Common Call Center Misunderstandings

After calling Indian call centers, many people email us to say “You won’t believe what I just heard!” Most of these problems can be chocked up to cultural differences or inexperienced agents who have yet to master the nuances of conversational English. Our call center tipster explains:

When there’s a problem, it’s usually just a misunderstanding, or a cultural thing. Phrases that are used in India, but not the US, that make a customer think the agent is being rude. Or the agent still in an “Indian customer service mindset”. (When dealing with Indian customers it’s all about getting right to the answer, completely ignoring any attempt to make the call personal. Also, to avoid confrontation. Even if they know something’s gonna take 3 months, they always say ‘2-3 days’ Believe it or not, that’s how people like their service here).

Urine Year-end statements, and the story of “Mr. and Mrs. Hymen,” after the jump…


Their tendency to start every sentence with “you have to” or “you need to” is most likely to offend. I always get on them for saying “May I know your social security number” because it sounds like they’re asking if it’s ok that they’ve memorized it.

Most likely to confuse are simple matters like the mathematical definitions of “into” and “by” being completely opposite, leading to all sorts of confusion. Or simple pronunciation issues, when “year end statement” comes out as “urine statement.” I once heard a 20 minute call where the agent referred to both Mr. and Mrs. Haimon as “Mr. and Mrs. Hymen” nearly 10 times per minute.

— CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

Comments

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  1. Buran says:

    You know, stuff like this is why I wonder why companies think it’s OK to outsource. I have nothing against Indians themselves, not at all (I had a nice one as a college roommate and I haven’t met any bad ones) — BUT — if you cannot properly totally master the mannerisms, culture, and language of the country you work with EVERY DAY, what do you think you are doing doing service for them?

    Americans have every right to demand perfection, especially when the outsourcer itself is an American company and had every chance to hire Americans who would do the job RIGHT and not manage to insult customers. (Not consumers. Customers.)

    Also, I need to add that as someone who is hard of hearing, I don’t care how polite they are if their accent makes trying to deal with them hell. I once tried to order a high-end digital SLR camera from a shop once and it was near impossible to get the Indian call center guy to understand me nor could I understand him.

    I wound up ordering from a small US-based business who had a guy who actually worked right there in the shop take the order information down, and who was friendly and actually had a clue what he was talking about.

  2. Kevin128 says:

    Speaking from exceperience being a in call center management for six years and spending ample time in Indian and Philippine call centers, the majority of agents answering the phones do generally care about what they do and take pride in assisting customers in the US. Many of the agents have dreams of coming to US and often said have a job in which they get to speak with American’s on a daily basis was “the next best thing”. Many offshore/outsource call centers employee only hire and train college educated “locals”, contrast to popular belief, they do not hire any chump of the streets with a pulse…we reserve those positions for overpaid cry baby US based call center agents that take very little pride in helping others. Give the agent on the phone a chance to help…and remember…they are only employees…not CEOs, so cut them slack with you can’t have your tenth late charge waived.

  3. FromThisSoil says:

    Yes, it’s really no surprise that there are lingual barriers between two cultures. That’s why it took me 3 months to get a credit on an item from Dell.

    Also, if there’s one thing I hate it’s when they say “Ok, yes sir, I understand you have a problem and I will help you to solve it” – I know you know I have a problem. If I didn’t have a problem, you wouldn’t have a job.

    I don’t need to hear that 10 times during a phone conversation.

  4. homerjay says:

    I always hate constantly hearing “I apologize for that…”

    Stop apologizing and start DOING. The problem with these call centers is not the language or culture barrier. Its that the reps are unable or not allowed to make decisions and come with absolutely no knowlege of the product or service they represent.

    You can definitely tell when you’re calling into a call center where the reps are empowered to actually help the customer. Apple, for example.

  5. moxytc says:

    When you call Dun & Bradstreet to order an investigation on a company – you get redirected to a call center in India. I’m not going to go into how wrong I think that is (considering how much our yearly contract is with them). My biggest problem is that nearly every single person I’ve spoken with there pronounces Georgia as Geo – gia (with a hard “g” like in gong).

  6. FLConsumer says:

    My largest complaint with the offshore call centers is that the reps aren’t properly trained. This includes cultural / dialect AND product training. I can’t count how many times I’ve had a rep who didn’t understand how their product worked. All they seemed capable of doing was reading through their scripts. If my problem didn’t show up on their scripts, they would just keep reading different scripts or deny that there was even a problem.

