Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How may I help you?

Purty flowers from downtown Greenville... which of course, have absolutely nothing to do with this post. (Yes, I really do own one of those old "flower power" buttons ...)



I wake up and my TV channels are totally scrambled. Panic! How do they expect me to keep up with my scandalmongering without TV? Yes, I know the internet is a great place for snooping about, but I want my talking heads! Michael Jackson's death has just been ruled a homicide, and I must know more.

My rather slack-ass and stingy cable TV-company, Charter Communications, is now bankrupt, but still operating. How does that work exactly? When regular people go bankrupt, they have to STOP operating, don't they? But here they are, taking my money and continuing to provide slack-ass service anyway.

The Charter website does not list any re-set of channels. So, I am attempting to find out the reason though their computerized customer service.

Thank you for choosing Charter Chat Live! A Customer Care representative from Cable TV Support will be with you shortly.
You are currently number 8 in the queue.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
You are currently number 7 in the queue.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
Are these bots or people? As Dead Air regulars know, your humble narrator worked in/was traumatized by customer service for over 5 years, and I think I would have preferred typing bullshit replies to giving bullshit replies over the phone.

At least, when they scream, you wouldn't hear it.
You are currently number 4 in the queue.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
You are currently number 3 in the queue.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
You have been connected to TTD Shazia .
TTD Shazia : Thank you for contacting Charter Video Support. My name is Shazia. How may I assist you today?
Me: My channels are all scrambled up and not in the usual order
TTD Shazia : I'm sorry. The channels are being updated due to the recent changes in the lineup. These channel changes are effective August 25th, 2009. After August 25th, 2009, go to charter.com to view your channel line-up.
TTD Shazia : I can give you a list now if you want.
Me: Yes, I would like that!
TTD Shazia : In order for me to further assist you, may I have the phone number on the account starting with the area code, please?
Me: blah blah blah
TTD Shazia : Thank you. Can you also please verify the name that appears on the account, the complete service address, and the last four digits of your SSN?
Me: More blah blah blah
TTD Shazia : May I verify who I am chatting with?
Me: Daisy
TTD Shazia : Thank you. One moment, please.
TTD Shazia : Thank you so much for patiently waiting.
TTD Shazia : Channel Line-Up Effective August 25th, 2009:
And Shazia/the bot gives me a list which I printed out. Better than the phone, most assuredly, where this wouldn't be possible.

While working in customer service, I was instructed to say "I'm sorry" about everything, or some variation such as "I apologize for that," which I still say in retail if I don't carry a product or we are out of something. Why are we apologizing for something not our fault? I hate that shit. I hate it from Shazia/the bot too. Not her or the bot's fault if Charter is all fucked up and doesn't care about telling customers that the line-up has changed.

Looking up the name "Shazia"--I see it is an Indian or Pakistani name. Did I just talk to India?

I have a lot of mixed feelings about the fact that the job I used to have, is likely outsourced now. I hate that Americans are not getting the jobs, and then again, I know how badly everyone in the world needs a job. I have always prided myself on being a working-class person who connects to other workers, no matter where and who they are. When I saw the 60 Minutes segment in 2004 and learned customer service people in India are making maybe one-fifth (or less!) of what I made, I was livid on their behalf, too:
On any given day in New Delhi and Bombay and Bangalore, the call goes out for new call center recruits as more and more American companies come calling. The call center employees earn $3,000 to $5,000 a year, in a nation where the per capita income is less than $500. The perks include free private transport to and from work plus the sheer heaven of an air-conditioned workplace.
And every time I talk to Luke (Skywalker?), Peter (Parker?) or Jennifer (Aniston? Garner? Lopez? Connelly?), I am also reminded of the 60 Minutes show:
New Delhi is nearly 11 hours ahead of New York, so manning the phones is largely night work. By day, the agents - as they're called - are dutiful Indian sons and daughters. By night, they take on phone names such as Sean, Nancy, Ricardo and Celine so they can sound like the girl or boy next door.

"The real name is Tashar. And name I use is Terrance," says one representative.

"My real name is Sangita. And my pseudo name is Julia," says another representative. "Julia Roberts happened to be my favorite actress, so I just picked out Julia."

American movies are part of an agent's training in how to sound all-American.

Lavanya Prabhu is a call center trainer who guides young Indians through the labyrinth of American English. And she says she is able to pick up some of typical American accents while instructing her students.

"Well, you have Brooklyn. 'You walk the walk and you talk the talk.' And you have the southerner's thing. 'Oh hello, there. What can I do for you today,'" says Prabhu, who spends most of her time trying to de-Indianize her countrymen.

But it's difficult to get in. In fact, Prabhu says they accept approximately five applicants out of 100 applications.
We are spreading our Americanism around the world; colonialism through culture. There appears to be no escape for anyone.

I was recently asked an account-related question by a customer service worker with a strong Indian accent...I couldn't find the information she asked for, and mumbled, Oh God, I'm such a mess, which unexpectedly brought some hardy laughter.

I was glad I could make her day happier, and add to the colloquialisms she would later share with her co-workers.

Is globalizing customer service a good or bad thing for the US economy? Having hung out with the Ron Paul people quite a lot, I am inclined to say no, but then again, I can't keep my personal feelings and work experience out of my assessment.

What say you?

10 comments:

John Powers said...

"I can't keep my personal feelings and work experience out of my assessment."

