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. JOSHUA says:

    we americans are fighting hard with bad economy, we are jobless and homeless...today the whole world is suffering because of us...recession has hit every part of the world...time has come to change our culture , our tradition of incurring debts...living on credits...this is a competitive world and we need to compete with them but not by enforcing rules but rather enhancing our skills....this could be an eyeopener for many of us but lets accept the truth...we dont stand anywhere as far as intellegence, hard work and competency is concerned..OBAMA knows it , whole world knows it except most of us...we need to learn few things from indians and there is no harm in it because that will help us improve relationships and behaviour...respect for all...strong family relationships...savings...etc..the list is long but in todays environment , competency level has increased many folds...if we donot look into ourselves and improve , our future generation would face the music...so as proud americans lets not point out fingers at foreigners but try and improve ourselves so that america maintains its dignity...we have led to its downfall and i am sure we will not continue to push america into the slump.Regards

  2. JAMES JENKINS* says:

    As this issue is drawing the attention of each n everyone visiting ths webpage, n so many of d visitors r keep on posting abt their experiences(IN EARLIER POSTS), their own thoughts, web results(PUSHPENDRA SONI), i found some of them goofing over here, N MUCH MORE... There are legion of consequences n thghts hv alrdy been posted to it, n so it hs alrdy put ths topic a period, which is supposed to put a period tranquility to ur agitation.. i conceive, the sort of comments added very earlier, to ths matter were decent to elicit fire to it, n were nt suppossed to be lent here, bcz i trust no one could hv found those comments, reliable to ths matter... fr instance, d master FANATICAL comments posted by d fellow (ALBERT) r really baseless n isolated from d centralized field of " WANNING CUSTOMER SERVICE OF GLOBAL FIRMS, BCZ OF D ACCENTS USED BY INDIAN REPS OVER D PHONE" which is in general sometimes unintelligible fr many of us US folks.. Apart frm tht, MR Raymond didn't even try to commove d issue like "WHY US FIRMS R OUTSOURCING JOBS TO INDIA".. althgh I know d TOPIC is "Outsourcing Call Center Jobs To India Leads To Bad Customer Service" yet in my opinion despite of d title of topic, d issue hs nthng to do with d "why jobs being outsourced to india?" if everyone of u (ESPECIALLY FOR PUSHPENDRA SONI & MR SHARMA) have gone thrgh thoroughly with all d main matter compiled in here, thn u r nt supposed to post d material which hs nthng to do with d literal issue... guys we r nt here to paste or type whtever we thnk is correct, it is more important to provide some relevant n decent thoughts n consequences which r truly important n at d same time take d general issue in consideration. these frequently posts directs tht d issue couldn't be brought to an end.. whch is quite black..
    Well, well , well,, one utmost important recommendation fr MR STEVE WRIGHT... U better keep ur mouth shut frm talking rubbishly abt anyone.. wht do u mean by ur last comment? u better nt to type violently, to give birth to any racial issue...
    N YES MR SHARMA AS PER U, ONE OF THE MAIN REASON WHY AMERICANS R NT HIRED FR CUSTOMER SERVICE JOBS N LOOSING THS DOMAIN IS, BCZ OF THEIR ARGOTS.. IS SLIGHTLY NT CORRECT.. AMERICANS BETTER KNW HW TO BALANCE D PERSONAL N PROFESSIONAL LIFE. N THS IS TRUE. THNK U ALL

  3. Raymond says:

    James Jenkins,

    The purpose of this article was simply to address my gripes of having to deal with foreign accents in the very limited setting of customer service support.

    I have nothing against accents and foreign languages in general, and I myself am fluent in at least one other language apart from English. However, my main beef with Indian accents in particular is that I simply can't understand them over the phone. If their written customer support were filled with as many abbreviations and unintelligible words as your writing entails - like "ur", "n", "d", "tht", "thghts" - I would have problems with that as well.

    I understand why American companies are outsourcing such work overseas - I just think it leads to bad customer service results that are quite self defeating and alienating of one's customers.

  4. Saurabh says:

    hey,

    thanx for commenting on my thoughts.Its not just the matter of comprehending the things going around rather than bringing them in action.I personally feels that there are some turd and shithead(sorry for the words) people all over and in every corner of the world and yes we do have same here in INDIA. There job is nothing but to create problem for others who are simply trying to do their work.So just forget about the comments and lets continue doing our job without giving it a second thought. Hey i am recalling a great song sung by legend LT. MICHAEL JACKSON "HEAL THE WORLD, MAKE IT BETTER PLACE, FOR U & FOR ME AND FOR ENTIRE UNIVERSE".Nothing much to say as rest is understable and yes for James & Sandra...GREAT GOING GUYS...AND THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

  5. James Jenkins* says:

    Raymond,
    I am well cognizant of the aim of this clause, but perhaps some people couldn't understand or they didn't give it a heed to peruse the entire clause carefully, which afterward ensued of some inutile posts. I've already mentioned it in my last post.
    Well, if i talk about the abbreviations & some words which were not intelligible. than let me state it clearly, my intention was not to mention the words in sort of an opaque abbreviations. But this is all because of my habbit of chatting on net, sending e-mails (in such a non articulated way of words) to my friends and the funniest part is that none of them has ever complained about it, and writing my daily diary, again in the similar way. Well there are many things, all of which can't be explained here.
    One thing more to be stated necessarily, and that is that i personally didn't find any need for anyone to mention the significance of "Outsourcing the work to India" as each one of us has that little knowledge and a market exposure, so we ourself can better understand that all.

