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Outsourcing Call Center Jobs To India Leads To Bad Customer Service

Published 7/31/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

We live in an extremely politically correct country these days, which means anyone who even mentions anything negative about someone different (like negatively pointing out a foreign accent), or criticizes someone for their inability to speak the language properly, he or she is immediately labeled as prejudiced, racist, or somehow inciting hateful views. I'm truly none of those things, but I feel a personal finance blog platform is as good as any to express my own personal views about my own experiences on the matter. While I was born overseas, I came to the U.S. when I was only 2-3 years old, so I've pretty much grown up as an American and learned to identify strongly with the crux of American culture and its values. While a key component of American culture is the ability to embrace diversity and appreciate differences between different types of people, both foreign and domestic, there are some circumstances when I greatly prefer the services of a fellow American.

This preferential situation comes up whenever I call a live customer service help line. When I pick up the phone and make that affirmative decision to seek help via a toll free telephone number, my reasonable expectation is that I will reach someone who can communicate with me in an intelligible way, and help me resolve my consumer business problem quickly and efficiently, so that I can go along my merry way. It's bad enough that I often have to spend 30 minutes or more waiting on hold before I can talk to a live technical support representative, but these days, it seems when I finally reach that live person, he or she turns out to be completely unable to communicate with me using comprehensible and discernible English.

I Can Deal With Difficult To Understand Accents In Real Life (By Using Hand Gestures), But When The Situations Happen Over The Phone, The Conversations Can Get Comically Tedious

I am terrible when it comes to understanding different accents. Even British English accents trip me up on occasion - but at least it is somewhat closer to American English in terms of speech and pronunciation, albeit a bit more deliberately pronounced I suppose. While I can understand the different types of American English accents such as a southern, Boston, and even accents that distinguish different races and ethnic groups prominent in this country, I still have frequent difficulty understanding the cultural nuances and accents that aren't considered mainstream American English. This difficulty in understanding foreign accents is most pronounced and debilitating when it comes to conversations over the phone with someone from another land, especially when I find my phone call re-routed to some outsourced call center located overseas and wind up with a customer service rep who speaks with a thick accent that I simply cannot understand despite my best efforts.

While in a real life conversation and business work setting, heavy accents aren't as significant a detriment as there are other methods of communication such as using writing and through natural hand gestures to punctuate one's point, in the world of customer service telephone calls, this type of linguistic verbal diversity is a significant detriment and handicap. When it comes to customer and technical support help lines, communication and speed are two important elements to a quick and satisfactory resolution of the problem at hand. There are plenty of jobs where having a perfect American English accent is not crucial and one can get away with not having otherwise perfect American English, but a position as a customer service call representative that caters to Americans is not one of them. The job absolutely demands that the agent be able to communicate with the language of the target country. Is that really too much to ask? Oftentimes in such scenarios, time and patience are limited luxuries. In such situations, having a thick accent is a very undesired handicap to have, particularly when the issue needs to get resolved quickly over the phone in a short period of time without the benefit of time to get to know each other. This is the biggest problem many customers such as myself are having with companies that continue to outsource their customer service call center jobs overseas to English speaking, but heavily accented countries like India.

Facing An Indian Customer Service Representative With An Incredibly Thick Accent Is Like Talking To A Brick Wall - Nothing Gets Through, and Time Is Wasted

When American call center customer service jobs are outsourced to other countries, I think it's reasonable to expect the call agents that will be handling the calls to be trained to speak in proper America English. However that is not always the case. Especially when it comes to Indian call centers, the accent is often an interesting mish mash of British English, local Indian dialect, and butchered American English. What often comes out is an unintelligible murmur, resulting in humorous and frequently embarrassing exchanges between the rep and the customer.

A few years ago, I bought a Linksys wireless Internet router, but had major trouble setting up my wireless connection. I kept losing my wireless internet signal and so I embarked on a customer service phone call quest to solve the problem. I dialed the company's 1-800 number and was promptly connected to an agent. Little did I know, but my call from Maryland, USA was instantly routed thousands of miles across the planet to a different time zone to a call center in India. Immediately when I heard the agent's accent, I knew it was going to be a long day. It started as soon as my phone rep introduced herself with a thick Indian accented "Hello"...followed by a ..."my name is Mary", a presumably English name moniker chosen by the Indian customer service rep for the convenience sake of their mostly American clientele instead of compelling them to remember a more difficult Indian name. For the next 60 minutes, I struggled valiantly to understand her words and sentences. I tried to remain polite and understanding, but I kept asking her to please repeat herself, much to my continued embarrassment. Every sentence on her part would be followed by a "What?" on my end, or would be followed by a momentary pause as I scratched my head and tried to figure out what she was trying to tell me.