That's really the nub of something very important as we try to evaluate the situations in the world. The economics of offshoring is obsessed with "value" but only value as it relates to the price of things. My personal feeling is the price of things is a poor measure of what's really important to me and the rest of us.

I don't remember where I read it, but recently read a piece that laid out the concepts of marginal cost and marginal utility by showing that health care in the USA operates essentially protected from these operating principles which seem to govern everything else. All sorts of medical practices could be offshored but aren't.

Is that good or bad? I'm not sure, but it's clear there are costs--higher prices--involved. And a big part of the decision process involves issues of values that aren't commeasurable with price.

I think with modern many-to-many communications, which people everywhere are engaged, is building a world culture. The conversations of ordinary people across boarders are really interesting.

It's not OT for your post, but just on the topic of cross-boarder exchanges, a status update from Kenyan fellow on Facebook the other day made me laugh:

"Efforts at a critical reading of the Caster Semenya debacle being thwarted by Judith Butler groupies and queer theorists in my posse."

We've got to get more serious about local economies while at the same time participating in global conversations.

sheila said...

I hate that too. In fact, I spent 1 1/2 full hours with Norton's chat guy yesterday. The nicest dude I've ever gotten tech support from!

His name was Deepu. I believe from india also. Best support I've ever had. And a free upgrade to boot!

Hope your channels are all up and running, lol

Meowser said...

I remember one company I worked for that did a lot of outsourcing. Apparently they were screwing some of the clients by billing them as if for American-level wages, while actually secretly farming out the work at a fraction of the cost. And they also had an international Web site where our Indian counterparts were rhapsodizing about how they can afford luxury vacations and buying their parents housing because of the wonderful generosity of this "cash-rich" American company.

Needless to say, once the U.S. workforce got wind of this -- especially in light of their freezing our already-puny wages for years and slashing our benefits -- there was outrage. And I was as outraged as anybody.

Yes, I know people all over the world need jobs. I get that. But our economy cannot function if every U.S. job that doesn't critically require face time gets offshored.

Fortunately, now I work for a company that will not offshore, and it's actually a point of attraction for clients, many of whom don't want any data breaches that might accompany offshoring (critical when you're talking about patient data, since leaking it even accidentally is illegal) and don't want to risk any sleazy underhanded practices like being overbilled for what they're not getting and not monitoring carefully enough for quality in order to cut corners.

Most of the Indian MTs I edited for my old company seemed to have been rushed through training; they knew the medical words, but constantly got numbers wrong, colloquialisms wrong, etc. And if you're going to have to have far more experienced people go over every single document with a fine-toothed comb, how much money are you saving? MT companies absolutely depend on most reports being sent directly from MT to facility without having to be edited first; the sheer number of documents they handle necessitates that.

Meowser said...

Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention: Since we are still umbilically dependent upon employment for health care, and we can't get Medicaid if we're able to work but unemployed, offshoring jobs will mean more of us will suffer crappy health from having to cobble together a living temping, begging, borrowing, etc. with no coverage. (I have no confidence whatsoever that that is going to change any time soon; if this whole health care fiasco winds up being anything more than a shell game to keep insurance company and Big Pharma campaign $$ away from Republicans, I will be pleasantly stunned.)

SnowdropExplodes said...

Another point is that it's also not very good for the Indian economy either, because the high wages offered by the outsourced call-centres outdo the wages that can be offered by more productive industries. A lot of the time, it makes more sense for an Indian university graduate to work in a call centre than in a career where he or she uses that education to improve lives or productivity. This in turn keeps India from advancing as well as it could, and continues to promote a relative poverty by comparison to the West.

K.C. Jones said...

This is related: I just watched part of a TV show explaining how great it was that India has all these contracts with Walmart, KFC, Pizza Hut, and now! Taco Bell!!! Really, the businesswoman on the show was SO excited that now they have Taco Bell.

I didn't rejoice with her, but found it all pretty depressing. Walmart and Taco Bell are not the good aspects of American culture, in my eyes at least... *sigh*

Rootietoot said...

I don't really care who handles my customer service, as long as we can understand each other and the problem gets solved. I have a feeling it's moved to India because it benefits both the company and the Indians. I mean, I know $3000 a year isn't much to us, but it's 6 times the national average there, plus air conditioning. If someone complains about it going overseas (like everything else) then it needs to be competitive here.

Word verification: Pradish Ha!

La Lubu said...

I'll be straight up---I hate outsourcing. It has been devastating to the midwest economy. Dying communities, piss-poor schools, crumbling infrastructure. Outsourcing is all about shifting wealth from working people to the fucking wealthy parasites of the world (I'm feeling extra-socialist this morning). When Levis started manufacturing all its blue jeans outside the country, did the price go down? Sure the hell did not.

Prices are up, wages are down, and the purchasing power of the average person isn't worth a fuck. Housing insecurity, job insecurity, food insecurity, and don't even fucking ask about healthcare. No one can afford COBRA, full stop.

Fucking capitalist pigs (see, toldja I was feeling extra-socialist this morning!). We need global unionism right the fuck now! Competition my ass. Can't have "competition" without a global currency and globally recognized (and enforced) basic living standards. Oh, and no borders too, so when the jobs leave the country, workers can automatically leave to where the jobs are going.

Anything less is just a race to the bottom, no matter how "pretty" they (y'know, those capitalist pigs) try to dress it up. Need I mention the role of the military in enabling this race to the bottom for the workers of the world?

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