  6. JOSHUA says:

    i am surprised to see in this comment section that there are few people who are so adament about their thoughts that they dont even refrain themselves from commenting, approving or disapproving other people's thoughts and ideas...we are not here to give any judgement...respect ideas of all...atleast i dont expect this from americans...please be more generous and respect all...regards

  7. James Jenkins* says:

    JOSHUA,
    This is something very important to know in order to know you very well, well in

    every of your comment you just posted that you are an US citizen, but i can't believe

    it because of the way you write your comments and the way you use your

    statements.. one of the most important thing i've found is that in your last comment

    you just stated the name of Mr President without any title, which is not suppossed

    to be done by an US citizen.. Well one can easily recognize you through all these

    common fields of error... but i also can't believe that you are an Indian apart... You

    must be somewhere from, I HAVE THE NAMES IN MY MIND BUT DON'T WANT TO

    SHARE THEM... Tell us all, being very true, Where are you from in real??? we all

    will appreciate you for it.. as there is aught to hide all these realities.. and even you

    should not.. if i were at your place, i would not IDENTIFY myself as the citizen of any

    of the country other than my own country... Eventually WHO YOU ARE????

  8. James Jenkins* says:

    First and Foremost, Whom this comment (your last comment) is reffered to? and

    the second thing, you are not even somewhat clear with your words, this is

    something which should be OBVIATED here AND STAY CLEAR... Joshua, you ought

    to read all the comments carefully, and then you ought to clearly express your

    words, that what in real you want to say?? Anyways, as we all are in doubt about

    your identity, so there is no way any of us is going to be panicked because of your

    disgusting comments... really .. i do mean, really it's something very disgusting.. i

    can't believe people do this in such a way.. anyways... take it again JOSHUA... GIRD

    UP YOUR LOINS! AND CONTINUE BEING A PORCH MONKEY.. (don't cosider it a racial slur)..
    LET ME SIMPLY STATE IT TO you... I ALWAYS POSTED THE MATERIAL ON THIS

    BLOG,,, WHICH WAS USEFUL IN GENERAL.. BUT STILL IF ANYONE HAS ANY

    ISSUE.. TELL ME ABOUT THAT, AS RAYMOND DID IT IN HIS RECENT COMMENT.

    AND I PERSONALLY RESPECT THIS WAY.
    JOSHUA, BEING A COLLEGEGOING STUDENT AND A MATURED I UNDERSTAND

    THAT ALL, WHAT SOME GUYS TRY TO DO, BY POSTING SOME PHONEY

    COMMENTS ON THE BLOG.. AND HOW THEY TRY TO DO IT AND TILL WHAT

    EXTENT.. HOWEVER, HAVE I TO DO ANYTHING WITH ALL OF THIS? NO,

    ABSOLUTELY NOT..
    If you have any issue regarding my comments on this blog,, state it

    clearly in your statements.. (contemplate your sentences framing part)

  9. JOSHUA says:

    I dont make personal comments...i can see that someone is very curious to know about my identity . Funniest part is, he is making n number of grammatical mistakes himself , (which i dont like to point out )as if he doesnt even belong to an english speaking nation yet he is commenting on my identity...anyways personally i dont like this and i refrain from involving in these kinds of immature talks...i am not interesed in identities of people in here and it hardly matters if they are indians or americans or citizens of any other part of the world.For a comment section, comments are important people are not.I posted a comment as i was expecting some matured and responsible comments from people of different backgrounds...but i got few who seem to be more interested in identity rather than thoughts. Anyways this world is full of jesters. Enjoy them.
    NOW , coming back to the core issue. i dont know why few people
    think that whatever they are posting is relevant and everything else is irrelevant.They dont understand a simple thing that India is a natural customer service hub of the world.America is not the only country cherishing indian customer service, there are other countries as well like Australia,The Great Britain,South Africa,Cannada...not only this non english speaking countries like Spain, Denmark are also outsourcing customer service to India.So i strongly disagree with the whole idea of outsourcing to india leads to bad customer service infact we, americans are enjoying customer service at par anywhere else in the world...few of us who dont like all this is because we feel insecure about our own capabilities...fools who are weak from within dont dare to accept the truth, can only satisfy themselves. This world is running because of intellegent and kind people not because of fools goofing around here. Last but not the least, as Obama sd , chinese & Indians are giving us tough competition in all departments...time to pull up our socks and we need to stop fiddling around these inferior baseless topics...we should talk about how to improve ourselves not about how & why we need to curb outsourcing......Regards

