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The View From the Ground At an Indian Call Center 214

Posted by timothy
from the division-of-labor-limited-by-extent-of-market dept.
A feature story in Mother Jones gives a fascinating inside look at what it's like to work in a Delhi call center. In this area alone, says the author, "100,000 call-center agents make their living selling vitamins to Britons or helping Americans troubleshoot their printers. I am almost certainly the only one who acquired his conversational skills accidentally — by being born in the United States." The slots at the call centers are limited and highly sought; the training is intense, and the infrastructure is poor.
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The View From the Ground At an Indian Call Center

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  • by phantomlord (38815) <slashdot AT krwtech DOT com> on Thursday July 07, 2011 @03:54PM (#36686802) Journal
    I saw this show... it was called Outsourced [imdb.com].
  • ...at the teachings on Australian culture.
  • I like this quote:

    "Truth is, 90 percent of the people there, you will find, they'll do the most stupid things, impulsive things. I know for a fact. At the same time, Americans are bighearted people, and the remaining 10 percent of them are smart. Bloody smart. That's why they rule the world."

    Sounds like they are qualified!

  • by chemicaldave (1776600) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @03:58PM (#36686848)

    When I stopped asking questions, Shail had one for me. "I have experienced some Americans—please don't mind—they don't like Indians. They act rude as soon as they come to know I am Indian. Why is this?" I stammered something about protectionism, but really I didn't know what to say.

    Simply put, nobody likes communicating with people who are.. well... difficult to communicate with. It's bad enough trying to overcome a language barrier in general conversation. It's even worse when you're trying to communicate a technical problem or make a complicated request. I don't want to have to spell out my email 3x in phonetic alphabet. Sometimes I can't even tell if the person I'm talking to actually understands my problem because everything they say is scripted.

    Plus -- as Louis CK has said -- I know the Indian on the line doesn't give a shit about me and my white people problems.

    • by characterZer0 (138196) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @04:39PM (#36687320)

      Simply put, nobody likes communicating with people who are.. well... difficult to communicate with. It's bad enough trying to overcome a language barrier in general conversation. It's even worse when you're trying to communicate a technical problem or make a complicated request. I don't want to have to spell out my email 3x in phonetic alphabet. Sometimes I can't even tell if the person I'm talking to actually understands my problem because everything they say is scripted.

      Tell me about it. I hate calling tech support and getting people in Alabama.

      • by corbettw (214229)

        Tell me about it. I hate calling tech support and getting people in Alabama.

        Wait, there are call centers in Alabama? I thought you needed phones for those.

      • Tell me about it. I hate calling tech support and getting people in Alabama.

        People modded you Funny, but I have been there. Talking with somebody whose southern accent was so thick I couldn't understand them, and I'm from Oklahoma. The last thing I want is to call for help and end up speaking to Boomhauer.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      I think Occam's razor has an even simpler explanation, all call centers anywhere are likely to fail at living up to the customer experience the user wants. They're pissed that the service is broken to begin with and troubleshooting is a long and tedious process and there might not be any immediate solutions either. Particularly many residential users are worse than useless at helping you resolve it, as well as extremely impatient because the problem wasn't solved ten minutes ago. I would think that getting

    • by Nevo (690791) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @05:21PM (#36687902)

      When I stopped asking questions, Shail had one for me. "I have experienced some Americans—please don't mind—they don't like Indians. They act rude as soon as they come to know I am Indian. Why is this?" I stammered something about protectionism, but really I didn't know what to say.

      Simply put, nobody likes communicating with people who are.. well... difficult to communicate with.

      This doesn't explain it.

      American consumers are watching companies abandon customer service and outsourcing these functions to overseas companies that employ call-takers that have no knowledge of the products they support, no ability to do any real troubleshooting, and no authority to give any help at all outside the script on their desk.

      India isn't the cause of the problem; it's the symptom. When we call and talk to someone in India, we're not upset at India, we're upset at the company we're trying to do business with, which has let us down. Talking to someone in India is simply the indication that the company we're working with doesn't care about us as customers.

      • by Velex (120469)

        Let me share my experience working in an American call center.

        no authority to give any help at all outside the script on their desk

        DING DING DING! Give the man a cigar!.

        Quite often the people setting up accounts with us are outsourcing because the "girl who handles that" or "the lady at the front desk" is taking on additional responsibilities.

