November 24, 2003 8:29 PM   Subscribe

A collective "I told you so" from all the layed-off American tech workers. Dell to Stop Using Indian Call Center for Corporate Customers. Apparently, there was a high volume of complaints about thick accents and scripted responses. You don't say? You mean explaining complex technical issues to end users over a phone are further complicated by mixing in large dialect and enunciation differences?
posted by Espoo2 (38 comments total)
Having recently experienced execrable Intuit support from "Barb" and "Andy", I'm pleased to see that the limitations of this offshoring are becoming apparent. (It wasn't, by the way, anything to do with their accents.) Too bad this will only affect the high-touch corporate customers, though. I've worked on a corporate-oriented help desk before, and the resources thrown at that vs. the consumer desk can definitely be lopsided to start with. Ultimately, though, this isn't a failure of using Indians vs. Americans -- it's a systemic attitudinal failure of using canned-response support, "sponge listening" as the man called it, and fobbing off of potentially lucrative lifetime customers.
posted by dhartung at 8:49 PM on November 24, 2003

There's also the problem of "support" changing from "solving the customer's problem" to "spend as little time as possible on the phone with the customer".

When I did phone support (ISP) ten years ago, we stayed on the phone until we solved the problem. Now, if a support person spends more than five minutes on the phone with a customer, they get written up.
posted by mrbill at 8:52 PM on November 24, 2003

large dialect and enunciation differences

I know that I certainly have difficulty understanding what Americans are "saying".
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 9:01 PM on November 24, 2003

Imagine the Indians have with accents. Think about the cast of Fargo calling dell tech support. How about people from New Orleans?
posted by nyxxxx at 9:09 PM on November 24, 2003

I don't really remember support being all that great in the first place. My business makes a pretty good living differentiating ourselves in our market by devoting real resources(i.e. money) to support.

And my favorite was Friday when I called Network Solutions about a possible security violation regarding posession of a domain. Seems the "tools available for handling those types of problems were currently unavailable", so after requesting an escalation on my problem I was reffered to the VIP service. Called them, talked to someone local in the US(timezone giveaway in conversation), where I was informed the "tools available for handling those types of problems were currently unavailable". *sigh*
posted by dglynn at 9:34 PM on November 24, 2003

"handled from call centers in Texas, Idaho and Tennessee"
Why do I not feel a fuzzy feeling of relief?
posted by mischief at 9:40 PM on November 24, 2003

Well, I was one of the lucky thousands layed-off by Dell when they decided to do this. I mainly supported Optiplex systems, but did some Latitude as well. During the transition phase, between stateside and overseas techs, I had many opportunities to read the call logs of the India techs, and spoke with quite a few on the phone. The people that they hired in India were not dumb, by any means. Most of them had more education than many of the people working stateside, many had their Masters degree.

I've had to talk a 70 year old secretary through reseating RAM before, and it's far from easy, even if you are fluent and speak with no obvious accent. Technical jargon doesn't cut it sometimes. And that's one of the main problems the foreign techs had: a lack of American vernacular, slang, and "pop-culture talk". My manager flew to India to train these guys, and they prescribed hours of American sitcoms for them to watch, to help them learn the lingo. And the accents definitely did not help. . . I don't think that it's necessarily a racism thing, but more of a "my computer is screwed, I'm pissed, and the last thing I want to do is have someone speaking technical mumbo-jumbo to me in a thick accent that I have to listen very closely to to understand. I just want the damn thing fixed."
posted by Espoo2 at 9:42 PM on November 24, 2003

"my computer is screwed, I'm pissed"

Very pleased to be talking with you, sir. First, please to be assuring me that I have understood the completely correct chronological order of events, did you first get drunk, and then have sex with your computer, or is it the other way around?

Thank you very much for calling LargeCorp tech support, sir, and have a lovely day!

