Don’t Call Us…

WARNING! This is a rant, and an off-topic rant for TPD. Read at your own risk!

Okay. I’m a good liberal. A progressive, even. I’m “PC” in that I believe one should err on the side of politeness and respect. I think globalization is inevitable, and I heart immigrants.

I’m a multi-cultural kinda gal, you know?

But as the Animating Spirit of the Universe is my witness…



It’s a combination of things. Poor language skills, lousy phone lines, and a lack of cultural fluency that generally turns what should be simple transactions into bizarre and frustrating parallel monologues, often compounded by the fact that “Justin” and “Sophie” are reading from canned scripts that only sometimes match the situation you’ve called about.

I once refinanced my mortgage because the bank I’d been using outsourced their customer service overseas. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not comfortable discussing my property taxes with someone in Bangalore who I’m not sure understands what I’m trying to do and what I need.

Two recent examples.

I wanted to bundle my phone and internet service and keep both my old phone number and my email address. My email provider said they could do that and save me something like seventy bucks a month. What’s not to like?

Well, for starters, there would be suddenly not being able to receive calls and getting a robot “Extension (your phone number here) is not available” message if you tried to call me. My service had been switched without warning, but only halfway.

I spent about two hours on the phone trying to straighten this out, to a call center that I’m guessing was in India.

The first representative told me that my phone service had been switched, but not my DSL, and that according to their IT engineers, they had to be switched at the same time. Therefore, my options were:

1. Change my phone number.
2. Switch my service back to my original provider, and then put the order in all over again, and make the switch in 4-6 weeks.

My response was: “Unacceptable. I am not changing my phone number. Unacceptable. I don’t know how long it will take for my current provider to make the switch. Unbelievable. I don’t understand why the voice and DSL can’t be switched at separate times.” And, further: “You created this problem, not me. I am your customer. You are not giving me confidence in your service. You need to fix the problem for me.”

Her response boiled down to: “I am very sorry for the inconvenience.” Repeat ad infinitum.

After going around and around, even getting on the phone with my old service provider and confirming that I couldn’t even talk to anyone until Monday, and it would be a new order, I finally said: “I realize this isn’t your fault, but I want to speak to a supervisor.”

More time on hold to the canned strains of Vivald’s 4 Seasons. Eventually, a supervisor “Vivian,” came on the line.

Now here’s where I make an exception to my loathing of overseas call-centers. Vivian was really good. She explained the situation, what had actually happened (I won’t bore you with the details) and that the DSL switch was scheduled for January 15th.

“Ah-HAH! So you CAN switch them at different times. I knew it!”

So I asked if there was any way to access the voice mailbox and change the message to let people know that my phone was wonky and to call me on my cell. She thought maybe that could be done. She also said that she could have my calls forwarded from my land-line to my cell phone until the problem was fixed.

We couldn’t change the voicemail message, but Option #2 worked like a charm.

Credit where credit is due – Vivian, wherever you are, you rock!

But apparently, that’s why she’s a supervisor, and it took two hours of my time to find her and get some help.

Here’s another example. This just happened tonight. I was booking my plane ticket to Beijing on the internet. I got a great fare, on sale. The sale lasted through Jan. 9. I selected the flight, the seats, clicked to purchase, and all of the sudden, my ticket was $100.00 more.

This cannot be, said I. I refused to accept it. I called the airline.

Somewhere in Bangalore, “Jonathan” took my call.

“Maybe the fare is over,” he suggested.

“No,” I insisted. “It was $667.00 when I chose it and selected my seats, just now. Then I went to purchase, and it was $775. The sale goes through January 9. It is still January 9 where I am.”

“You have to call web support. I cannot see the information. I will transfer you.”

After sitting on hold for ten minutes or so, I decided Jonathan’s solution was b.s., hung up and called Reservations again.

This time I got someone in the States. She was extremely helpful. She looked up the flight and said, “Oh. That should be $667.00. I don’t understand what the problem on the web was, but I can book it for you.”

The whole transaction took maybe ten minutes, and it only took that long because I was so pathetically grateful to deal with someone who could actually help me achieve my desired outcome, and I told her so.

“I’m not really allowed to say anything negative,” she told me, after hearing my tale of woe. “But we hear this all the time. And I’m just sorry you had to go through that.”

Let me be clear about this – I blame American companies who think they are saving money by outsourcing customer service overseas. Maybe they are saving personnel costs, but they are costing me, their customer, time and a considerable amount of goodwill, and they are creating aggravation and anger at a level that has prompted me to change whom I do business with. Oh yeah, Capital One. I’m talking about you! Citibank, you too!

One more.

I was trying to find a business I’d used in the past in my area. The number on the web now belongs to a private individual. So I called information to see if I could find an updated one.

I got an operator in freakin’ India.

“There is no listing for this business in…(“hiss!” “crackle!”) Santa Monica.”

Here’s the thing: back in the day, if you called an operator, they frequently were people who lived in your area. They might even know something about the business you were trying to find. They were local! Neighbors!

Okay. I know that there’s a price to be paid for a 24 hour world. I was dealing with my phone problems on a Friday night, from 9 PM until after 11. Maybe in the Olden Days I just would have been S.O.L. until more normal business hours.

But it’s like I said to the second airline customer service representative. I expect language barriers when I travel overseas. That’s part of the package. And if I don’t understand what’s going on, that’s pretty much my problem.

But when I’m sitting on my couch in Los Angeles, California, trying to get some help with whatever it is I’m dealing with, I want to deal with someone who is at least on my continent.


Okay, since this is an off-topic rant for TPD, feel free to use the comments as a space to vent about your customer service frustrations of any and all sorts.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

“Okay. I know that there’s a price to be paid for a 24 hour world. I was dealing with my phone problems on a Friday night, from 9 PM until after 11. Maybe in the Olden Days I just would have been S.O.L. until more normal business hours.”