    Attention companies: I will intentionally choose companies with US-based call centers over those who send everything offshore. Yes, it DOES matter to your customers and eventually your customers will vote with their $$$ and buy a competitor’s product if they can get good US-based service.

  7. MikeTheKat says:

    After 18 months of dealing with Dell support which is clearly outsourced to anywhere but the US I gave up once they replaced my laptop. I donated it and bought a MAC which does have tech support in the US and Canada at least they know what they are talking about.

    If your going to outsource the company should be held liable to deliver real customer satisfaction not the BS we get on the phone. Oh and drop the fake name stuff, we know your name is not “johnny, Fred, Sally or Sue”.

  8. dragonflight says:

    Devil’s advocate here: I’ve encountered nearly as many untrained call centers in the US as abroad (not going to single out India in the sub-par quality). I appreciate being able to speak the language well, but that only gets me so far when all I want is for you to order me a warranty part for my laptop…

    Often, I also find it more difficult to deal with Americans, because they will be more easily offended if I say that I’ve already done such and such, while you can force an international tech to do things if you are persistant enough.

    just my .02

  9. Xeelee says:

    @Buran:

    So, basically you means it’s okay for a caller to call me all sorts of names simply because I mispronounced your last name.

    Myself I do shoot for perfection but don’t hold it against me for knowing it can never be achieved. If you are not able to work with one agent try with another one either by asking to be transferred or by calling in again. It takes luck to get to a frontline agent who knows what is going on.

    -

    @FromThisSoil:

    You’d be surprised at the number of callers who get stuck in the “explain the problem” mode. Then, when I ask them to actually start solving the problem they get pissed.

    -

    @homerjay:

    You’d be surprised. I rarely apologize >:) and when I do apologize is usually because a previous agent fux0r3d up.

    -

    @moxytc:

    ‘Tis the accent that makes all the difference. Most people can’t seem to understand the word “Texas” unless they’re calling from Texas :)

    If the same agent keeps making the same mistakes even after getting feedback from either the caller or QA it is going to be the agent’s fault for not wanting to learn and get better.
    -

    @FLConsumer:

    I’m sure you’re right when you say most companies pass up on training. Myself I had to go through a month of training before I even got near a phone. Then it was two weeks of live calls before being called a “Level 2 Tech Support Agent”. If I move up to another position I have to do more training.

    A month of training and my first ever call was from a customer who wanted to cancel :(

  10. missdona says:

    @homerjay:

    That apology thing burns me up too., I usually tell them, after the first few apologies that I don’t want to hear apologizes.

  11. kerry says:

    I’ve had some extremely helpful Indian call center agents, and bad ones from the same company. I had a nightmare experience with my phone when I first signed up for T-Mobile, and after many unhelpful agents I found one who not only understood my problem, but worked very hard to find a solution. It took nearly an hour on the phone with him to get everything working, but we did get it working and I’m glad for the service I got from him, regardless of where he was located.
    It’s just like anywhere else in that regard, the level of training and experience the agents receive will determine how well they can help a customer. I, too, get annoyed by some of the lines they’re required to read, but I’ve had American reps with similarly annoying required phrases, it’s unavoidable. I don’t love that jobs are being sent overseas when they could be filled well by American workers, but I don’t begrudge the folks in India who are making good money at a job that is clearly in demand. Hooray for capitalism and globalization. Plus, how often can you chat about the weather with someone halfway around the world?

  12. lizzybee says:

    It’s interesting to me to read about the “linguistic barrier” many Americans have in dealing with offshore call centers. I never really thought of the Indian accent as being that unusual, since I live under 20 miles from the Silicon Valley, and at least a third of the people I speak to on a daily basis are from India or Pakistan. So, for me to hear someone from India on the line when I call a business doesn’t faze me in the slightest. My own experience with Indian call centers has varied hugely from company to company: I’ve had horrid service from Tigerdirect.com (CSR had no training and no authority to do anything) and really great service from Linksys (ended up joking around a bit with the CSR– he told me, “It’s been a real pleasure working with you!”). In all cases, though, the CSR was just fine, and trying to do his or her job as best (s)he could with what limited training/resources the company gave him/her.