After a while, I could tell she was getting fed up with having to repeat herself after every instruction, but then what was I supposed to do? I desperately tried to understand, and I really did try - but it was a constant guessing game on my end. I simply could not comprehend the Indian customer service representative's thick Indian English accent. At the end, I got little accomplished because she and I were simply unable to communicate. I found myself spending more than an hour repeating her own words back in my vain attempt to make some linguistic sense. Eventually I had to give up and seek help from another customer service rep. The next rep's Indian accent was just as thick and I ultimately had to call back several times before I finally found an agent who's accent was more bearable. But the experience left me with a very negative view of the company and their irresponsible cost cutting efforts to send customer service jobs overseas when the work could be better handled here.

American Companies Who Cater To American Consumers Should Seriously Re-Consider Their Indian Outsourcing Strategy Or Face Consumer Backlash In The Long Run

This is a serious problem that many major American companies who choose to outsource their call center jobs to low cost foreign countries will ultimately have to face. Customers such as myself may eventually take our customer service frustration out on the company and defect to one of their competitors. Based on some news reports I've read, many companies that have attempted to outsource their customer service functions abroad have not realized the cost savings they expected, discovering that there are hidden costs that far outweighed the potential savings in labor expenses. Oftentimes, due to significant customer complaints about difficult to understand customer service representative accents and great differences in culture, companies have had to expend significant amounts of additional money to train the agents on proper American English and terminology. Ultimately some of these outsourcers have brought those type of jobs back in-house and back into the country.

Faced with backlash from customers like myself who have great difficulty understanding heavily accented Indian English, some companies are actually taking the next logical alternative step by shipping the work over to other moderately English speaking countries, like the Philippines. As a former U.S. controlled territory, the Philippines at least offers a more Americanized work force with a better understanding of American culture that can potentially offer employees with lighter accents. There will still be an annoying accent to deal with, but at least the twang, so to speak, will be significantly less painful to understand than that spoken in India.

There are currently also signs that the trend toward outsourcing call center jobs to low-wage countries like India or even the Philippines may be slowing down. Research shows that some call centers are most effective when staffed by Americans and there is at least some growing attempt to keep jobs here. I've noticed that many companies are now trying to keep the bulk of their daytime customer service call center jobs in the United States where the calls can be handled by American English speaking agents. For customer service lines that provide 24 hour coverage and take on evening calls however, some still get routed overseas to places like India, but many daytime calls are now being mercifully handled by call centers in the U.S. At least that's what I noticed recently when I called my cable internet provider's help line several times recently. When I called during normal daytime office hours, I got a service rep that spoke perfect English, but at night, I basically played the ole accent guessing game, doubling and even tripling the length of time spent trying to resolve my problem.

For those of you out there who are embarrassed to admit but also have difficulty understanding accents, I recommend making your 1-800 customer service and technical support phone calls during the day. Sure that means using up your precious anytime wireless phone minutes, but you stand a much better chance of reaching someone in this country than if you called after hours.

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83 Responses to “Outsourcing Call Center Jobs To India Leads To Bad Customer Service” 

  1. Saarthak says:

    Hatedots, I'll try and be civil as per the wishes of the blog author. I have to agree with you, my customer service skills are crap, and thats because I'm not a customer service rep and neither did I claim to be one. Please don't think that every Indian who comments on this blog post works in a call centre that serves America. Thats stupid.

    Your dreams of having to see a mushroom cloud over India are so childish, that I wonder what sort of education you received at school or college (if you ever went to one). Perhaps you should become a vegetarian and have more mushrooms in your diet, and stop your obesession with cows. Will make you a more pleasant person.

    Have a good day

  2. HateDots says:

    Saarthak, I have enough education to know that Americans are better than you and your kind when it comes to providing customer service for Americans. Get the picture, Sandjaya Goopta? Perhaps you should have lived closer to Union Carbide. Would have made you a very pleasant person.

    Have a good day yourself and maybe take a bath for a change.

  3. Mr sharma says:

    jenkins, what you said is correct you never typed unncessary comments about Indians and i appreciate that you know your limits. Do not mess with Indians and you better know your limits.As far as disrespect or Insult goes, americans dont even respect their parents or elderly so expectations ant too much,thats in your blood and i dont mind that.Value addtion to a comment that makes sense is an inevitable phenomenon, moreover leaving turd material online is no big deal for you guys.So keep doing the good work and thats what you are known for.

