Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Call center blues

According to this article in the Mumbai Mirror

I deal with those a**holes in America, I live like them too," says 19-year-old BPO exec Yogesh Rautela, 10 months into the job. His credit cards are stretched, his money is spent on “boozing, partying, discos”, he doesn't believe in saving. Somewhere, an FMCG or apparel-maker's Marketing Manager is jumping for joy.

Colleges, coffee shops or the local McD's, you can't miss today's teens. But what happened to the idealistic, penniless teen, strumming a Beatles song under the trees? Hasn't hangin' out, the perennial pastime of pre-20s everywhere, never been costlier? Well, it hasn’t, but no worries, nowadays it fits the rest of the bill just right.

Well, I could very well be one of the asshole that Yogesh Rautela gets to deal with in his daily job.

About two weeks ago I received a marketing call, like most of them, at dinnertime, peddling the services of Dish Network. Now all our friends have Dish Network installed in their homes, because they also broadcast desi channels like Zee, Sony, B4U, bundled into their package.

Over the past few weeks, we had been discussing terminating our cable service, because of the steep increase in their price and also since we do not watch TV much. We are also trying, with limited success, to dissuade raising a TV addict, out of our son, Sidharth. I’m with Bill Gates on this point. Then again, football season starts this week, and Seemz watches Cramer on CNBC, occasionally!!! So we were still ambivalent about disconnecting the cable service.

So with this in mind, I listened to the young man on the line, extolling the great deal that we were about to get with Dish Network. And truly, a great deal it was. Now the accent of this chap, despite the American accent camouflage, sounded distinctly Indian, and so did the speed of delivery. Indians may be the only people in the world to get their sentence across in such a hurry.

When asked ‘where are you based out of?’, this operator replied ‘New Jersey’ and so I didn’t pursue it any further. Since the offer that he was making was exceptional, I decided to go ahead with the order, despite being put off by the hurried tone of the operator. He would hardly let me complete my question, before answering it in an condescending tone as if to suggest ‘Is this the kind of question to ask?’

At every query, this operator would rattle off the details and then kept on pestering me to sign up immediately. So despite having everything free for the first two months i.e. equipment, service, installation, DVR etc., he wanted my credit card number to sign up. This is where we parted ways, and started going back on forth as to why he needed my credit card number. Instead of explaining patiently, he was parroting lines about company policy, ‘why don’t you understand’, etc. So I slammed the phone down.

A few days later and we are at dinner and the phone rings. Someone from Dish Network asking for me. Only, this time it’s a gal. Whoopee Doo, lets send in the sweet voice to qualm the jerk, shall we?

Same deal, Indian accent, rushed tones, rushing me into signing up. One of the very first questions I asked her was ‘Where are you based out of ? ‘ and she replied ‘Colorado’. Hmm. We then do the song and dance about the great deal blah blah blah and then finally I relent to sign up. She asks me for the credit card number which I now divulge and she then wants my social security number, for a background check.

Ugh, ugh why does someone need my SSN for credit card verification? So we stop right there with her trying to convince me every which way that it was safe to part with my SSN. To no avail. She then brings on her supervisor to make the jerk see the error of his ways.

This guy has an accent so thick, that I just had to ask him ‘Where are you physically located right now?’ and he replies “Calcutta”. Ugh huh, that’s what I thought.

Now we begin to spar over the SSN and he starts giving me techno babble as to how they don’t store the SSN on their system yadda yadda yadda. And how when they take down the information from one screen to another, the details they entered on the previous screen disappears, and its not stored anywhere, is what he explains to me. Ahem, say what now ? We then delve into the architecture of e-commerce and how the browser works and session variables and all that good stuff. Doesn’t matter, he still wants my SSN.

At the end of this discussion he was left begging for the last four digits of my soc., which I obstinately refused to divulge. If indeed there was some way, that they could circumvent the background check, using my SSN, then they would have my business. Woefully, he relented, and gave up on me. No Dish Network for us.

Last week we received a call during, guess when, dinner again. This seemed like a local call, from Dish Network. The difference this time was that the operator was courteous, in no rush, did not give me any yarn about any details, and patiently answered all my questions. In fact she gave me details that the previous three operators had not provided, important stuff, like contract duration and terms after the contract expires, breaks in pricing etc..

We signed up for Dish Network, and yes, I also provided the last four digits of my SSN. The installation has been scheduled between 3-5 PM, Saturday. Uninterrupted football, here I come. Desi call center, one less sale for you!!!


Anonymous Charu said...

S, am at a loss here - are you suggesting that a local - American? call centre person was everything the desi guys were not. wonder why. I would have thought the desi guys had been trained to answer all kinds of questions - dumb or legitimate - and patiently.
one reason I can think of why long distance call centring could fail is because of lack of understanding of cultural factors. you can train someone in voice and accent (to an extent:)) and drill into them a convincing sales pitch but not everything about another culture. for instance, I gave no idea about the relevance of SSN (other than what I have read) or why someone living there would feel so strongly about disclosing it. maybe these guys thought you were just being tough or stubborn... don't know - still thinking about it as I write this...

10:16 PM  
Blogger Sakshi said...

Give them a break yaar...they do what they are asked to.

5:38 AM  
Blogger chappan said...

Yes Charu, the local operator was everything that the desi guys were not. They were paitent, polite and honest. The desi guys came across as they were interested in making a quick sale and bailing out.
As far as the SSN goes, I was not required to give my SSN for verification with a lot of vendors. After episodes of identity thefts with company like DSQ etc., there is a distinct fear of identity theft. Instead of allaying my fears, he was BS'ing as to how it wont be stored on their database etc. That just did it.
I have dealt with other desi call centers, with very positive experiences. Like tech support for my wireless router was done out of some call center in Blore. Efficient and professional. On the other hand there are guys who call to peddle lond distance phone service. They are just awful.These guys may be startups, I guess. Its the same here as well. Some of them deliver and some are just downright terrible.
Anyway when I read that MM piece, I could relate to that operator thinking of me as an asshole, and hence this writeup.