        When they give us incomplete information or information that indicated that they really have no idea what kinds of procedures the "lady at the front desk" does to handle calls and schedule service (for example), they often given

    • by dcollins (135727)

      I think a better explanation is that being connected to an Indian is proof of quasi-fraud on the part of the company we're dealing with. I mean, we bought the product in America from a company that represents itself in our language and culture. They gave us a support number they asserted would be our connection to that company. The we get connected to someone on a foreign continent and we realize they're using a fake name. So that's the catalyst for suddenly recognizing a whole series of lies.

      My experiences

  • by Ironchew (1069966) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @03:59PM (#36686862)

    The slots at the call centers are limited and highly sought; the training is intense, and the infrastructure is poor.

    You know you're disillusioned when that assessment sounds equal to or better than most job openings in the United States.

  • The real "problem" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by puck71 (223721) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @04:04PM (#36686924) Journal

    My main frustration with the outsourcing "issue" isn't that I'm talking to someone from India. It's that I'm talking to someone from India that's pretending to be from America. It's really insulting to our intelligence and I'm not sure what they gain from it at this point. Now it's well known that there's a ton of outsourcing, so why do companies bother trying to hide it anymore?

    • by Abreu (173023) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @04:29PM (#36687156)

      I am a supervisor at a call center in Mexico City.

      It is not uncommon for americans to hang up if they find out the 1-800 number they are calling goes to Mexico. I imagine it is worse for India.

      • by pak9rabid (1011935) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @04:38PM (#36687296)

        It is not uncommon for americans to hang up if they find out the 1-800 number they are calling goes to Mexico. I imagine it is worse for India.

        To most call-center managers, that's a problem solved!

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        The problem isn't really racism, but I think it's because it's a brutal reminder to the callers that the economy is still lousy and all these jobs are now outsourced and there's not even a remote hope that this will change. Add to that the fact that any call center call will be frustrating no matter who is on the other end; no one phones a call center because they're having a great day. Julia Roberts could be on the other end of the line but when she says "have you tried rebooting it?" I'm going to get ma

      • by Evets (629327) *

        That's funny to me. I'm stoked when I get Mexico on the line. Sometimes I end up pressing 3 for spanish so I can get Mexico because they speak better english and handle problems better than the indian call centers.

  • by Bloodwine77 (913355) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @04:07PM (#36686948)

    I deal with Indians in two different capacities. One is my professional environment where I communicate with outsourced teams and the other is my personal environment where I contact customer support on various services and products.

    I never give them hell, because I realize that they are just trying to make a living, but the communication and cultural barriers are too wide for me. Some of our technical partners utilize Indian software developers and I have been talking to Indians for over a decade and to this day I still have trouble with their accents. Email is a little better, but either cultural differences or something else causes conversations to be circular in nature. I don't think they are intentionally dishonest, but they have an aversion to saying "no" and end up being vague and confusing.

    Also, either the companies who hire the call centers or the call center management themselves need to stop having call center reps address themselves with American names. I am not thoroughly educated in Indian customs, but I doubt there really are that many people in India named Bob, Joe, Rick, Ann, Susan, and Jennifer. They aren't fooling anybody and it is insulting one's intelligence.

    I am sure working in an Indian call center is hell, and I respect them for making a living, but I honestly wish I didn't have to deal with them.

    • They have an aversion to saying "no" and end up being vague and confusing.

      If you ever get a chance to go to India you're going to hate the head weave. It's half way between "Yes" and "No" but also means maybe, sometimes, all the time, and I don't know.

      • That drove me nuts until somebody told me what it means. The "bobble head" means "I hear you." It's only an acknowledgement that they've heard what you've said and nothing more.

        • by gknoy (899301)

          Assuming it doesn't get overused, that actually sounds like a really useful communication tool. A lot of stress would be averted if you knew someone wasn't ignoring you, but rather had never actually heard you (or understood you).

    • by DarkOx (621550) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @04:24PM (#36687114) Journal

      Its not because they are trying to fool you into thinking you are talking with an American. The issue is lots of those names are really really hard to pronounce for native English speakers who have no experience with Hindi.