No, it's not a jab at Indians, it's to highlight the difficulties vernacular and slang can cause.
posted by spazzm at 10:05 PM on November 24, 2003

you call Dell, it takes 10 minutes to get through their automated menus, then you spend 25 minutes on hold, are connected to a call center in India with someone reading a script you already dealt with online trying to solve the problem yourself, the moment you start to feel like maybe you're making some progress with convincing them to just send you a new power cord, the call drops.

It's extremely frustrating.
posted by palegirl at 10:06 PM on November 24, 2003

It would be reassuring if the banks, hospitals and credit-reporting agencies would do the same.
posted by homunculus at 11:00 PM on November 24, 2003

This is why I stopped buying Dell. Having to spell everything out.. "D as in dog". Dealing with tech support is bad enough and talking with people with a thick accent like New Orleans is hard. Having to deal with someone in India who is trying his best to shorten the call and pin the blame on you is even worse. Netgear has the same type of deal and it took me three days to get a return on a product that was obviously defective.

Then again I've had good service in the past from Cisco with their guys in India.
posted by Akuinnen at 11:04 PM on November 24, 2003

Dell customer service is simply the worst I have ever dealt with. The power adapter for my laptop broke, so I ordered another one. They shipped it to my old address, even though I told them it had changed.

Over the next couple weeks I called Dell about ten times, waiting for up to a half hour each time. I spoke to customer service representatives with a wide variety of accents, many American, and they always assured me that it would be sent to the right address within two days, requiring me to wait at home. It never arrived.

Finally, I called Airborne Express, who was supposed to be handling the shipping. They had the adapter about a half hour from my house, but they couldn't deliver it until Dell authorized the address change. They e-mailed Dell, and I called Dell again to let them know what to do.

Dell told Airborne Express to ship the part back to them.

I sent a print letter to Michael Dell. I never got a response. I had to reorder the part - by then, it cost twice as much. I will never buy anything from them again.
posted by transona5 at 11:16 PM on November 24, 2003

this is why I turned to heroin.

(heh, actually, the one time I ever ordered something from dell, the next day I found a better model at a cheaper paid the return shipping and refunded all my money. I never ordered from dell ever again. I almost felt bad about it, but eh...)

but dammit, dell almost very nearly supports linux on their laptops. although as a former ibm employee I have to say that black is very sexxy. also aix and ppc970.

in conclusion:
posted by dorian at 11:58 PM on November 24, 2003

True Story:

A year ago, my brother, who works in telephony, specifically setting up call centers, worked on a major project to shift a large Insurance company's call center operations overseas.

After 6 mos, he was rehired to undo the whole project. Not because of poor performance on the part of the overseas call center operation.

Customers were complainign and switching their business to other carriers in protest at the percieved lost jobs stateside. The losses were substantial enough that they caved. It cost them a bundle.

Is that racism? I don't think so. For me I'm reminded of when I buy from the local merchant instead of Target or Wal-Mart.

Furthermore, India is now losing call centers as they are being undercut by centers in Bulgaria etc. Where does it end? Who really benefits from these cost reductions in the long run?

Isn't there a better way to cut costs?
posted by Fupped Duck at 12:04 AM on November 25, 2003

This might get me flamed, but (most) call centre staff aren't "tech workers" any more than the receptionist on the front desk at Dell HQ is. Whether they're in the US or India, they're going to be reading out the same scripts and waiting for yes/no responses.

If they're adamant about doing 1st-level tech support that (i.e. 'the wrong') way, why bother with humans at all? Everyone has a touch-tone phone these days.
posted by cell at 2:35 AM on November 25, 2003

further complicated by mixing in large dialect...differences.

I don't get this part. Which dialect or sub-dialect of English do the Indian phone reps speak? American Black English? Standard Canadian? Yorkshire?
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:32 AM on November 25, 2003

Here you go, Mayor Curley.
posted by signal at 5:13 AM on November 25, 2003

Speaking in out-of-my-ass terms, I'd guess there is some amount of difference between the general sum of USAian dialects and that of post-colonial subcontinental English. For one thing, most of the folks I know from India (which is to say, folks who came over the the U.S. to go to college) had stunningly precise annunciation and an aversion to contractions.