    Hateshitdots, do not teach something to someone if you yourself are a learner. Two or three electric shocks at the center might help you.if that doesnt solve the problem then donot eat what you shit. You seem to be overobsessed by cows shit.start eating it, that might change your configuration. You are a manufacturing defect, cure is difficult but nothing is impossible.Come to india and we will open up your pores.

  4. Saarthak says:

    Hatedots, are you calling me Sandjay Goopta? Thats not my name by the way. I don't know where you picked that from. And point taken. Go ahead and convince fellow Americans to get into customer service massively since u and ur kind are the best in it. I wish you all the best in your endeavour. But I do wish you the worst for your other wishes. You're one sadistic American out here

  5. JOSHUA says:

    This is to inform each and everyone involved here, please maintain dignity of this blog. I can see that people are fighting like kids, please refrain from using racial slurrs and abusing cultural integrity. Pointing out fingers at others is very easy but before doing that we should look into ourselves. there are people who have used foul language and then feel sorry for the same , this amazes me the most.I dont know what they are trying to prove about their own behaviour and culture which they cant hide properly. Moreover, people interested in deciding identities of others are fake themselves because they have accepted that americans are not good at verbal or written english and i feel sorry for them. also for people who are questioning faith of others should check their stories first.No practice is perfect in this world.I feel sorry for all those who are deviating from the topic just because of their personal interests.

    coming back to topic... America has been dependent on talents of the outside world. Its time to nurture our own talent else we will starve for talented people and our dependency would increase infinitely. We are thankful to people of India and Phillipines for having absorbed most of that requirement. Our problem is our tradition of incurring debts due to which whole economic structure of our country has collapsed. Signs of improvement are there but we ought to change our lifestyle rather than giving marks to indians for their good work. American businessmen are not fools that even their own customer are suffering and they would continue offshoring their businesses. Customer satisfaction is of prime importance for any business anywhere in this world.So let us understand limitations of businesses first rather than commenting on their profit making endeavors. This world is a small community, lets not fight and feel jealous about indians and work together for the betterment of society and its people. Regards

  6. JOSHUA says:

    I think things have settled down now. There has been heated conversation between many of us and this comment section has attracted many. Let us now conclude from this comment section and end this topic with a positive note. I have concluded following important points from comments of all:

    1. Indians are doing terrific job and we appreciate that whole heartedly.
    2. Few of us who are arrogant need to change our attitude towards them. This marks a bad impression of our culture on them and on the whole world.
    3. We need to be polite with them over the phone and should speak slowly as we have different accents at different locations.
    4. We need to be more courteous.
    5. We need to stop incur debts.
    6.Indians are blessed with politeness, courtesy and kindness hence India is the customer service hub of the world.
    7. We should not feel proud of english language as we dont own it and we have not mastered it yet.
    8. We should refrain from racial slurrs because it just adds on to our blunt behaviour.
    9. What we are today is because of their good work be it here in America or there in India. We should be thankful to them and should respect them.
    10. We need to understand, our downfall is because of our own culture and tradition not because of them. Today the world is changing and our role as well. We should behave as matured citizens of a developed nation and develop our own skills rather than blaming others.
    11. Outsourcing cannot be stopped but can only be improved if companies involved provides proper training to its employees.
    12. Customer service is not our cup of tea, let them do the good work.
    13. Abusing people over the phone or boycotting services is a stupid and puposeless attempt.
    14. The whole world is blaming us for the economic recession, we ought to take responsibility and sort it out internally
    15. Our policies have made our people useless , inefficient and unsuitable for jobs involving specified skillset...need to make needful changes.

  7. Jason says:

    Joshua, James Jenkin, Mr Sharma -

    I don't know what you are trying to pull here but you aren't fooling anyone. After having read the comments carefully and scrutinized the consistently sloppy English allegedly written by these three commentators, I have to conclude that it appears you are all the same person - one in the same. Are you some Indian guy trying to play pretend to stir up controversy and gather sympathy? Why do you pose as "Joshua" and "James Jenkins" and pretend to be an American? It's quite clear you are not an American citizen and do not reside in the U.S., so please stop posing as one and stop pretending to espouse our views. You do not speak for us.

    Americans don't have anything against Indians, foreigners, or accents. We just resent having our jobs shipped overseas to low cost outsourced workers, and are angry to hear news of customer service jobs being taken over by people who we can't linguistically understand.