      I have worked very close with lots of India developers, the ones who actually come here tend to American-ize their names rather than pick a new one like John. Punjababriu becomes Prabu for instance. The later I can say correctly the former it took him helping me many times to learn to say correctly. You know I felt really bad about it too. Nobody likes it when you get their name wrong. Most of us don't want to go around hurting the feelings of or insulting others; or suspecting that we might be. In this case he knew it was not a respect thing and that I was trying really hard to learn to correctly say his name, but still.

      Really these call center folks are doing you a kindness by sparing you the embarrassment of having to try and repeat a name that is going to be hard for your say.

      • When I call customer support, I really don't care what the rep's name is. (Nor do I care to discuss how my day is going). I care about how efficiently my question is answered by the overall experience (which is ideally resovled before I have to speak to any human at all).

        Does anybody care to know what a CS rep's name is? Does anybody believe that there is something to be gained by noting that they spoke to "Randy". These are huge operations -- no surnames?

        Given the evident pressure these call centers ar

        • Yes, you care about the name, 'cause when it goes wrong, you need to be able to call back and refer to "I talked to Suzy" - it once in a while does help.

          FYI, my experience with India has been mixed - just like my experience with Americans. The company is more important to any pattern of behavior than nationality, in my experience. CVS/Caremark has been far and away the worst phone-related experience of my life (many, many calls). They have been consistently wretched, and always American as far as I could

          • by gknoy (899301)

            I'd rather have a number. Tech 24601 makes me feel more secure in my ability to trace who I talked to (or get transferred to) than knowing it was "Judy" or "Frank".

            • by cashman73 (855518)
              TK-421, why aren't you at your post? TK-421, do you copy? TK-421, stop posting to Slashdot and get back to work!
          • Yes, you care about the name, 'cause when it goes wrong, you need to be able to call back and refer to "I talked to Suzy" - it once in a while does help.

            When the name is an obvious pseudonym, and a generic one at that, I have little confidence that it will be useful for future reference.

            If it helps, you were probably going to get help anyway.

      • by Anomalyst (742352)
        How about a friendly 'my name is mahasamatman, you can call me "SAM"' (apologies to Roger Zelazny), starting off by lying to me is not going to engender any confidence in what you have to say later.
      • by tompaulco (629533)
        The issue is lots of those names are really really hard to pronounce for native English speakers who have no experience with Hindi.
        But that is easily solved by maintaining a facility in the country that you are supporting and hiring locals. Additionally, it makes people feel better about your company and more likely to buy your products.
      • by JamesP (688957)

        Makes sense

        Even if in the case of "Prabu", while easier to say, it's difficult to register casually.

        I'm sure it's easier to remember a Robert or Ann instead of Asiburiutoru

      • by rpillala (583965)
        My name is 2 syllables and everyone still gets it wrong. The good news when you're talking to an American of Indian descent is that we don't care how you pronounce our names. After years of correcting people and more years after having given up, as long as you don't consciously mess it up, it's fine.
      • Really these call center folks are doing you a kindness by sparing you the embarrassment of having to try and repeat a name that is going to be hard for your say.

        Hello, thank you for calling Newcomer Computer Company. My name is Sam Francisco. How can I help you?

      • by sjames (1099)

        So why not say something like "My name is Punjababriu but you may call me Prabu"? I would prefer an approach that doesn't sound so suspiciously like a really bad attempt to fool me. If that sounds too informal, just use the easier but not entirely fake name.

    • i am an indian, i live here and still i hesitate before calling tech support. the problem is that support people assume that i'm completely clueless. another reason is that some companies' call center people (eg, vodafone) speak only scripted lines, the conversation is never natural and gets awkward when i ask a question that is not on their database.
      however, some companies do it properly and their support is really helpful. for eg, when i call up the telephone/adsl help center, they give me a choice 'press

  • You pay your money and you get what you pay for. You want service from a company that pays its support staff $900 a year, then don't expect the same quality service as a company that pays its staff $20,000 a year (or more).

    • by blair1q (305137)

      I bought a piece of equipment for $1,499 plus tax.

      I could give fuck-all what the company that sold it to me pays their call-center employees. I want it to work. If that cuts into some fat plutocrat's viagra money, then fuck him for selling me something that can break.

  • if they didn't call my home, uninvited, at dinner time. I can deal with any call centre when it's my business (they're helping me. Thanks, guys). When they're trying to sell me something, uninvited on my home line I have no problems hanging up on them. My home is not their shop.
    • by blair1q (305137)

      Get on the national Do Not Call registry [donotcall.gov]. Got rid of 90% of the problem for me.