Maybe languagehat can get on this. But, yeah, dialect seems like a reasonable term.

On preview: shee-it.
posted by cortex at 5:29 AM on November 25, 2003

Three comments:

1) I'm glad I took the time to read both links, otherwise I never would have known that each link in this post was in fact the same, word-for-word, AP story published in two different news outlets. Reading the same article twice really helped clarify the issues.

2) According to this latest AP story, it's news to the folks over at Bangalore, India. They are still taking the calls, and nobody from Dell HQ has told them to do otherwise.

3) Having worked phone support for Windows 95 for 18 months back in '95/'96 I can say that technical knowledge only accounts for perhaps 25% of a successful phone tech. Most of the job is about knowing how to talk to people of varying skill levels, drawing out the information you need to get at a solution, and genuinely listening and responding to the customer's concerns (that means not just the technical issues, but the emotional as well). If all you are doing is reading from a script to provide canned responses then it really doesn't matter whether you speak fluent english or have the thickest accent in the world; customer service means actually providing, you know, service to the customer.
posted by Lokheed at 5:31 AM on November 25, 2003

I work at a company that contracts to provide inbound call-center support for a much larger company's DSL customers. The relative handful of us at this job who take our responsibilities seriously are annoyed as hell about the tension imposed by one side of management that wants us to provide terrific customer-service experiences and the other that wants us to keep our average call time down to x minutes (because the company gets paid only for that many minutes, so we're losing money on long calls). It's a constant battle to do everything we're told in the manner prescribed to us while actually fixing people's problems and making them feel like somebody gives a rat's ass about them.
posted by alumshubby at 5:52 AM on November 25, 2003

Well isn't there a hint in the article itself ? Did I read "corporate" customers, which means companies that buy dozens of PC a time and have the tools (read money,lawyer) and the will to make Dell respect a contract ?

Guess it isn't much of a surprise , if it turns out that good to very good clients get best services from U.S. or Europe while little customers to private customers get 3rd rate canned and scripted help ; outsourcing it to India or to anyother place where help-desk guy wage is comparatively less expensive in terms of U$ is just a way to further reduce costs of what is already (probably) a 3rd rate service that is unlikely to be strongly questioned by little customers. While at the same time you still can say you're providing customer service and that the problems with complaining customers is a language-cultural one they're forever-fighting to solve.

Who thinks this scenario closely resembles reality ?
posted by elpapacito at 6:00 AM on November 25, 2003

I've experienced Dell customer support before and after the outsourcing, and it has utterly tanked. I'll never buy Dell again.

One of the great problems I had with Indian tech support was that they seem to not know where to put (what I, with my less than encyclopaedic vocabulary will call) "affirmation sounds." So I'd get a "yes" (as in "I understand") not in a gap, but halfway through the next sentence, and it would be with an entirely non-natural intonation) and then I'd have to stop, because I thought I was being interrupted, only to eventually realise that I wasn't... and continue only for it to happen again and again, and pissing me off, and I was already pissed off because.. y'know my pc had screwed up... and.... GAAAHHHHH!

And the calls were always unresolved, taking hours and hours, when I knew it was a simpler matter.

It got to the point where (after the 2 minute lecture by Dell before you could press an option on their ATS and waiting 15 minutes on hold) if I heard an Indian accent, I'd just hang up, redial, and hope to get an Irish accent instead.

That Dell seems to respect the opinion of their unsatisfied business customers, but not their home customers, is a good indicator that if you're shopping for a home PC, don't do Dell.


Do yourself a favour and look elsewhere.
posted by Blue Stone at 6:09 AM on November 25, 2003

Having recently experienced execrable Intuit support from "Barb" and "Andy"

At first, I read that as "execrable Inuit support"....
posted by rushmc at 6:17 AM on November 25, 2003

Good to hear this. My company deals exclusively with Dell hardware because they've always been reliable for us and have always provided us (as resellers) with excellent service. The move to Indian tech support, however, was an utter pain in the arse.