  10. Mr sharma says:

    who is jenkins? who does he think he is? He is acting as if he is a leader over here. Look Mr jenkins donot represent yourself as a leader of people over here. You dont need to decide everything or anything. I dont appreciate the kind of language you are using and yes, americans are not suitable for customer service because of their casual behaviour and abusive nature.Look at yourself, you dont mind insulting people . You are just one example, you search one, you will find many in america. This might hurt but truth is always bitter.
    Saurabh, you dont need to feel sorry for commiting mistakes that you are deliberately commiting otherwise we will feel sorry for you. Moreover you need a head to become a shithead.
    Joshua, you will not feel proud enough for being an american once you interact with people like jenkins,Raymonds,Albert or Katherine. people like Sandra are very few.Moreover you dont know how third world looks at america and yes chinese would take over americans suprimacy sooner.

  11. HateDots says:

    Sharma,

    Just where in the hell do you get off saying Americans aren't suitable for customer service? We are the best choice for customer service for AMERICANS because most can understand our English and even though accents are different according to regions, most have no problem with them. The only reason you cow worshippers landed the jobs were due to American CEO's stabbing their own countrymen in the back. They sold us out for profits and didn't give a damn about good customer service. Someone else said we Americans should be grateful to you and your kind for providing "quality" customer service. Well listen Dothead, if you provided true quality, then maybe we would be grateful. Also add to the fact that our unemployment is very high now and the CEO's don't give a damn because they rake in the profits while sending OUR jobs to your shithole of a country. The most beautiful sight I can imagine is a nice mushroom cloud over India and I'd be the first to push the button if they needed volunteers. IMHO that would be a godsend to America and also the end to the worthless garbage that passes for your brand of customer service. No more "Kindly reboot your wodem" as the answer to every computer problem that comes over the lines to your third world rat infested shithole. Go worship a cow, Sandjay and shut the hell up.

  12. Saurabh says:

    Hi,

    Mr. Sharma with all due respect can u plz specify your statement" you dont need to feel sorry for commiting mistakes that you are deliberately commiting otherwise we will feel sorry for you. Moreover you need a head to become a shithead. " i am subtle by these lines. It seems like you are taking it as a war and you are ready to do anything within or outside your reach.Plz take it as a friendly advice and don't show childish behaviour.If we will start reacting in the same way as the writer of last blog did (his name does the rest of the work itself)then there will be no difference at all.It seems like what i wrote in my last blog, anyhow has a connection with this saying that "TRUTH NEEDS NO WITNESS" and yes we all can see it.

  13. Mr sharma says:

    shithole=dothead=jenkins=hatedots. Hatedots has set up another example and a proof of american culture and behaviour. This is the reason they are jobless, homeless , hopeless and helpless.This is what they need to work upon.One thing missing is respect for others and they will loose their selfbelief because of people like like hatedots, jenkins and so on..list is endless.This is what i was trying to prove, you search one you will get many. thanx hateshitdots

  14. HateDots says:

    Hey ShitheadSharma, you are a prime example of why Americans hate losing their jobs to your kind along with dealing with your shitty English accent. You sound like you need to get some of that respect yourself, cow worshipper. Helpless? Come on over here Dothead Boy and we'll show you just how helpless we are once you start popping off with your anti American rants. Your kind are nothing but verminous filth that should be exterminated from the face of the Earth.

  15. HateDots says:

    No shame in my game whatsoever. We deserve those jobs because we can do them better than any dothead. We don't ask people to "kindly" do something or how we can "be of service" to them. We also have a brain which is also a cut above the inhabitants of that third world dungheap.

  16. Saarthak says:

    Hey hatedots, were your you born like this or lack of sex changed your attitude to life? Seems you like to sleep with cows

  17. Mr sharma says:

    hateshitdot,
    find a suitable place for yourself and please shit somewhere else. and thanx for highlighting your capabilities. You are worth of nothing.Go find a suitable job for yourself first and then talk to me you petty unemployed useless people.

  18. HateDots says:

    hey Saarthak, do you use toilet paper or still wipe your ass with your fingers? Your customer service skills are shit. Your English is shit. And your country is nothing but a shit pile that should be nuked into oblivion. Now kindly reboot your wodem and I'm most greatful to be of service to you today.

  19. Raymond says:

    Can we please be a bit more civil here? I understand this outsourcing/diversity issue can be rather heated at times, but let's not resort to petty bickering without actually addressing the subject matter.

    If you wish to complain about foreigners, gripe about foreign accents, describe your personal experiences, or in the alternative, defend the outsourcing trends this country is facing - that's fine. But please refrain from personal attacks or vulgar language. Thanks

  20. HateDots says:

    Hey SharmaShithead, How about learning how to use punctuation, boy? Your typed English is as bad as your spoken English. Now go pollute that rat infested sewer you love to call home.

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