LINVILLE, N.C. Globalization seems like a nice idea if it didn't
make people insane.
Although there are no such studies that I know of, a graph might show
that Americans have been consuming increasing quantities of antidepressants
in direct correlation to the growth of corporate call centers overseas.
Want your cable fixed in Appalachia? Hold one moment while we connect
you to Bangalore.
Don't get me wrong. I love all peoples great and small, but I do not
want to talk about my bad Internet connection with someone in Bombay named
Kapil pretending to be Karen.
Anglicizing names is one of the tricks of the trade these days as more
and more customer services are outsourced to other countries where
call-center operators are grateful for $200 a month and an air-conditioned
workspace. Invariably polite, and no doubt qualified, they are,
nonetheless, not here.
Who are these people? And why do we have to talk to them? Where are
Jane, Dick and Harry?
Every person reading this is familiar with the experience. Outsourcing
isn't new. Gradually, and compliantly, we've become accustomed to talking
to people in other countries about everything from our Web connection
problems to our American Express payment.
Most people probably assume they're talking to a recent immigrant,
only to realize that the person telling them that their charging privileges
have been suspended is in Manila. Once this realization sets in,
apparently, Americans can become unpleasant.
In India, a television sitcom "The Call Center'' was created
around calling centers and their rude Western customers. Note to world: We
weren't always so rude. We weren't always on the verge. Corporate America
has made us this way.
If we're not talking to India, we're conversing with chirpy robots.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems have become so ubiquitous that
nearly all Americans have now chatted with that woman (you know the one)
who makes friendly while she computes our vowels.
"I think you said, 'For you.' Is that right?'' Sure, lady, just for
It's not that we don't like people in other countries or that accents
aren't charming. The problem is that "customer service'' is supposed to
mean that the person on the other end of the line cares about you. Customer
service is supposed to be user-friendly and helpful, not frustrating and
Deep in our star-spangled hearts, we know that Arjun good fellow
though he may be doesn't really care about us. It's a safe bet he may
not even like us.
Thus, the corporate insult of hiring foreigners is compounded by the
pandering of passive-aggressive non-Americans. Between robots and foreign
operators and the powerlessness most consumers feel American business
has robbed its citizen-customers of their dignity.
The surprise is that business has gotten away with insulting its
customers for this long. Although some individuals have taken steps to ease
the alienation Internet entrepreneur Paul English offers shortcuts to
reach humans by phone at gethuman.com what's been missing is a national
Mine came a few days ago while in the North Carolina mountains trying
to get Internet service. After two days on the phone with Charter
Communications operators in three countries (U.S., Canada and the
Philippines), trying to solve a local Internet-access problem, I wondered
why homicide rates aren't higher.
Finally, the "customer service'' operator who said she was in the
Philippines determined that I needed an on-site technician what a
concept! but I'd have to wait 36 hours. I noted humorously (I thought)
that a Charter tech was probably within a few miles of me, yet someone in
the Philippines is saying he can't get to me for a day and a half.
Is this a great globe or what?
At that precise moment, no kidding, a burly mountain man rapped at the
door: "Are you Ms. Parker? I'm from Charter Communications and I'm here to
fix your modem.''
Well, hallelujah and hit delete. I wanted to hug the guy. Love the
accent. Love the all-American, gung-ho, can-do attitude.
"Philippines, we're done.'' I said to the nice lady on the other end.
Here's the deal, Corporate America: We want our customer service back.
We want it stateside. We want it homegrown, human and yesterday.
Revolt, America! Tea to the harbor!