    Strangely, though, they all started out defensive when I got on the line with them, and seemed to ease up considerably when I actually *listened* to what they had to say and gave them the information they requested without complaining. If the kind of venom I’ve seen, for example, on that XM radio youtube video is at all emblematic of what these CSRs have to deal with on a minute-by-minute basis, I can’t say I blame them. Try a little sympathy and empathy when you get on the line with a CSR. I can guarantee that you’ll get much better service, or at least a CSR who will be a bit more open with you about what they can/cannot do for you.

  13. mantari says:

    @Buran: Sadly, I’ve been there myself. I’m slightly hearing impaired, and when the accent is really strange (even worse when the speech is fast), I can’t make out a word that the other person is saying. I apologize, ask them to repeat. When that doesn’t work, I apologize, and see if I can’t get someone to tell me what they’re saying. It sucks.

  14. feralparakeet says:

    You forgot to mention that a great number of them also can’t spell, and that can cause problems. It took AmEx three tries to get my last name right on a corporate card I had, even after spelling it out and verifying it over and over again. Some companies don’t like to let you use credit cards if the names aren’t exactly the same, ya know.

    Bonus: the first misspelled card was issued after we’d sent in a form to request a card for me, complete with my name spelled out in those annoying little blocks.

  15. Buran says:

    @dragonflight: If someone gets offended because you tell them that you’ve already done something, that’s their own problem. The correct answer to “I’ve already done that” isn’t getting pissed off and forcing the caller to do it all over again; it’s “Okay, so you did (x) and you got (y)? Okay, that means we now need to try (z).”

    Don’t blame yourself for people who can’t deal with the fact that the customer might be intelligent enough to try something on their own and isn’t a blithering idiot.

  16. Slytherin says:

    I always asked to get transferred back to a U.S. call center as soon as I hear the accent. It works.

  17. Buran says:

    @mantari: Yeah. Which is why I really prefer online ordering. Sadly, the camera I was buying (Nikon D200) was in short supply at the time (and may still be; I’m not sure) and the place I usually order from, which does do 100% online ordering, no phone required, was out of stock.

    I later got the 18-200mm lens for it (replacing another lens I already had) from a local shop by faxing in my request, then being able to look at the clerk in the store and partially lipread and partially ask them to speak up a bit if they were too quiet for me to hear, or slow down if they were speaking too fast. The clerk saw my hearing aid and caught on immediately. Not much chance of THAT happening over an international phone connection!

    While I can cope with in-person discussions if they’re one-on-one and there’s no difficult accents, and I can sometimes handle phone conversations (though that can be hard) I really canNOT handle Indian accents. Any company that forces me on an Indian rep to do business with them just gets me to go to a competitor who will let me email them or at least uses US reps.

  18. gibbersome says:

    Lets all be fair here. Obviously half of are angry that Indian call centers are more frustrating to deal with than American. Like someone already mentioned, there are good and bad reps everywhere, I’ve personally talked with some great representatives from Orbtiz who’ve been polite and courteous, while their American counterparts have been impatient and irritable.

    Lets be honest, alot of people here are biased against outsourcing and generally pissed off that good American jobs are being exported overseas. Hey if a guy in India can do the same as a guy in America for a tenth of the cost, can you blame the multinational coorporations for hiring them? The ideal mix would be a combination of the two.

  19. Buran says:

    @Xeelee: No, I never said that. Where’d that come from?

  20. samftla says:

    I attempted numerous times to deal with Delta Airlines call center in India. I do not blame them for being from India, I blame Delta for contracting with a company that either was given no direction from Delta as to the training required or the company just did not train the CSR’s properly. Whatever the reason it is obvious Delta did not or does not undertake any quality assurance. I gave up when an agent quoted me an upgradeable coach fare that was more than the Business Class fare. When I indicated that she might need to verify her information she told me “I do not make the prices so call Delta.” And I thought I had called Delta.

    Delta maybe saving money but having been a Platinum Medallion level flyer with them they lost me as a customer.

  21. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I prefer to do business with companies that have excellent self-service account management tools through their website. Those 1-800 numbers should be for customers that don’t want to or can’t access a computer and/or the internet.

  22. @Xeelee: I think I know where you work because we proabably work at the same place. I am basing this assumption on your statements. Same amount of training, same job title, everything. Small world isnt it?

  23. peachkellipop says:

    All I know is when one the reps says their name is “Randy,” I want to say, “No, it isn’t.”