5:41 AM  
Anonymous rajeshwari said...

I can relate to chappan, with those annoying calls during dinner time. The way they rush through etc. really ticks me off.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Vulturo said...

Chappan I can relate to you completely. I have had the opportunity to know the goings in within Indian BPOs in detail through a vast network of personal friends in the thick of it.

Nobody *cares* about the customers. They simply want to get the job 'somehow' done, take the paycheck and go home. Processes come and processes go. Everyone has to be retrained. Most of them are fresh graduates who are 'trained' for about a month and let loose on the customers. The demand is so high, is that enough good people aren't available.

Good as in not just capable of speaking the accent or speaking correct English,but good in terms of customer service qualities. *Anyone* who's a graduate and speaks english can get a job in a BPO. And most of them do not mind bullshitting customers.

BTW this is linked on DesiPundit

10:11 AM  
Blogger Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sourin
Hopefully Dish Network will work out for you.
I absolutely refuse to answer cold calls. We are on the "do not call" list. Even before that, I would say "We're not interested" as soon as I found out that they were trying to sell me something.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Sunil said...

Sourin........I love call center operators (that was sarcastic, just to make sure). I've had a wonderful time talking with them about 5 or 6 times in the last two months (thanks to my cellphone). The last three times were with an Indian call center.

somehow, they really seemed more pushy and "eager to complete the deal" than local operators i've spoken to. I don't know the reason for this. Is it that the incentive is to clinch as many calls as possible in a day? That's what determines a bonus or something?

12:16 PM  
Blogger Anshul said...

My past experience is that the Desi guys at our call centers try to over-do everything - i have interacted with Dell and Sony.

I wish they were natural.

4:30 PM  
Blogger chappan said...

Raj, Vulturo, Sunil, Anshul
Thanks for validating my experience. As all of you attested, yes all these kids are concerned with is pushing the sale, instead of listening to their customers.
These liks would answer me back by saying 'You have these channels OK', 'It's a good deal, OK'. Maybe I am the asshole, buts its my money, and I'm not gonna part with it without asking pertinent questions.

Which leads me to think, are we really service oriented ? It will take us ages to build this mindset. I'm all for outsoucing and all, but until we get our act together, its only a matter of time before we concede this advantage to someone else.

I too usually slam the phone down or do the Sienfeldesque 'Oh what a great deal' before slamming the phone. This was just coincidence that we were looking for a change from Comcast.

Thanks for the mention in DP.


8:20 PM  
Anonymous Sujith R. said...

This might be long .. but a few things to start with.

I am not a Desi Call Center blind supporter , but here are a few questions ?

Mutual Respect?

Would you smile at your American neighbor every day when you get out from home?

The same you, when you go back to Desi Land, do the same?

How many times would you tip in an Indian Restaurant?

Are you sure that, even if you don't make good on a sales promise to you manager,
those three square meals of your near and dear ones won't be affected?

It is basically comes down to the fact that how we treat / respect and feel confident
about our country folks. I am sad to say, Indians see each other as competition in a negative way.
And you know why? cause we don't have any social / financial security.
Here in US too.. Your colleagues treat you very well I am sure..
Because they are Ivy League educated , has a degree and has a steady job.
Take a walk down streets of Harlem or Bronx late night and you will see how poor respond.

Chinese shops right here in Manhattan give at a discount rate to Other Chinese folks, do
I have to mention what Indians do to our country folks ?

Accent ?

You have a problem with accented English ? Wait another 25 years, you might as well get ready
to get sales call in Chinese or Spanish.

English is the Lingua Franca, just cause of the commerce it encompasses and the looting by our imperial masters
not the beauty of the language. Americans made it user friendly and the world accepted it. Hinglish too , the world will accept.
But MS educated , PhD holders here in the US , or desi folks here settled here in the US , naah..
no chance.. the folks who speak Hinglish are beneath the level.. It is soo about "CLASS" ..

Looking down ?

Just to bring to your attention, during the recent Mumbai Flood , everybody was deriding the
Local administration. Want to hold a mirror to New Orleans ?

I am from Kerala , where the average annual rain fall is 450 cms , that’s like 180 inches of rain in 12 months.
Do people who have any idea how much water is 36 inches of rain in a day ? I can't even fathom to think
what will happen to New York City if that much rain falls here.

Mumbai rains was a non forecasted event , Katrina was forecasted for 2 weeks and the scenarios documented
for 35 years. Hello ????????????

I admire America for its openness and ability to absorb such enormous number of people moving in. But there are such glaring disparities here, that are either being blatantly ignored or are just too darn big to see.. ( like standing in a Dinosaur’s foot print and asking the next guy , where is the foot print ? )

After all whose land is it ? Red Indians, Anglo Saxons , Hispanic ?
I would say for the Entrepreneur's.

Services ?

Service should be customer oriented eh ? As Gandhi said , Principles are only for those whose
stomachs are full, have clothes to wear and have a roof over their heads.

But whether you should keep slamming the phone down, when you are not happy ? Yes please keep doing so,
only hack saw polishing at the budding stages will get it cut, fine and furious.

But Accent , Class difference , Belittling ? You are being Shallow .. Way too Shallow ..
It’s the Substance stupid !.. Not the form !!!

11:00 AM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Maybe Sunil that's because of what they get when they were able to get more phone calls than the others. By the way, thanks for sharing us this article. It was really timely and we could really relate ourselves with them. Looking forward of reading more articles from you. Good Luck.


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2:55 AM  

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