  8. JohnR says:

    I'm with Jason on the post by Joshua. The typed English is not that of a regular English speaking person. I also agree on what was said about what Americans resent. At some point anytime we dialed a customer service line the person answering had a hard-to-understand accent but said his name was Bob. Our country has gone through one of the worst recessions in almost 70 years and we have a high unemployment rate. So many of us feel that these jobs should return to US to the people who originally worked them. My experiences with overseas call centers has been less than pleasant because of the language barriers. I hate having to repeat myself or ask the rep to repeat themselves. By the end of the call we have both repeated ourselves numerous times and the experience is nothing short of tedious. I understand corporations exist to make money for the shareholders and if it is profitable to hire within this country they will do so. I also understand that the desire to link the entire world with the internet has led to the technology that enabled overseas call centers. Outsourcing began within the country and soon spread overseas to India due to two things: cheaper labor force and a large English-speaking population. In some ways, the American people have brought this on themselves. We are a greedy nation who wants to get as much as we can for the least amount of money.

  9. JOSHUA says:

    People as you are aware, i dont like pointing out fingers and referring names hence i will not reply to comments of few cow crazy shitheads, i dont know how many times that person slept with cows but anyways coming back to bone of contention, these CEOs are our own people so we need to take responsibility of their actions . As far as cheap workers and profit is concerned, this is the basics of any market, if you are getting services at par, you will go for the cheaper one, whats wrong in that. The problem is that these people are helpless as they can only show their frustration of loosing jobs because of their incapability. People are working and earning good , inefficient people are loosing jobs.Moreover as far as recession is concerned , stupid uneducated people still dont know the actual reason behind it and that is downfall of whole banking system as they were unable to recover huge debts that we american have owed. As banks are the backbone of the economy, all sectors suffered and led to recession. Obama rightly said, we need to stop living on credits , we need to compete with Bangalore and Beijing, there is noway to curb this competition …..plz stop blaming CEOs, Indians, Chinese etc..pull up your socks guys..this blamegame is worth of nothing and because of few people we are loosing our dignity.

    We are not a greedy nation, we are a stupid nation if we realize it late that technology has brought world on the same page and competency level has increased so stop blaming foregners. Do you guys think that people like cow crazy shitheads are suitable for customer service, they cant think about anything else except shit.We have many of those and this is the reason we are loosing these jobs to foreigners apart from cost factor.And people who are claiming that Americans are very good at english need to know the facts. America is a land of immigrants, there are spanioles,chinese,and people of different languages. Actually problem is at the root level that is our culture and tradition.People are getting married at a very young age, getting divorced three to four times their lifetime and relying heavily on child benefits and social security. Young girls are getting attracted towards porn industry because there is no other industry that we are flourishing in.70% of Americans quit studying after high school. Crime rate is very high as compared to EU.We lack in highly educated people hence we recruit outsiders(scientists) for NASA, doctors, engineers etc. As i mentioned before we are highly dependent on outsiders and hence we should be thankful to them because what we are today is because of useful contribution by all of them.Historically all Americans are immigrants . English is just a language, talent surpasses everything so donot rely on english language rather enhance your skills buddies. Regards

  10. HateDots says:

    Joshua you are not an American so you need to shut your piehole, Dothead Boy. If you are in America then take your towelhead ass out back to that third world shithole you came from, boy. I know what shit is and it's the stench that hangs over your country like a cloud. Too bad we can't see a nice mushroom cloud over it and wipe you and the rest of you verminous filth into oblivion. Too bad that Union Carbide leak didn't cover more territory as in the entire country. Come on over and pop off to an American face to face, Sandjaya Goopta, and you'll get a quick lesson in how Americans take care of shit like you, boy. How about I enhance my Dothead Extermination skills starting with you? Sure would make the world a much better place. No more "kindly reboot your wodem" bullshit customer service from that pisshole you live in.

  11. Saarthak says:

    Hatedots, never did I think I'd come across an American more contempible than you. You proved me right.

    You said:

    "No arrogance here and really don't care what a bunch of dotheads in a third world rathole think anyway. "

    If that sentence does not show arrogance, racism and bigotry in every syllable, then you are a dickhead. If it does, you are still a bigger dickhead.

    Be grateful that you were born in a country where you did not have to struggle to make ends meet. There are millions in Asia and Africa who live on the brink of starvation. You might call that living in 'third world rathole' conditions, and masturbate about it, throwing up orgasms of racist slurs and superiroity complexes, but I hope life teaches you a good lesson in humanity. Of course, why would anyone expect a person like you to even think of showing empathy to people who were born poor for no fault of theirs? What difference will it make to you if a child in Ethopia dies because his family couldn't afford to buy food? Obviously nothing. But at least refrain from calling less endowed people various names and gloat about their living conditions.

    I was just pointing out the contradiction in your sentence but ended up giving a lecture. Sigh.