    I have had such bad luck, that I am automatically on defense mode when I realize a call I’ve made has been routed to India. Why? a)I can never get the folks to steer off their scripts b)I have crummy hearing and will often politely ask them to slow down for me, speed & different dialect=I can’t understand a fucking thing and that leads me to c)They don’t listen. I’ve had to repeat 1 simple query 5 times with a BellSouth rep, because they wouldn’t steer from their script.

  24. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Speaking of which I think car companies need to sell cars directly to consumers, just like you can buy a computer off the internet. The showrooms should be corporate-owned and NOT franchised. Seriously, reading those car dealer stories, I still wonder why they still franchise car dealerships. Anyway um Apple’s customer service is pretty good…but I can’t say the same for HP’s customer service. First of all, the HP guys are in India, and their hold music is crap….you’d think those little things are important. But apparently not…

  25. Xeelee says:

    @Slytherin:

    Just be careful with that tactic. Some companies do not have any US-based agents. In such cases you might want to get a supervisor but even then it’s not a sure shot.

    @Buran:

    That’s the way it reads. But then most of the comments about accents and language barriers have the implicit feeling that we outsourced agents are the bane of the american workplace.

    -

    @Holden Caulfield:

    We might be working at the same place… but that’s why I didn’t mention the name. Knowing management they’d have both our butts grilled :D

    -

    @jessicao:

    You try doing that and you’ll annoy the agent to no end. We’re not here to make your life a living hell, we’re here to help you obtain a solution. Just like lizzybee said, actually working and listening to each other helps you get that solution with less pain.

    -

    Myself I have gone through the same situations kerry has gone through. It will be the same situation whether it’s an American or Indian worker – wait a few years, all call centers will be in China – who answers the call.

    Most of the time having a good experience comes down to the agent. Nevermind that most of the time we’re got no authority, we don’t know what’s going on or we can’t understand what’s being said. If the agent tries to do a good job you will have a good experience whatever the outcome.

    If the agent doesn’t try or actually makes it harder to reach a solution… well, that’s why we’ve got the consumerist right?

  26. kuipo says:

    @Xeelee: i can almost bet we work at the same place dud!

    H

    T

    C

    ?

  27. roche says:

    That guy on the right looking at the camera is up to no good.

    Trust me……

  28. crankymediaguy says:

    “Hey if a guy in India can do the same as a guy in America for a tenth of the cost, can you blame the multinational coorporations for hiring them?”

    Can the multinational corporations blame me if I realize that they’re destroying the middle class in this country via their actions and I take my money to companies that actually care about America?

  29. bellhalla says:

    I think you meant “chalked up” instead of “chocked up”

  30. Xeelee says:

    @kuipo:

    Nope, I work doing DSL tech support for Vz for grandpa Slim, used to go by the name of GTS ;)

  31. @gibbersome: “Like someone already mentioned, there are good and bad reps everywhere … Lets be honest, alot of people here are biased against outsourcing and generally pissed off that good American jobs are being exported overseas.”

    It’s true that there are good reps and bad reps everywhere. It’s also true that the truly fluent English-language speakers in India were snapped up right at the start of outsourcing, and that many call centers are staffed by people with questionable English-language skills.

    For those of us with even minor hearing impairments, telephone conversations can be difficult at best. When that is combined with an accent, it’s excruciating. And that’s not because I’m pissed about outsourcing — I can’t even understand one of my inlaws on the phone because of his accent, so we have to e-mail.

    When I talk to foreign call centers, regardless of accent, it’s horrific. I can never understand what’s being said, and because it’s scripted, it’s rattled off at a high rate of speed, and because the language cadences are different in English and their native tongue, I don’t even get “tone” clues that I get from native English speakers.

    The only time I get truly pissed about the “outsourcing” part of the issue is when my local phone company makes me talk to someone in India and be escalated THREE TIMES before I can talk to the local office (and you must talk to the local office for this problem) WHEN THE LINE HAS BECOME PHYSICALLY DETACHED FROM MY HOUSE. Look, dude, when you’re an ocean away, there’s not a DAMNED DIAGNOSTIC you can run that’s going to reattach the line! But they make you go through the entire rigamarole before they’ll put you on to the local office that sends out the repair dude. It’s a nightmare.

