Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Don't Call Us...

Okay. I'm a good liberal. A progressive, even. I'm "PC" in that I believe one should err on the side of politeness and respect. I think globalization is inevitable, and I heart immigrants.

I'm a multi-cultural kinda gal, you know?

But as the Animating Spirit of the Universe is my witness...



It's a combination of things. Poor language skills, lousy phone lines, and a lack of cultural fluency that generally turns what should be simple transactions into bizarre and frustrating parallel monologues, often compounded by the fact that "Justin" and "Sophie" are reading from canned scripts that only sometimes match the situation you've called about.

I once refinanced my mortgage because the bank I'd been using outsourced their customer service overseas. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not comfortable discussing my property taxes with someone in Bangalore who I'm not sure understands what I'm trying to do and what I need.

Two recent examples.

I wanted to bundle my phone and internet service and keep both my old phone number and my email address. My email provider said they could do that and save me something like seventy bucks a month. What's not to like?

Well, for starters, there would be suddenly not being able to receive calls and getting a robot "Extension (your phone number here) is not available" message if you tried to call me. My service had been switched without warning, but only halfway.

I spent about two hours on the phone trying to straighten this out, to a call center that I'm guessing was in India.

The first representative told me that my phone service had been switched, but not my DSL, and that according to their IT engineers, they had to be switched at the same time. Therefore, my options were:

1. Change my phone number.
2. Switch my service back to my original provider, and then put the order in all over again, and make the switch in 4-6 weeks.

My response was: "Unacceptable. I am not changing my phone number. Unacceptable. I don't know how long it will take for my current provider to make the switch. Unbelievable. I don't understand why the voice and DSL can't be switched at separate times." And, further: "You created this problem, not me. I am your customer. You are not giving me confidence in your service. You need to fix the problem for me."

Her response boiled down to: "I am very sorry for the inconvenience." Repeat ad infinitum.

After going around and around, even getting on the phone with my old service provider and confirming that I couldn't even talk to anyone until Monday, and it would be a new order, I finally said: "I realize this isn't your fault, but I want to speak to a supervisor."

More time on hold to the canned strains of Vivald's 4 Seasons. Eventually, a supervisor "Vivian," came on the line.

Now here's where I make an exception to my loathing of overseas call-centers. Vivian was really good. She explained the situation, what had actually happened (I won't bore you with the details) and that the DSL switch was scheduled for January 15th.

"Ah-HAH! So you CAN switch them at different times. I knew it!"

So I asked if there was any way to access the voice mailbox and change the message to let people know that my phone was wonky and to call me on my cell. She thought maybe that could be done. She also said that she could have my calls forwarded from my land-line to my cell phone until the problem was fixed.

We couldn't change the voicemail message, but Option #2 worked like a charm.

Credit where credit is due - Vivian, wherever you are, you rock!

But apparently, that's why she's a supervisor, and it took two hours of my time to find her and get some help.

Here's another example. This just happened tonight. I was booking my plane ticket to Beijing on the internet. I got a great fare, on sale. The sale lasted through Jan. 9. I selected the flight, the seats, clicked to purchase, and all of the sudden, my ticket was $100.00 more.

This cannot be, said I. I refused to accept it. I called the airline.

Somewhere in Bangalore, "Jonathan" took my call.

"Maybe the fare is over," he suggested.

"No," I insisted. "It was $667.00 when I chose it and selected my seats, just now. Then I went to purchase, and it was $775. The sale goes through January 9. It is still January 9 where I am."

"You have to call web support. I cannot see the information. I will transfer you."

After sitting on hold for ten minutes or so, I decided Jonathan's solution was b.s., hung up and called Reservations again.

This time I got someone in the States. She was extremely helpful. She looked up the flight and said, "Oh. That should be $667.00. I don't understand what the problem on the web was, but I can book it for you."

The whole transaction took maybe ten minutes, and it only took that long because I was so pathetically grateful to deal with someone who could actually help me achieve my desired outcome, and I told her so.

"I'm not really allowed to say anything negative," she told me, after hearing my tale of woe. "But we hear this all the time. And I'm just sorry you had to go through that."

Let me be clear about this - I blame American companies who think they are saving money by outsourcing customer service overseas. Maybe they are saving personnel costs, but they are costing me, their customer, time and a considerable amount of goodwill, and they are creating aggravation and anger at a level that has prompted me to change whom I do business with. Oh yeah, Capital One. I'm talking about you! Citibank, you too!

One more.

I was trying to find a business I'd used in the past in my area. The number on the web now belongs to a private individual. So I called information to see if I could find an updated one.

I got an operator in freakin' India.

"There is no listing for this business in...("hiss!" "crackle!") Santa Monica."

Here's the thing: back in the day, if you called an operator, they frequently were people who lived in your area. They might even know something about the business you were trying to find. They were local! Neighbors!

Okay. I know that there's a price to be paid for a 24 hour world. I was dealing with my phone problems on a Friday night, from 9 PM until after 11. Maybe in the Olden Days I just would have been S.O.L. until more normal business hours.

But it's like I said to the second airline customer service representative. I expect language barriers when I travel overseas. That's part of the package. And if I don't understand what's going on, that's pretty much my problem.

But when I'm sitting on my couch in Los Angeles, California, trying to get some help with whatever it is I'm dealing with, I want to deal with someone who is at least on my continent.

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