Long story short, it would take me three times as long to get a replacement item when I was transferred to India than when I was dealing with an American. The reason wasn't racial - it was different mindsets, clear and simple. The American technical support personnel were able to RESOLVE my issue. When dealing with Indian technical support they were more interested in determining "which category my problem fit into" than in expediting my case. Utterly frustrating.
posted by tgrundke at 6:23 AM on November 25, 2003

but dammit, dell almost very nearly supports linux on their laptops. although as a former ibm employee I have to say that black is very sexxy. also aix and ppc970.

in conclusion:

What does this have to do with Gary Robson?
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:39 AM on November 25, 2003

First, I have no arareness whatsoever of tech things. I have had a Dell for some 4 years (Mac before this), and I figured out that if I get another machine, it will be a laptop rather than a desktop, and I will not pay additional money for extra service but instead go to local place that has been truly good about solving PC problems for my son and my friends. They charge very little to look at machine and detuct it if they work on it and fix it. This then is quick, not that expensive, and gets around need for call centers and waits, and misunderestandings, and scripts etc etc.
My promel now: should I get Mac laptop or PC, since my kids now have their own machine and don't need mine for games (a Mac will do)...anyone can tell me if Macs fre3eze much less often than Windows stuff? I know Mac people never say bad thingsabout machines; PC people always badmouth Microsoft...but wherein is the truth, if there be such a thing. thanks if you can help me on this issue.
posted by Postroad at 6:46 AM on November 25, 2003

The call to arms over globalization is expected. But, surely it is better for India to begin getting good jobs than to let them stagnate in the US.
posted by the fire you left me at 7:42 AM on November 25, 2003

My Big Company has tentative plans to send our help desk jobs to India next year. I'm not looking forward to it, although that's mostly because I'll lose all of my good, "I know it's against policy, but would you please just do it because I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important" contacts.

In spite of often being viewed as the blue collar segment of the IT world, being a good help desk tech ain't easy. And the good ones tend to move up rather quickly to second or third tier support or on to other IT jobs. Unless you luck out, you're almost always going to get sub-standard care (at least from an IT professional standpoint) from the first voice you hear whether it's in Bombay or Austin.
posted by Cyrano at 8:16 AM on November 25, 2003

did you first get drunk, and then have sex with your computer, or is it the other way around?
Hee hee hee hee hee! Thanks spazzm!
posted by DenOfSizer at 8:26 AM on November 25, 2003

What does this have to do with Gary Robson?

he's the illegitimate grandfather of michael dell.
posted by dorian at 10:30 AM on November 25, 2003

"handled from call centers in Texas, Idaho and Tennessee"
Why do I not feel a fuzzy feeling of relief?

i can't speak for Tennessee - but idaho isn't as backwoods as you might think, technologically speaking. culturally speaking - that's a whole other matter.
posted by nyoki at 11:03 AM on November 25, 2003

I will --never-- ever order from Dell again.
They screwed up an order (ordered 2 items). I returned them both, and only got credit for one.
I spent three months, off and on, with the dial-in customer support, and never had any resolution.
I then found this on the web:
and a woman named Kathy in the Customer Care section took care of it in less than 24 hours.
I love you Kathy!!!!

Don't go through their call center, you'll just get the run-around - use their website.
Better yet, don't buy Dell!
posted by j at 11:43 AM on November 25, 2003

I'm surprised by all the bad experiences with Dell's Bangalore call centers. I've had nothing but good experiences. When I first got a low-end desktop a few years ago, I wanted to find out how to use the preinstalled Winmodem under Linux. I called the customer support and explained what I wanted to do. The guy immediately volunteered a URL where one can download drivers for controllerless modems. I called back the next day, having lost the URL, and got the same guy. And I said, "Hey, didn't I talk to you yesterday?" And he said, "Ah yes, I remember your problem." and told it to me again.