    It also makes me feel like they think I’m lying. “WHat is the problem?” “The line is physically detached from my house.” “Can you hear a dial tone when you pick up the phone?” “No. The line is physically detached from my house. Obviously there is no dial tone.” “Please check the phone jack. Is your telephone properly plugged in?” “YES. BUT IT STILL WON’T WORK BECAUSE THE LINE IS PHYSICALLY DETACHED FROM MY HOUSE.”

    SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE!

  32. seanh012 says:

    @jessicao:

    I think the script thing is what pisses me off the most about getting an indian call center. You carefully explain all the steps you have taken to prove that the DSL modem is bad, you yourself do this kind of thing for a living and you would think they’d be grateful that you can jump right to the point.

    Instead, what you get as a reply after 10 minutes of explaining all this:

    “Please click on Control Panel…”

    Look motherf!@#, I’ve already gone 15 steps past this, and the results were x,y,z..

    “Please click on Control Panel…”

    AAAAAARG! *click*, call SBC back and this time randomly get routed to an american call center, and the lady immediately grasps what you’re after.

  33. QuirkyRachel says:

    I actually sometimes call these places for my parents because they are both hearing impaired. An accent like that is nearly impossible for them to understand!

  34. Karmakin says:

    The problem you guys mentioned, are strictly the fault of QA methods, seanh and eybrows.

    In fact, I’d argue that most of the complaints about overseas centers (with the exception of communications difficulties), in no small part come down to QA requirements.

    In these places, agents are REQUIRED to follow the script part for part. Personal expertise is nothing. We have our practices, you follow them or we’ll find someone who will. This would not change no matter where the center is located. This would not change if the customer service/technical support were in-house. (In fact, I suspect it would be worse). This is simply companies believing that predictable and by-the-book service is better than the good agent/bad agent lottery.

    (My experience is that even a bad empowered agent is better experience for the customer than a disempowered agent)

    Yeah I’ve been doing tech support for more than 5 years. Outsourcing isn’t bad in and of itself. After a while, you either burn yourself out or you start drinking the kool-aid for the client a bit too much. When that happens you get things like the famous AOL call. So you and your team who you’re experienced with working with and building up knowledge for new contracts sticks together more or less. Even overseas, in the US and Canada, there really isn’t the labor infrastructure to do huge queues, and it can work if the company knows what they are doing.

    Most don’t.

  35. @seanh012: That’s when I just put them on speakerphone, do something entertaining, and periodically lie:

    “Okay, I’ve rebooted, now what?”
    “Okay, I’ve disconnected all the cables and plugged everything back in, now what?”

    Waiting the 90 seconds or so for the “reboot” so that you’re convincing is the trickiest part.

  36. phrygian says:

    There are definite issues between Indian English and American English. It can cause frustration on both ends of the phone.

    One of the things I’ve learned (dealing with outsourced developers in India) is never to ask if they “know” something. The answer will always be “yes,” as long as they’ve ever *heard* of the thing I asked about. If I ask a DBA, “Do you know Oracle databases” — 9 times out of 10 an answer of “yes” means that the person is *aware* of Oracle databases, not that s/he has that skillset.

    However, what I think irks Americans the most about off-shored call centers is not the language barrier — it’s that the agents can’t help them. Most people would suffer through a thick accent, if they were getting resolution for their issues. The language barrier and loss of local jobs just become icing on the cake when you’re frustrated at not being helped.

  37. swalve says:

    I think the problem is outsourcing in general, whether it’s India, Haiti, or Alabama. When the people answering the phone don’t work for the company, they have no vested interest in customer service, they only need to meet their metrics. Their job is to follow the script and get you off of the phone. I suspect that for some companies, Tier I support is simply a tool to weed out the less motivated complainers.

  38. matukonyc says:

    When conversations are completely verbal (as are telephone conversations), the ability to communicate effectively in any given using language is the only way to solve problems.

    Hiring people who do not speak English as a first language means that no conversation is nuanced, which puts tremendous pressure on the person with the problem and almost negates the whole point of customer service, since the person who needs help ends up doing most of the “work.”

  39. silenuswise says:

    Good comments, swalve and matukonyc. To add my personal experience, I can remember perfectly the reduction in service quality I received when Dell began outsourcing to India (and other locations). It’s funny, because I wasn’t aware of the change before calling, and I had always had superb experiences with Dell prior to this. Well, it took probably ten calls, dealing with unorganized and confused tech support people, and even then I had to solve the problem on my own.