  12. Frost Snowman says:

    Joshua. You are a maggot and a traitor. You should feel shame. Saarthak you are an idiot. People starve in Asia, India and Africa because THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE !. Stop breeding like vermin and the problems will disappear.

  13. Chris says:

    I am tired of getting call centers in Mumbai for every tech support or customer service call I make. They take forever to try to understand what I'm saying, almost always get it wrong, then simply refer me back to the website's FAQs (which I consulted first). Been through this with everyone from Yahoo Professional to EA Games.

    People keep talking about the loss of "manufacturing" jobs ... well, add damn near everything else to that list. I end up speaking to someone who knows less than I do about systems, less than I do about the product I'm calling about ... and barely speaks my language. If major companies paid someone local for these service jobs, they would keep more local (read American) customers. Then they'd make more money. Then they'd have to shed less jobs here in America. It's pretty damned simple.

    If you want to GROW your job base in India, you should GROW your customer base in India. How happy would you be if you were 57-years-old and found your job (of explaining how a product works) outsourced to someone here in America who barely understood Hindi?

    Getr over your superiority complex. We're NOT supid. We're just sick of YOU taking OUR JOBS!

  14. Jesenia Marshbanks says:

    Which is a better ROI, telemarketing or out bound email?

  15. Rona says:

    Why do Indians stink so badly? I deodorant tabu in Hinduism?

  16. Ron says:

    I am very open-minded and unprejudiced. I have a great respect and admiration for the Indian prople.
    However, the issue here is with American companies. Outsourcing is the biggest factor in the loss of available jobs in the United States. Companies are willing to compromise the quality of customer service for the cost savings.
    At some point the outrage will grow and and we will not accept higher unemployment thet has been created due to this isssue. American Jobs are too critical to ignore this

  17. Affordable Solar Panel says:

    There are some intriguing things in time in this article but I don't know if I see all of them core to heart. There is some truth but I will take hold opinion until I look into it even more. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well

  18. Harvey Calypso says:

    What Phil Bertelsen said above is exactly what happened to me, "The people they send through the checkout lines to solicit this Executive card are often a pain in my backside. They scan your card with a portable scanner, announce to everyone around you how much you spent at Costco last year and then explain (more or less) how foolish you would be for not signing up. ... “But don’t you realize how much you would be saving?” “It would pay for itself and if you don’t like it, you can request a refund.”. Should I have to explain this in the presence of my fellow shoppers?" In my case, the Costco sales person announced loudly to everyone within 50 feet of us how much I had spent. My experience was identical to Phil's, even to the words in the sales pitch. I disagree with karmickreator's statement that, "..quite respectfully, they are doing their job making sure you know about all membership options,..". They performed their job in both mine and Phil's experience by announcing as loudly as they could how much I spent at Costco last year. Shoppers from several cash registers away were turning their heads to hear the loud & aggressive sales pitch. There was nothing "discreet" about it. The fact that the same sales technique is used in more than one location indicates that the "public shaming" method of sales is intentional on the part of Costco. My spending is private information that I resented being broadcast. ("Did you know you spent $3,000 on anti-depression medication last year?" announces the pharmacist loudly to the drugstore customer while she waits in line for her prescription.) I bought the Executive card on impulse, but after I got home and started thinking about it, it occurred to me that I was funding my own credit, either in whole or part. Whatever the credit will be, I paid for $50 of it. And I exchanged $50 in cash - which can be used anywhere - for $50 in store credit - which can only be used at Costco. Using an example of $4,000 in purchases, I would receive a credit for $80. But $50 of the credit was paid for by me in the form of the additional fee for the Executive card, so my net credit is really $80 - $50 = $30. $30 is 0.75% of $4,000. Less than 1%. So, the Executive card is a slight benefit, but not one I'd buy again. Even if I spent $100,000 at Costco, I wouldn't buy that card again. I extremely resent my personal information being broadcast to all shoppers within 50 feet of the Costco sales person.

  19. a smart kid says:

    ok outsourceing sux and every time you go to call for phone help or anything like that you get some forgener no offense but we need our jobs back

  20. Jack says:

    I am originally from India, but I'M AN AMERICAN CITIZEN, and I hate outsourcing! As an AMERICAN, when I call an American company, I expect To Speak to an American! Not some foreign idiot. And yes, I consider India to be a foreign country to me, as I am no longer a citizen of that place. Hire AMERICANS! I boycott and refuse to do business with any company that outsources. And this has absolutely nothing to do with race. I am technically an Asian-American, and I would react the same way if some white dude picked up the phone in Canada. It's still a foreign country and I wish To Speak with another US Citizen, of any race, when I call an American company.

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