Another time, a young woman asked me what the letters in my University email address stood for. Something in the way she asked suggested she was planning on applying to grad schools.

I have a strong suspicion that call center workers in India are better educated than I am. That's the "savings."
posted by rschram at 12:40 PM on November 25, 2003

I've experienced the joys and tribulations of using Bangalore labor in the past myself. My company has used contractors in India to fill in product information pages on our site with helpful product specs. People shopping for various things want informative specs when researching products, like: "does this blender have an ice-crushing feature or not?"

There were many problems getting the Indians to understand the sometimes bizarre distinctions American shoppers feel are very important. For example, it is hard for someone to decide whether a toaster has "bagel" capability when they have never owned a toaster, and never eaten a bagel. I don't presume to be able to help someone make samosas over the phone, either.

We found the Indians to be extremely diligent, and fast. But some cultural differences just couldn't be overcome by process improvements and better documentation.
posted by scarabic at 2:04 PM on November 25, 2003

I'll have to admit that quite frankly, Dell support has never really been a problem with me. Of course, I've called them enough times in the past that I already know exactly what they're going to ask me to do so I've already done it, so I can generally get through the call pretty quickly, and convince them that yes, I have a problem, this is what I need to have it fixed, please ship me the part.

Of course, it probably also helps that I don't have to call the general tech support line, and instead call the line for educational customers (I work at a large university). I certainly have gotten people where the accent makes it difficult at best to understand them, but I've generally found that I can force them through to the point where I get what I want by basically showing that I've already done enough tests to prove that the problem is what I say it is.

I'll admit that I'd hate to be the average clueless idiot calling tech support for help with their computer, because tech support over the phone isn't all that easy in the first place, and dealing with an accent makes it more entertaining.
posted by piper28 at 2:10 PM on November 25, 2003

Are call center employees really "tech workers?" I keep seeing that phrase thrown around every since 2000 when layoffs first started. They would count a bunch of warehouse employees at an ecommerce company as "tech workers" despite the fact that many of them don't even use a computer.
posted by billman at 2:56 PM on November 25, 2003

Dell denies shifting work from Bangalore

BANGALORE: Dell India today dismissed reports that it was shifting its technical support service for its business customers from Bangalore to the United States.

"No, we are not shifting the work. Dell is committed to India and is growing," a spokesperson for the Bangalore-headquartered Dell India operations said today.
posted by dejah420 at 8:43 PM on November 25, 2003

My bank uses Indian call centers. I'm an American living in the UK, so this sometimes adds to the language problems as American terms aren't the same as British.

When I moved, I needed to know if the process of getting a certified check (make that "bankers draft" in British) was quick and easy. The phone person assured me I could get one "the same DAY", while I would have to order cash in advance (for a mere 1700 pounds!). BUT I had to wait on hold for 4 minutes for her to learn that "same day" meant while I waited a couple minutes at the counter, instead of order in morning and pick up in afternoon.

As for Dell: my partner's Fortune 100 employer uses Dell for reasons I fail to understand. They can't even fill orders correctly for such a mega-customer. In Germany they were totally unreliable about repairs under warranty.

That being said, what about the tech workers? I mean programmers and such, not call-center support folks. Awhile back we moved manufacturing jobs offshore, and the pundits assured us it was simply the economy shifting to a "service economy". Now they are moving service jobs offshore and we're told we are shifting (already!) to a "knowledge-based economy".

All I know is knowledge-based seems to mean knowing how to greet customers at Walmart and knowing your place is on the bottom. Of course Walmart won't do very well once no one can afford to by crap any longer.

"Knowledge-based economy" is nothing more than buzz constructed to make us stand still while we are being screwed. Abby Hoffman said "Eat the Rich!". All I can say is: "Please pass the salt".
posted by Goofyy at 12:43 AM on December 14, 2003

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