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A Word to Mumbai

by Izzy Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 02:32:43 PM EST

As you know, I haven't been writing lately and, before you get all excited, be warned that this is gonna be both uninformative and fairly pointless, but I need to get this off my chest.

I just really felt the need to offer some advice to my new friends in Mumbai.


As some of you know, what's been keeping me away from writing has been a rather  impressive conglomeration of real life events, some disastrous, others wonderful.  The disastrous bits have usually had some sort of financial aspect - bankruptcy, threatened foreclosure on both first and second mortgages, various hostile encounters with utility companies and collection agencies, you name it.

And what each of these things has in common is that, eventually, telephone calls had to be made.  Obviously, things were just not being communicated or understood or resolved in any sane fashion when business was conducted strictly on paper.  

For example, I needed to know WHY I was being served with foreclosure papers for 77 cents.  Or how come I asked every month for my old telephone and internet package to be disconnected and yet, it never was and I'd get a new bill.

So I was forced to call and, invariably, I would eventually end up talking with someone who I suspect was speaking to me from India.  Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not here to judge and this is not about off-shoring or out-sourcing or anything like that. That's all beside the point for purposes of this post.

And I want to say that all of these people I'm discussing here have been nothing but unfailingly polite and helpful.  Well, with the exception of the AT&T guy who actually hung up on me, but that's another story.  

But by and large, it's been great -- they've been knowledgeable, level-headed, and speak better English than is usually heard here in Los Angeles.  

But here's the thing.  I say I suspect them speaking to me from India because I don't know for sure.  And that's the problem.  I feel uneasy, like I'm being lied to.  Or tricked in some way.

Now, I'm not normally a paranoid type.  I don't go around thinking that everyone with an accent is speaking to me from some call center across the globe.  Hell, I don't even think an Indian accent necessarily means I'm connected with Mumbai.  But what I AM is chatty.  And a reader.  And socially sensitive, perhaps overly so at times.

So I know these call centers exist, I've read all about them.  And when I'm chatting with the bank representative with the lovely, lilting Indian accent and the unlikely American name and he tells me he's talking to me from Arizona, I'm fine with that.  Totally accepting.  

"Oh, what city?"  I ask, "we're practically neighbors."

"I am in Arizona" he repeats, after a slight liar's pause.  Suddenly, I can sense he thinks this is a pop quiz.  Suddenly, I kinda feel like it is.  "So... are you in Phoenix?" I ask helpfully.  Then have to jump into the pause with "Phoenix, Arizona?" just to give him a clue.

"YES!" he exclaims gratefully, "I am in Phoenix, Arizona."

Ok, so that was weird, but I left it.  Then we had some further discussion and came to some impasse with my situation and I was supposed to call someone else and call this Arizona guy back.  Having by now forgotten all about the prior "Phoenix" discomfort, and it already being, like, 4:30 or something here in Los Angeles, I innocently asked what time zone he was in so I'd know how long I had to call him back.  

His answer?  "I am being in the Central Time Zone, 2 hours ahead of you and open till 8."

I was outraged.  I was all "I thought you were in Phoenix?  Phoenix, Arizona?"

"Yes, yes -- I am in Phoenix, Arizona being in the Central Time Zone."

"But Phoenix is in the Mountain Time Zone, or Pacific, depending on whether it's daylight savings, which they don't observe."  (and, yes, I admit to having too much knowledge of Phoenix's time zone details, but I had an ex-husband from there.  Don't ask.)

So he just repeated that he was being in the central time zone and assured me I had time to call him back.  Which I did, sorting it out and managing not to bring up either Phoenix or time zones again, and got my situation resolved.

But it left me shaken.  I was convinced that the man, as nice as he was, was not talking to me from Phoenix.  Or Arizona.  I was convinced he was flat-out lying to me.  AND I don't think he was happy about it either.  Which led me to ponder -- was he in one of those call centers in Mumbai?  Are they actually instructed to lie to us?  His name probably wasn't even George!  Are they assigned cover stories?  Names?  Or do they just make crap up at random?

