s nice to see the human side of these things that we moan about all the time; and all too often forget that there actually is a human on the other end of the line.
    it’s a shame that our upbringings in the western world gave us this presupposition that foreign workers are faceless, lifeless beings living in a monotony of work and poverty.
    perhaps the consumerist can help be a beacon for a more empathetic worldview, so maybe one day global equality won’t seem like such an unattainable idea.

  2. The_Truth says:

    It annoys me when people try to humanize the other end of a CSR call. At the end of the day if i have a problem with a company then I want to speak to that company. It doesent matter who the guy is that picks up the phone, he represents the company and therefore is going to be the lucky reciepent of my frustrations.

    The biggest issue here, is that these companies employ these people at super low wages, so that they can effectivly deal with a customers complaints. But how often from all these CSR calls do we hear of anything actually changing company wide? If the companies actually listened to all their screaming mad customers, fixed the issues, then they would not need all of these CSR reps, it would save them a fortune and save the remaining CSR’s the frustrations of having to deal with tons of irate customers.

    So yeah, stop trying to put a ‘human’ face to the issue and instead call these companies out on their absolute disregarde for their customers.

  3. Ran Kailie says:

    I spent my time manning the phone likes for RCN years ago, so I know how bad it can be, so generally I empathize with CSR’s. I get on my mother all the time for complaining about having to deal with “damn foreigners” when she calls for support. Give them a chance, they’re only human.

    Admittedly though if an accent is too thick for me to understand, given I have hearing problems I usually politely ask to be transfered and let them know I have a hearing problem and need someone who doesn’t have a thick accent. Never (thankfully) gotten any static for it.

  4. Madrid says:

    Good idea, Ran. I might use that the next time I get some sleepy, stoner college freshmen on the CSR line.

    CSR: HullowthankyafercallinDellcussumerservis. Howcinayelpyootudai?

    Madrid: Pardon me, but could you please transfer me to a different representative? You see, I have a hearing problem that makes it difficult for me to understand ganja-induced gibberish.

    CSR: wunmomnt…

  5. Amy Alkon000 says:

    “perhaps the consumerist can help be a beacon for a more empathetic worldview, so maybe one day global equality won’t seem like such an unattainable idea.”

    When I spent three hours on the phone on Thursday during my prime writing hours, empathy for non-native-speaking CSR’s in Calcutta wasn’t the first thing on my mind. Finally, after many calls back, I got on the line with a guy in the US who not only knew something, but expressed it in perfect English.

    PS There’s nothing that makes me more furious when I’m on with a CSR than when they read from their scripted apologies. I generally ask them to drop that shit.

    Oh, PS, it seems the problem was never with my computer, but with AOL’s server – some conflict there.

  6. missdona says:

    No empathy from me.

    Yes, the companies should be vilified for taking the work out of the country, but the language barrier is too great in many cases to get efficient customer service.

    For example, my experience with Dell this week left a lot to be desired. It was an hour of holding and transferring before I got someone who could even help me.

    The voice recognition system is so faulty it doesn’t even recognize “yes” and “no”- I get transferred to a CSR who says “You’ve reached the Small Business Department, you need the home department.”…hold..”You’ve reached the Home department, you need the Inspiron Department.” …hold..”You’ve reached the XPS department, you need the Inspiron Department.”

    I’m not apologizing. That just sucks.

  7. ModerateSnark says:

    I recently called to activate a credit card and after the automated system activated it, I was asked to stay on the line. I wondered if it was safe to just hang up, but I thought I’d play it save and stay on the line. I could tell by the accent I was talking to a woman in India.

    She offered me a few free things like changing my statement date, additional cards, etc., then tried to sell me a couple of things like credit protection. I said no to all of it. The experience made me think about two things:

    1) India CSRs must be cheaper than automated systems, or at least the marginal additional sales they can make must justify the cost.

    2) Maybe it is a bad thing that long distance phone costs are now effectively zero.

  8. I was going to post, but I had to wait too long for an available comment form that typed in English.


    It’s a sad state of consumer affairs, but soon, some brand will market “Authentic customer service with 100% Real American operators!”

    And they’re going to own the market on whatever the product is they have.

  9. ValkRaider says:

    I don’t give a rats ass if they are human or if they have bad days.

    This is like trying to forgive the garbage man for having to stink all day…

    What the hell do you think you are going to do when you take a job where people who are ALREADY pissed off BEFORE they call you are calling YOU to get help? You are going to take abuse… PLain and simple.

    I hate over-seas customer service. The simple fact is that if your sole purpose for a job is to COMMUNICATE with the english speaking customer – you should have to speak good english. I get just as frustrated when I go to a fast food restaurant and the counter attendant barely speaks english. Good for them they have work – fine – but why are they in the job that REQUIRES communication?

    I mean if I couldn’t meet the primary function of my job, I would be fired. Why do we give them concessions because they are CSRs? If you can’t communicate with me get off the phone and get someone who can.

    I also can’t help but think that crappy foreign CSRs lead to racist behavior here in the USA. If a person only has annoying CSRs as their only exposure to a culture – then they are going to judge ALL people of that culture the same regardless of if it is warranted or not…