    As far as the language barrier is concerned, there is absolutely no excuse for employing agents who have a sub-par grasp of the language of their customers. If companies are going to profit drastically from dirt-cheap labor, they had better be absolutely sure they spend a few pennies extra to find and train agents with superb language skills. Think of it this way: language is the tool most crucial for tech support, so how is it defensible to not offer the proper tools to perform a job? It’s like giving me a pair of scissors to build a bookshelf–absurd.

    Are you listening, companies? Fail to effectively support your customers, and you will indeed lose them.

  40. FLConsumer says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Your experience wouldn’t happen to be with Verizon by chance? I’ve had this experience with them EVERY SINGLE time I’ve had to speak with them.

    The worst was when my DSL line went down… The connection between me & the DSLAM was fine (should be, the DSLAM’s 200 feet away from me), the DSLAM responded, but nothing outside of it. So I call up Verizon DSL’s tech support, wrestle with the brain-dead voice mis-recognition system to get to tech support, then hit an offshore tech. I tried to explain the problem to the tech who had no idea what I was talking about. “Sir, if your modem light is on, then your service works” is all he could babble in his thick accent. Finally I convinced him to run a line test on his end…and sure enough, they weren’t able to reach the modem, *BUT* since the LED on the modem was on, my service works fine… fast forward 90 MINUTES of being transferred multiple times with the same frustrating response from the reps and one of them finally starts to poke around on their system. Well, how ’bout that, there’s a “scheduled maintenance event” in my area. What?!? You mean I just wasted 90 minutes of my time (and their reps time) because of scheduled maintenance and it took them 90 minutes to figure that out?!? I fired off a snail-mail letter to Verizon’s HQ…but never heard back from them. No doubt that the letter was sent to an off-shore support center who looked at the steps the reps took and probably came to the same conclusion — if the LED is lit, everything is fine.

    Another “fun” situation with Verizon DSL was trying to get them to understand that the DSL signal was waaaay too strong when they first installed it here, due to the close proximity of the DSLAM. This was totally outside of any script they had. After fighting off-shore techs for 2 weeks, I finally called up Verizon Billing and vented over there. Rather than process the cancel request immediately, the billing rep put me on hold and placed a few phone calls. Within 3 hours there was a local line tech out there who was able to take care of the problem. I should have kept track of how many hours I wasted on that problem too.

    @phrygian: At this point, offshore reps have a bad reputation. The accent is a bad omen when you reach a rep. It’s just one of those things… after waiting up to 30 minutes then you get “Thaaank uuu fur cawing Wonridge Teknicall Suppot. My name es David.” First thought in my mind, “oh shit…this is going to be fun…” the next is, “David my ass. More likely is Dinesh or Divyesh, but definitely not David.

    I DO think offshore support can work, but not in the present form. 1) Train your employees in English. First and foremost. If your customers can’t understand your reps, the calls will take longer, and problems won’t get resolved and you’re not saving anything, but are losing customers. 2) Train your reps on the product, not just what you think they need to know, but truly give them an understanding of how it works. Hell, do what the better companies in the USA often do — give the rep their own products to play with and use. Then they’ll see things as a customer and will be better suited at helping customers efficiently. In its present form, offshore tech support is a waste of customer’s time AND companies’ money.

    One other note, Dell’s enterprise-level support is based in Texas. No phone trees, no offshore techs, just reali live Texans who answer the phone on the first or second ring. NEVER buy a computer from Dell as a “Home / Home Office user”. Skip over to Small Business. Better quality products too.

  41. othium says:

    @seanh012: You really summed up most of my bad experiences with outsourced call centers with this post. As soon as I read it I thought, “THAT is exactly what I dislike about the service!!” Calling Comcast is about the same. One time in 50 you get a tech that is willing to listen to you and go off the script. Sometimes I have my buddy from downstairs play act as me and ask the questions due to him having worked with computer networks in the past. They speak the same lingo and get along like a house on fire. (Although it ends up taking twice as long because they will frequently jabber way too long about things not related to the current technical issue we originally called about.)

    Good post.

  42. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    I must admit that I always cringe a little when I hear an Indian customer service rep pick up because I’m afraid of language barriers, etc. However, in my experience, they aren’t that much worse than customer service reps based in the US since the only people who do customer service in America hate their job and hate you. At least that’s been my experience with American customer reps for PayPal, BofA, MBNA, etc.