At the time, I was too preoccupied to really think much more about it, but there have been incidents since.  Other slight cultural missteps and awkward hesitations taken during conversations that have left me convinced that I'm speaking with constructs, a bunch of people with bad cover stories and not enough prepping.

This all came flooding back tonight.  I had to call tech-support for a website.  I was speaking to another nice man with a lovely, lilting accent.  He told me his name was Abner.  And, honestly, I wanted to call him on it.  I wanted to tell the poor man that no one here is named Abner anymore, and that the ones who were all had Southern accents.  I wanted to advise him that perhaps comic strips weren't the best place to pick your "typical" American name.  I'm thinking "Abner" is a dead giveaway.

So I'm wondering who I can tell about this?  And if perhaps I can parlay this sort of advice into a telecommuting job in Mumbai.  So, call center in Mumbai, shrouded in mystery and fabrications, if you're reading this and want my services, call me.  My name is "Izzy" and I'm being in the Pacific Time Zone.

Display:
Btw, "Abner" fixed my computer problem very efficiently - he was wonderful.  I was so happy I wanted to chat with him about what it was like where he was while my files were transferring, but I didn't want to involve either of us in the horror - things were going so well.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 02:35:29 PM EST
Mmm... As you say, I don't really care where the call is from, if it's efficient!
The trouble is not on the poor chai wallah (to cite Slumdogs), but on the efficency of some of those outsurced services that sometimes outsources to family on the other side of the street (or whatever)!

It happens that we had to sell a flat, the buyer, though he had the money, wanted a credit line, called his bank for it, they asked for some papers send to an insurance company, etc.
 After a few days the insurance said some paper were missing, so he send the complement to them.. Still his bank said it wasn't a deal because paperwork as not proper, now the insurance asked for the first set of paper he had sent in the beginning...

To make it short, he discovered after a while (one month late in buying proposals), that the outsourced company had open three different folders, one for each of his sending, and as each was incomplete, they sent mails to the bank for the missing paperwork...

He finally got everything straightened, but spent quite some time to achieve the feat...!

On a personal note, when I have phone sellers for window frames (latest fashion for annoying phone calls in Paris) and I have the very slight telltale of accent, I answer in Hindi... Nice pause at the other end and a quick end of call :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 04:39:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
lol about the Hindi...

as to the other stuff, we've had that crap going on so long even with local call centers, that I'm worn down bitching about it.  I've used the word "Kafka-esque" more in the last five years than I ever dreamed possible.  I actually find the India calls somewhat of a relief - the Americans get defensive and stubborn!  The Indians have no interest in defending our system and are very agreeable when you assert that things are ridiculous or make no sense.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 04:52:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very true... From the Bosphorus to the Gange delta, there is always a way to have things done, if polite and open minded :-)


"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 04:58:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
margouillat:
From the Bosphorus to the Gange delta, there is always a way to have things done, if polite and open minded :-)
If I arrange to buy t-shirt rights for that phrase from you, can I get the happy glyph, or do you have rights on that?

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 03:47:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Put the quote around a picture of Bush the Lesser.

En un viejo pas ineficiente, algo as como Espaa entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 03:59:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This reminds me of the scene in Slumdog Millionaire where he fails to convince the customer that he's in Scotland.

The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 02:45:58 PM EST
Oh!  I haven't seen that movie - is it good?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 02:48:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very, IMHO.

The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 02:49:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes!!! You must watch it.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 03:14:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting and a situation or problem we do not have. My guess not to many Indians speak German.
by Fran on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 02:57:05 PM EST
That is interesting.  It has been a common problem in the UK.  Although via textphone I have no idea if the person I am talking to is UK based or not but my Auntie has often said that if you ask them a question they can't answer they keep going back to the script.  Very frustrating.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 03:16:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Metatone sent me a link to this article and it has this surprising quote at the end:

As for India's $11.5 billion outsourcing industry, the big challenge is in meeting the ever-growing demand for its cheap, educated workforce. Ironically, rising wages and a shortage of skilled labor in India are prompting some companies in the land of outsourcing to outsource elsewhere. Tata, India's largest corporation, which makes everything from trucks to jewelry, already has call centers in the U.K.


Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 03:23:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How ironic.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 03:24:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have also read of many US corporations that have started bringing support back on-shore.  One way to improve our balance of payments, or national account deficit, that will only increase with devaluation of the dollar.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 10:52:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well if its call centre telemarketers then this is always handy

anti-telemarketing EGBG counterscript

The Direct Marketing sector regards the telephone as one of its most successful tools. Consumers experience telemarketing from a completely different point of view: more than 92% perceive commercial telephone calls as a violation of privacy.
Telemarketers make use of a telescript - a guideline for a telephone conversation. This script creates an imbalance in the conversation between the marketer and the consumer. It is this imbalance, most of all, that makes telemarketing successful. The EGBG Counterscript attempts to redress that balance.


Good luck!



Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Aug 16th, 2009 at 08:26:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My guess not to many Indians speak German.

Yet.

On one of the resource sites I use professionally, there are an increasing number of persons with Indian names who are obviously doing de/en translation.

And yes, I do start to get a little concerned about what impact this might have on prices...

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Fri Aug 14th, 2009 at 10:57:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But these might actually be people living in Germany, or not? Here in Switzerland there is a Tamil community, and it is possible to have a young cashier at the supermarket or, as in the case of one of my clients who has a social worker, who looks Indian and has a Indian name but speaks Swiss German.
by Fran on Fri Aug 14th, 2009 at 11:16:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Possible but...

Most people post their location in their profile, plus one of the default settings is how many hours ahead/behind each person (or their IP address) is. These are Indians in India.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Fri Aug 14th, 2009 at 12:33:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite. A few years ago I worked with a firm selling CAD specs to EU industrials from Vietnam. The time differential was "billed" as a feature, not a bug.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Fri Aug 14th, 2009 at 01:31:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Swedish being a small germanic language it is even less common here. Though I know that some phone companies has their support in Scotland, staffed mainly by students from Sweden taking a year abroad in Scotland.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sat Aug 15th, 2009 at 12:41:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In France the calls may come from North Africa or Romania, where there are enough hopeful young people who speak French. Since I haven't needed to fix a problem by telephone (I really believe in writing to the fuckers if there's a serious problem, but it may not be the same in LA), I'm talking about cold calls. I try to be helpful if I hear a twitch of humanity at the other end - this means, for example, tell them if they have a box on their screen to check that says Not Owner or No Money or Hopeless Prospect they should check it right away and waste no more time on me - but if it's boilerplate I just put the phone down.

If someone has real problems to settle and letters don't do it, well I suppose that's today's hideous corporate world - and no one in public office is doing anything to change it.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 04:51:10 PM EST
Well, I don't know about the letter writing.  For one, I'm more of a phone person, but for another, I'm usually spurred to action when there's some horrible deadline.  I haven't had any hideous problems revealed at anything but the last minute.  Like when my parents at the house got served with foreclosure papers about the 77 cents -- there was a deadline!  I didn't think I had the luxury of sending a letter off...

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 04:55:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know anyone who writes letters to customer service unless they've reached the point where they are threatening a law  suit.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Fri Aug 14th, 2009 at 04:43:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The reason why Indian service desk people are instructed to assume American names and locations is because of the sheer amount of abuse that's being heaped on them once the caller eventually discovers they're talking to an Indian person.

Not anyone is as nice as Izzy, sadly.

This is well known in India and there are even sitcoms on TV showing the daily work in such a call center -- skewering the abusive callers from the UK or the US. The scene in Slumdog is a cliché already part of Indian pop culture.