      Doesn't stop local spammers, though your state may have its own Do Not Call registry [privacycorps.com].

      Doesn't stop politicians in any case. But them you can get righteously pissed-off at, because they're not just doing a job, they're trying to fuck up your economy and legal system.

      • by tompaulco (629533)
        The Do Not Call registry also got rid of some spam calls for me, although it did not get rid of the worst culprits, politicians and charities, which represented about 95% of the spam calling that I received.
        However, this is another example of where society has gone wrong. I should not have to go out of my way to stop someone that I don't want to talk to from calling me. I think they should have to deposit $1 with my phone company, and it if turns out that I want to talk with them, they get their dollar bac
  • They do know American society than most Americans and their politicians:

    "Truth is, 90 percent of the people there [in the US], you will find, they'll do the most stupid things, impulsive things. I know for a fact. At the same time, Americans are bighearted people, and the remaining 10 percent of them are smart. Bloody smart. That's why they rule the world."

    They are qualified to rule us. We just need to outsource the Congress.

  • by FlyingGuy (989135) <flyingguy AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 07, 2011 @05:16PM (#36687838)

    Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS. > 500.00 USD ( '80;s vintage dollars ) for a word processor, not an office suite but just word processing software.

    Outrageous huh?

    Perhaps, but you got a 1-800 number AND when you called it, you got an engineer ( more then likely a programmer on call center rotation ) that really knew the product inside and out and would talk to you for as long as it took to solve the problem and that could be formatting, printing, or their extremely powerful scripting language.

    Just try calling Microsoft for help with Office, go ahead I will watch and laugh.

  • I am sure I will get moded down for this, but "whateva"... (yes I am American)

    I am so tired of American IT workers bitching about Indian tech support. First off... It seems that most of the time, the American IT guy bitching about the support he is getting actually has no clue WTF he is talking about in the first place. Second... Why don't you shut your American-I-am-always-right mouth for one second and actually LISTEN. If you are too stupid to realize that your speaking with a person whose first language
  • by losttoy (558557) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @05:38PM (#36688080)
    This article and many other western publication paint the picture that BPOs are the only game in town for young Indians. Not true. Engineers are in very high demand, especially Civil, Mining and Mechanical engineers. College graduates with degrees in commerce or liberal arts also do well depending on the first job they take up. Jobs that service the local market are tougher but have an actual career path. But you won't get to work in a nice air-conditioned office, won't have a car to pick and drop you back and initial pay will be lower than a call center job. Several of my friends who started working for local banks and selling financial products to Indians started off with low pays and jobs that require a lot of enterprise and leg-work. Ten years later, most of them make more money that I do in silicon valley with a respectable 6 figure salary. People (kids really), who end up in BPO jobs get attracted by the initial high salary, party like culture on premises (free food, chicks, parties thrown to retain employees). So can't really blame capitalism for this mess. These young people can chose - start with a good pay and good work environment but boring job and no career path OR start low, work hard but have a viable career ten years down the line.
  • In India they teach via route memorization, and if it is not a solution that is memorized and requires analytical skill they are next to useless.

    They need to teach deductive reasoning techniques. In the US we used to teach this, but now it is nothing but route memorization so they can pass the silly idiot federally mandated tests so the school employees can get their federal government cheese.

    And we wonder why we are losing tech jobs t the third world. That and the whole "I am entitled to free crap with

  • by TheSync (5291) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @06:10PM (#36688402) Journal

    The de-culturation in the article is nothing new. My great-grandfather Jarsoslav changed his name to "Jerry" when he moved to the US from Bohemia in 1912.

    • by Grygus (1143095)

      The de-culturation in the article is nothing new. My great-grandfather Jarsoslav changed his name to "Jerry" when he moved to the US from Bohemia in 1912.

      Yes but he did it because he was permanently switching cultures. This is merely for a job. Similar perhaps, but not the same thing.

  • I'm hard of hearing. I can barely understand people on the phone as it is with my hearing aid set to telecoil and it's volume up as high as it goes. Then you add those annoying "your call is important to us" announcements (what at 3:00 am?) machine noise, distorted on hold music due to crappy VOIP software (on their end of things, not mine) and after I wait nearly an hour and navigate your useless phone tree I'm supposed to shout at someone who doesn't understand my voice and whose accent is unintelligibl

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