Good point, whenever I think if overseas call centers I think of complications, lost jobs and all the other bad stuff people think of, but I never thought of the good it does me (however I think a lot about how much good it does for the company and that extra money they’ll be making — but that counts as negative); potential 24/7 business hours is great.

So why not merge the two? During normal business hours, have your own call center, staffed by your own people, that you can make sure are what you want, and then as a convenience, have an overseas call-center exactly half-way around the world so you can talk to them during their business hours too. Sure you will still have complications like you did before, but only during off hours, and the convenience of being able to call someone to help you with your problem at an off time should balance the things out. Plus the people in the over-seas call center don’t have to be working at strange hours of the night to deal with someone in America during the middle of the day.

Sounds like a reasonable solution to a reasonable rant πŸ˜‰

January 10, 2007 @ 6:43 pm | Comment

Outsourced call centers are mere Child’s play vs. the domestic call centers of Chinese bank. Especially when they have to find the one person in the building who speaks english even though they advertise that its a bi-lingual call service….or when they say that they will call you back for your problem but htey never do. Yea ICBC,.i’m talking about you. Yea you.

January 10, 2007 @ 7:45 pm | Comment

@ Darin:

I think you are missing the point: the reason why the call centers are located in India now is because of the lower costs. Making a mix of a local and an overseas call center to guarantee 24/7 service would make that argument (at least partly) obsolete again for the companies who outsourced their activities to Asia and with ever increased competition, I don’t know if the service argument is going to be powerful enough to change that.

@ Lisa:

Just one word: WOW !!

January 10, 2007 @ 7:48 pm | Comment

“I think you are missing the point: the reason why the call centers are located in India now is because of the lower costs. ”

No no, I think I got it just fine πŸ™‚

“how much good it does for the company and that extra money they’ll be making — but that counts as negative”

But I care about me, the customer, not the rich executive he can charter a jet to India to fix his phone service while Lisa has to wait on hold.

January 10, 2007 @ 8:40 pm | Comment

At least with the Indians you can understand what the hell they’re saying, as their English is good – unless you guys get the dregs.

Try understanding a Scotsman with a thick accent.


January 10, 2007 @ 8:53 pm | Comment

Get with it. Say I called earlier and they told me if I needed to call back I should ask for level II.

January 10, 2007 @ 11:57 pm | Comment

CLB, that actually is my new strategy. The level II people are seem good. But the hold time isn’t pretty. And I’ve had so many bad experiences with “Level 1” that I have to wonder who they are actually capable of helping.

As for the airlines, I think that you can just ask to be connected to someone in the the States, though I lucked out when I called back.

But that doesn’t eliminate gems like: the sales guy (off-shore) from Capital One who actually argued with me, with great hostility, when I refused to purchase their protection plan. It was like getting hit up by the mob. And it wasn’t just this guy (or he was a very productive caller) – a woman in my office had the same experience.

I still think there is an argument to be made for, if not localism, at least regionalism for certain kinds of services. Operators, for example. I remember trying to get some information during some kind of weather warning and actually finding someone local, who was able to direct me to the number I needed because he actually knew the area and who to call.

Same thing with mortgage information. Bank of America, you may be an evil mega-bank, but I’m sticking with you.

January 11, 2007 @ 1:28 am | Comment

But what about this golden opportunity to talk to people from all over the world? The Global Village is shrinking, people are chatting, discovering that we are all much the same. It’s a revolution!

Surely this is more important than issues about your bill payments? Cheers.

January 11, 2007 @ 7:49 am | Comment

Well, for one thing, I live in Los Angeles, where I can talk to people from all over the world on a daily basis. Which I like a lot. And I love to travel and meet people on their own turf. I enjoy studying other languages, and my absolute favorite kind of traveling is when I can talk to folks in their own language instead of mine.

There are plenty of opportunities to talk to people from around the world for fun and exchange of knowledge, etc. But for customer service? No, thank you.

As an update to this little diatribe, I got a call from my ISP today. The guy told me, sorry, we cannot make the switch at all. You have to switch your phone back. Etc.

So I had to spend another couple of hours on the phone today, switching back my account, spending time dealing with a problem that was entirely the fault of over-eager salespeople making promises they had no way of keeping.

January 11, 2007 @ 9:21 am | Comment

Lisa and Otherlisa are making me hot and steamy with their ranting.

January 11, 2007 @ 1:46 pm | Comment

Oh, you mean my evil twin? I tell her to behave; she ignores me!

January 11, 2007 @ 2:18 pm | Comment

Great read as always, Lisa! Hope you are communicationally back in reasonable order.

Also hope none of your Malibu mansions were scorched in the recent blaze!

I read that last April McDonalds began experimenting with a call center in Santa Maria, CA, for handling all the orders from motorists at McDonalds drive-thru’s nationwide. That squawking, unintelligible voice asking if you want fries may not be coming from inside the restaurant!

You know it can only be a matter of time before that call center gets moved overseas.

Won’t that be odd – leaning out of your car window, shouting at a box on a stick in an attempt to communicate with someone on the other side of the planet, in order to buy a sandwich from a guy twelve feet away?

I wonder how Indians feel about managing foreign motorists’ orders for cooked beef?

January 12, 2007 @ 12:29 am | Comment

HAH! Not yet. I think I mentioned in the comments how “Brian” called from the ISP to cancel my whole order because, whoops, they couldn’t do it after all. I’m still in limbo. The entire service won’t get restored until Jan. 25 or so.

My Venice manse made it through fine though.

So maybe I’ll see you in March, eh?

January 12, 2007 @ 1:29 am | Comment

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