In the French speaking world, Morroco is the current favorite location for call centers, and here Mohamed and Leila are re-christened (pardon the pun), Pierre and Martine, for exactly the same reason. I've also heard of the Southern hemisphere -- Madagascar and Mauritius, but Romania makes sense too.

by Bernard on Fri Aug 14th, 2009 at 06:06:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As for why they keep to the script even when found out, my guess is: their conversations are taped, and live in constant fear of the manager picking their tape to check on how they followed the instructions.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Aug 17th, 2009 at 01:29:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think part of the problem, perhaps the greatest one, with outsourcing service calls has nothing to do with outsourcing and everything to do with service. The Indian folks I've dealt with are all polite and try to be helpful, but I suspect they are often limited in what action they can take and there simply is no effective level available to bug up to.  Their business seems to be based on resolving or revolving (as in around and around) complaints without bothering the hiring company.  What has been outsourced is old fashioned service and there is very little of it left - another renewable resource that's under utilized.

On the other hand, GMAC mortgage seems to have hired a different sort of customer service company whose employees pretend to be helpful and then nasty when their secret is discovered. Not sure where they really are.  Most have only very slight accents, not Indian, at all.  They answer phone calls but never ever respond to letters, even certified ones.  I find it outrageous that a company can threaten its customers (over something it is responsible for) and then not bother to communicate in any meaningful way about the matter.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Aug 14th, 2009 at 07:39:33 PM EST
Precisely, but service is not being outsourced, it's being phased out.

Even if you're calling the corporation itself, the customer service (which I now matter-of-factly call customer disservice) department is there to shield the company from the customer's complaints.

I had a recent incident where I received a reminder letter from a bank requesting some information I had already provided and ending with "if you have any queries please call such and such number". So I did, to figure out whether I should ignore the letter because it had crossed in the mail with my reply th the previous request, or not.

So it turns our the phone number gives is for regular customer service, and this department 1) has no way of checking on whether the open issue had been resolved; 2) even if I had called during the other office's business hours they could not put me through to that office; 3) they didn't have a phone number or email address for me to call the said office; 4) they could not forward my email address or phone number to the said office for them to call me back.

In other words, pure firewall to keep customers away from the company. No 'service' to see here, move along.

The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Aug 15th, 2009 at 03:12:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a good description of the condition.  The closest I was able to get to GMAC was an accidental after hours connection to a lawyer in their foreclosures department.  The man understood the problem but wasn't really interested in helping.

Seems to be that large companies have finally found a way to handle something that they were never really interested in.  Of course maybe that's why some, like GM, have gone broke.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Aug 15th, 2009 at 09:51:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is when utilities - effectively monopolies do this.

When GM sells you a car nobody forces you to go to official GM technical service for repairs: there's always your local mechanic. Not the same for your cell phone service, gas/electricity provider, phone/cable TV/internet provider, retail bank or health insurance.

The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Aug 15th, 2009 at 11:33:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You are right, but companies can take on the attributes of monopolies once they have your money.
GMAC is one example, another:

Mexicana airlines is apparently in trouble again, something we didn't know before buying tickets from Merida to Villahermosa last week. At the time everyone was boarding the flight, the agent announced that no one's luggage would be making the flight; it would be sent separately on the next flight. Reason given: An outright and ridiculous lie "the aircraft was too small to carry luggage." Several other unlikely reasons have been offered since, but the real reason, I suspect, is that they had a large cargo opportunity and decided to take both passenger and cargo money and dump the luggage. Now we are over an hours drive from the airport in Villahermosa. Our luggage was sent on the next flight alright, which went to Mexico City of course. End result, we had to make a special trip to the airport in Villahermosa the next day to retrieve the luggage.

