May 05, 2007

An Open Letter to U.S. Financial Services Companies

MEMORANDUM

TO: U.S. Financial Services Cos.

FR: Benjamin Kepple

RE: Overseas call centers

DEAR SIRS:

As a customer of admittedly minor importance to your revenue streams, I must nonetheless protest being shunted to overseas call centers on the very rare occasions when I do call you to inquire about a matter. This is not because I have any animus towards overseas call centers per se, but rather because I feel that dealing with the call centers puts up an artifical barrier between me, the customer, and you, my service provider.

Simply put, I can't get upset with the staff the way I could theoretically do so if I was talking with an American. And boy, is it frustrating.

Let's first look at a typical call I make to a provider. This would usually be about some routine matter, and as such can be dealt with in about 30 seconds. However, once on the line, I find myself subjected to a script in which I am pitched a variety of goods and services for which I have no need. Now, whereas I could be firm but curt with an American, I find myself being overly polite to the poor bastard in God knows where, because I'm earning more in a month than he'll make in a year. As such, I waste precious minutes on the phone in a pathetic kabuki dance in which he goes through his call-center script, and I answer various questions with little enthusiasm, and eventually decline the product or service he is offering. Then, we must go through it again as he moves on to the next pitch, and so on.

This aggravates me to no end. But I certainly can't tell the poor call-center guy that, because it's not his fault, and they're impeccably polite. Besides, if I were to lose my temper, I would feel guilty about it long after the call had ended. I'm sorry, but when the income ratio gets above ten to one, I slip into master-servant mode and can't for the life of me offer any direct criticism or even complaint.

Now, I know the obvious retort here -- that money goes a lot farther in India than it does here, due to the great cost-of-living differential. Doesn't matter. I still can't get upset with a guy making 12,000 rupees a month, which at 40 INR to the dollar means the guy is making a mere $300 per month, or $69.77 a week, or $1.74 an hour. And those figures, as I understand it, are on the high end for an Indian call center employee who speaks at least two languages fluently and has a post-secondary education to boot. Even if one is generous, and allows that the cost-of-living differential means the employee is making the equivalent of $1,500 per month, that's still just $348 per week.

In any event, as I understand it, even a call center employee making just 144,000 INR per year will find himself in a 10 pc income tax bracket, and will also have to pay God knows what other taxes, fees, levies and duties the Government of India, and its associated state Governments, have established. I understand these include a VAT, which sucks.

The way I see it, there are two solutions to this problem. First, you could give the call center employees a bit of leeway and let them recognize when the American on the other end of the line does not want to hear myriad pitches for high-margin, low-value services. Second, you could -- in the immortal words of the late Onion finance columnist Herbert Kornfeld -- "give peeps a goddamn raise." That would boost morale among call-center employees and make me feel less guilty if I was to suddenly slip and lose my temper.

Of course, you could always hire more American call-center workers, maybe even in Michigan, where God knows there is no work at all and you would have an ample supply of happy employees. But I understand business is business.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 5, 2007 10:52 AM | TrackBack
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