Thursday, July 07, 2011

Life in an Indian call center

Mother Jones goes undercover to reveal what's *really* happening when you're talking to "Marty" who happens to be in an Indian call center.

One question I'd like to answer, asked by one of the Indian call center workers: "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?"

Well, it's simple. Until the past 15 years or so, call centers were located in places like Phoenix and San Antonio, places with a low cost of living and a large supply of skilled labor that migrated to them from surrounding regions. Call center jobs provided the first jobs for a lot of folks who didn't graduate from a top-ranked university with the best grades but were more than qualified to talk to other Americans in an understandable and comprehensible way to solve their problems.

So now the call centers have largely moved to India, and where are those workers? Many of them went back home, and they're bitter that their jobs were filled with Indian call center workers. Furthermore, they perceive the Indians as doing a worse job than they did -- Indian call centers rarely have the ability to escalate problems to people who know enough to actually resolve them, and the calls are so scripted that they seem insulting to many Americans. It all boils down to, "that Indian has *MY* job." It's got nothing to do with you, Shail. It's all about the process you represent -- the process of disemploying Americans for the benefit of a powerful elite who care nothing about America and Americans, and everything about extracting as much money as they can from America by any means possible.

-- Badtux the Mercenary Penguin


  1. I worked in a call center and I loved it. The company laid off everyone here and relocated to FLA, and then India. That doesn't mean I treat any call center employee poorly. I'm used to different accents, and people whose first language isn't even English so that doesn't faze me at all. I did have one tech support call where the hatred for Americans was glaring, obvious, and I hope the call was audited and he got fired. That's not something that I wish very darned often.

  2. I also dislike phone dealings with Indians. Filipinos, too, because a lot of call centres are working out of the Philippines due to their colonial heritage of speaking English. I have nothing against the people, because I work with many from both cultures.

    The ones on the phone aren't the people who shipped the jobs overseas, though. So when I pick up on the accent, I will politely inquire where they are located. I commend them for their proficiency in English, and tell them their command of my language is better than my abilities in Hindi or Tagalog or whatever. Then I say I'm disappointed that so many jobs in my country have been lost to overseas call centres, and hang up.

    Yelling at the low person on the totem pole only generates bad karma and pointlessly harshes the day of someone who's at about the same level in the pecking order as I am. Of course, a lot of my response has to do with whether I'm the one who made the call, and how badly I need the help.

    And FWIW, just because the voice on the other end of the line has an East Indian accent, they're not necessarily in Hyderabad. Many evenings when I'd be riding the tram up St. Kilda Road in Melbourne, Australia at 8:30 p.m. on my way to a midnight shift at the hospital, there would be a couple of stops where clutches of chattering Indians would get on. After seeing this a few times and eavesdropping on them, I realized they were ending their shifts at call centres in the anonymous glass cube-buildings that lined that part of the road. They were legal residents of a part of the English Empire, getting paid decent Australian wages and benefits, doing something that their native country has specialized in. I never figured out who they were working for or what country they were calling -- didn't care enough to sticky-beak THAT hard -- but Indian voices don't always equate to job-stealers.

  3. Oh, I agree that the call center worker is not the one who outsourced that job to India. Still, it is not likely to be a source of great joy to someone whose job got outsourced to India (or someone who is a loved one of someone whose job got outsourced to India) to make a support call and... talk to the person in India who replaced him. While regrettable that someone might say angry words in that circumstance, it's also understandable.

    - Badtux the Reality-based Penguin

  4. Quite frankly, if they could solve my tech support issues, I'd be a lot less irritated.

  5. Indeed, but they're not being paid to solve your tech support problems. They're being paid to answer phone calls and stay on the phone for exactly 120 seconds, no more, preferably less. When you're paid per tech support call *answered* rather than per technical issued *solved*, where's the incentive to actually solve problems for customers?

    My own employer does employ one of those Indian companies to answer the technical support line at night (their day), but we're quite aware of the limits of the approach. Their script will resolve some of the more common problems, but anything else gets escalated back to us here in America and we give you a callback in the morning with a real tech support person who has access to real technical people to solve your problem. Deal is that the night people won't have access to the technical people anyhow, so you'd have to wait for a solution to your problem until the technical people got into the office at 9AM anyhow, and when we hired folks here to work the night shift they fell asleep too often, so we hire folks in the right time zone to be awake, so at least you're talking to someone who's awake to not solve your problem, as vs. talking to someone who's so sleepy that it's like talking to a pot-head at a Phish concert...

    - Badtux the Supportive Penguin

  6. Peggy doesn't have a language problem, she has an intelligence problem. A sari situation for sure.

  7. While I agree that the Republicans (lizard like or otherwise) have some of the blame for our jobs shifting overseas, why do you give a free pass to the Democrats? It appears to me that this is something both parties strongly support.


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