Not the end of the insults. Turns out our non-stop flight return flight to Merida was cancelled and we were rebooked, without our knowledge or consent, on a flight that first went to Mexico City, then change planes for Merida.  Too much risk in my opinion, given Mexicana's recent behavior. Next problem.  My wife tries to change the flight to a another non stop to Merida. Mexicana now feels they are entitled to a change fee but they can't accept a foreign credit card (for $100 dollars!) and put her on hold to get an international agent who can accept it. She waits 30 minutes and hangs up. More useless phone calls ensue. End result - we're taking the bus. Score: Mexicana - 2 + change, us - 0 minus two one way tickets and lots of annoyance. Recourse, likely none. Best solution, just forget about it. I'm sure you know the expression:    "Ni modo", but for those who don't.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Aug 15th, 2009 at 12:25:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When GM sells you a car nobody forces you to go to official GM technical service for repairs: there's always your local mechanic.

Allowing tinkering? Obviously they failed to protect their intellectual property.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Aug 15th, 2009 at 12:47:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, modern engines are encased and can only be diagnosed by plugging a computer to them...

The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Aug 15th, 2009 at 01:21:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Migeru:
Of course, modern engines are encased and can only be diagnosed by plugging a computer to them...
...a computer which, of course, a company shop only has access to.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 04:09:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The shortest job I ever had lasted for 17 minutes, it was with a telemarketing firm, The firm was desperately trying to appear to be an efficient, go-aheadm American style business, and so was grabbing any management tool it thought would help. Now as I said I only managed to work for them for seventeen minutes, so my view could be utterly inaccurate, but from my short time there, Im fairly sure its accurate.

I was rung up by an agency, in the middle of  a Friday afternoon, and asked if I could start on Monday for a permanent job. Needs must and financial desperation being in the wind, It was the 1980s and I was living amongst the attempts of the government to destroy the towns major industry so choice of employment that didn't involve shovelling carcinogenic slurry into the back of leaking lorries was somewhat limited. After a couple of minutes conversation with the agency, it transpired that the employer had asked if I would go down that afternoon, to make sure that I could see  whre the place was for the Monday, and fill in a couple of pieces of Paperwork. So suited and booted, I turned up at 13 minutes past 4 in the afternoon, for a 4:30 finish. Papers signed, entry card issued, I was sat in the main room, at a large oval table with a group of about twenty people, each with a pile of paperwork, and a telephone.

after I had said hello to the people either side, who were dressed in 1980's red braces, standard yuppie uniform, I thought theings didn't look great, but they took a spectacular turn for the worse when a manager strolled in.  the person to his right lept up to attention, and barked "I have sold an insurance policy and two life insurance policies" then shot back to his seat. the next one got up and and did similar, this proceeded all the way round till it got to me, who having not be there could only shrug my shoulders. When it got round to the end  of the people at the table the manager yelled "We will now sing the company song" and they all leapt to their feet and started hammering out this godawfull musical disaster.

At some point during the first verse of this abomination (Oh yes there were three verses) I unfortunately lost the ability to keep a straight face, and when the second verse kicked into gear, I started laughing. by the end of the third verse I was just about barely in controll. However they did thank me for attending and said they would see me, first thing on Monday morning, which since I had just spent five minutes laughing through their company song was something I thought fairly unlikely.

On leaving the building I tracked down a phonebox, and gave the agency a bell,  desperately trying to think of a way to get out of the nightmare of telemarketing I could see about to occur. Fortunately they had already phoned to say that there was no point in me turning up, as they didn't think that I had quite the right attitude to management theory for the sort of person they were looking for.

So I now always imagine that the person on the other end of the phone is possibly sat with eyes like saucers, having been asked to  carry out something from a bizzare and half understood american management speak textbook, because that is how their firms manager immagines that its done in the states

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Aug 16th, 2009 at 08:56:56 PM EST
fucking hilarious

reminds me of the 'pep' video we had to watch as new hyatt regency employees.

they even had jimi hendrix in it!

segue to shots of bootlicking service ethic fawning obsequiousness

kafka rulz!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 05:23:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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