    The only good customer service I’ve ever dealt with was AAA. I was kind of shocked when the rep was extremely polite, nice, answered my questions and resolved my issues without trying to sell me anything.

  43. star_ says:

    I think many Americans have a share in the communication issues. Some people, especially people who have mostly lived in the same area most of their lives shut down as soon as they hear something foreign to them. They don’t even try to listen. A mild form of xenophobia. I’ve noticed that people who move around or travel often don’t have this problem.

    I’ve never had a problem with India CSRs. Yes, sometimes I really have to listen to what they’re saying, but not much more than with some American dialects. I take 100+ calls a week from all kinds of people so I’m partly going from that experience.

    As far as the “personal” part of American CSRs, I prefer to deal with a straight to the point India-based when I’m seeking a resolution or dealing with an account. I don’t need small talk from a CSR and would rather they didn’t waste time with it.

    One of my best CSR experiences recently was HP India based. They exceeded my expectations and it only took minutes.

    My worst recent experience was BOA America based CSRs. Multiple calls over the course of 90 days for a very simple matter.

  44. shamrin says:

    I work for an Indian call centre near New Delhi. We provide DSL tech support for a large ISP in the UK. First I have to say, as a consumer, I’ve had the many or all of the problems people have sited here. However, I think there is room to distinguish between good outsourced support and bad. If you get an agent whose English is suspect or who doesn’t understand local US or UK expressions then they’ve had crap training. We do a significant amount of language training to localise references to our UK clients and our US ones (the training is different for the two).

    FWIW, as it turns out the job is a lot tougher than you would imagine. Our techs have access to around 20 systems including billing, operational and technical systems. Still, they are limited by our client (for good reason I think) in what they can do, for example they can issue refunds or credits on the spot, but the limits are pretty low. Imagine if you gave 1000 reps spread across 3 continents unlimited ability to issue refunds what financial chaos you would eventually get into.

    Our clients are genuinely concerned about quality, they measure us on it and we run our own independent quality initiatives, calling back customers who appear to be having recurring problems. None of this is to be an apologist for some of the horrendously bad treatment people have received. But I think there may be practical limits to what can be done on a mass scale.

  45. ikimashokie says:

    @Kevin128:

    It’s like when you call, and they say “please bear with me”… Almost every company I call that outsources, the guy will say “please bear with me”.

    On a separate note, best call ever: I was talking to HP support about why my warranty hadn’t been registered, even though it was showing up on their site as associated with my computer, and vice versa. They tried to tell me I didn’t register it, even though the site showed the date I registered it. Go figure.

    I was talking to one guy, who was exceedingly rude, and was yelling at me that I needed to find an order “number” that began with “atch” (like watch). The only “order number” I had began with a ‘0’, so I read it to him, thinking that maybe “atch” was a mispronunciation of “naught,” and he yells at me like I’m a stupid child “I SAID ‘ATCH’!!!”. Eventually I found the number, turns out it was on a sheet of paper I’d left somewhere else, and the lovely agent wasn’t kind enough to tell me that it was on that sheet of paper… just that the number started with “atch.” (“atch” = ‘H’)

  46. Go Like Hell Machine says:


    A little late to the discussion, but like a previous poster, I’ve worked in the call center industry for several years, and launched call centers both domestically and internationally as both a FTE and a consultant.

    One of the largest problems in the call center industry (a number of posters have mentioned this) is the lack of training. In general, US-based companies don’t recognize a need for extensive, hands’-on training. When balancing the books, training looks like an expensive, fruitless endeavor – it’s difficult to point out the long-term benefits of more and better training in a financial sense. Companies are also realizing that, much of the time, excellent customer service doesn’t necessarily translate to better business figures. With a couple notable exceptions, you really have very little brand loyalty in the market – at least in the markets I’ve worked in (home electronics/computers, telecommunications).

    A final thing to consider is that, anymore, moving agents offshore isn’t just a financial decision. I work for a company now who contracts to the PH and Panama, and we do so because it’s A: Financially sound and B: Better service. US agents truly are a complaining, lazy group of workers (as a general rule – of course there are outstanding exceptions). This goes even for Apple, who I’ve also done a bit of work for. It stands to reason that if your customer service isn’t going to keep your customer on-board ANYWAY, why would you want to pay more for it?