India Calling: Call centers from the Indian point of view


In the United States, the growing relocation of call centers to India has been the source of much hand-wringing, but for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: What effect is this having on India?

The primetime soap opera India Calling looks at the effect of a 600,000-person industry, the eyebrows raised when neighbors see a young single woman heading to work at night and returning in the morning, the social change this new affluence brings, and the stress of a job that consists in large part of talking to rude, angry Americans. Welcome to Bollywood.

Comments (27)
  1. Nathan_works says:

    Wasn’t this done earlier with Callcenter the Movie, a viral video from maybe 3 years ago.. Classic lines in that movie. http://www.callcentermovie.com/movie/movie2.html

  2. Darren Winsper says:

    I’m sometimes (maybe often) rude to callcentre people, but that’s because they’ve called me at work for the 10th time in as many days or the company they represent has just screwed something up horribly or flat-out screwed me over.

  3. Michael Stum says:

    Ahh, the Joy of Call Centers. One positive points about working in a Call Center is that the ID 10 T Issues are quite funny and keep the mood up :)

  4. Nobody Important says:

    I sympathize with the people who work at call centers, and wish them well.

    I am disgusted by companies that provide a mere pretense of service.  I once spent eight hours on the phone to India, attempting to find the meaning of a very unclear security warning that was spewing forth from a router.  The vendor’s headquarters were just down the road from my home.  Nearly all of the time was spent on hold.  Every hour or so, I would get about one minute of actual conversation with a screener, whose sole task, apart from asking me whether the router was plugged in, was to decide whether to pass me up the ladder to a higher level screener.  After seven hours, I reached a deluxe screener, who was able to pass me on to the big expert.  At the end of eight hours, I got to speak to Mr. Big, who knew no more than I did.  He was unable to offer any suggestions on how to obtain more information.

    The company didn’t seem to provide any genuine support via email or the web, either.

  5. Jonathan says:

    Let me offer another point of view: After transfering much call-center activity to India, Management was shocked to discovered a rise in support costs. The causes were low level of knowledge by the call center people, high attrition rates, and a considerable amount of "WHAT?"s in the call transcripts.

  6. Dean Harding says:

    I don’t have simpathy for call center workers. They know what they’re getting into when they start.

    They’re only doing it for the money, which in my opinion is quite respectable (especially if you live in a poorer country) but you gotta take the good with the bad.

  7. Economist says:

    What do you expect when you paid $40 for a router?  An engineer down the street to take 10 minutes out of their day to fix your problem?  (Salary + benefits, health care, infrastructure, overhead, yeah, $40 is worth about 10 minutes) to fix your problem?

    You get what you paid for.  If you paid $250 for a Dell computer that cost $290 to manufacture, are you surprised you get $50 worth of craplets preloaded, and the call center folks try their best to give you no more than $10 worth of support?  If you paid $40 for a laser printer (with free starter cartridge!), are you surprised that the manufacturer didn’t bother updating the driver to be 64-bit compatible?

    Don’t like it, don’t buy the product.  Buy a higher-margin product from a manufacturer that will hold your hand.  Don’t get mad at the Indians because you’re too cheap to buy higher-margin products.  Don’t get mad at the Chinese for lead painted toys because you’re buying the $9.99 product at Wal-Mart instead of the $12.99 product at Target.  Don’t blame the oil companies for $4 a gallon gas because you bought an SUV.

    Take some responsibility for your own actions.

  8. zzz says:

    Often users know more about a product than most people making the product because people making products often specialize in some part of making it rather than anything that’s got to do with actually using it.

    With that argument it’s reasonable to expect everyone have an open way for customers to share knowledge on the product on some combined, open to public, wiki-like, issue tracking integrated system. Perhaps a forum where every threads original post was editable by anyone unless locked by op and came with version history.

    I don’t know of any implementation of such software though.

    Another reasonable expectation is to have all forums support sign in with CardSpace if they aren’t as open as wikipedia.

    Until blogs.msdn.com support it I’m not registering :-)

  9. steveg says:

    @DeanHarding (did we work together in Canberra?): You’re a little harsh IMHO!

    @Economist: $4 a gallon for gas.

    Ah, the US, cheap petrol (it’s a liquid, dammit… can’t. call. it. gas.). It’s a pity it’s not taxed as highly as it should be.

    Unfortunately there are side-effects of moving your call centres to India. You see, when you call a local call centre which happens to be staffed by someone with an Indian accent, they get a little annoyed and have to answer a lot of questions like this: "No sir, I am not in India, I’m in [your city]".

    Outsourcing to India doesn’t save you that much as a % (I’ve heard 20% for software projects, I suppose call centres will be comparable). But when your annual spend is 8 figures, it does add up to a noticable saving.

    I’ve also heard that working in an Indian call centre can be damaging pyschologically — pretending to be from another country, using a false name, and dealing with angry people all the time doesn’t make for a very fun job.

  10. gazzal says:

    And it takes a huge toll on your body and mind… One reason that the attrition rate is so high. You’ll be lucky if you can survive a year in a call center.

  11. Cooney says:

     If you paid $250 for a Dell computer that cost $290 to manufacture, are you surprised you get $50 worth of craplets preloaded, and the call center folks try their best to give you no more than $10 worth of support?

    I don’t really care. I buy a product for a reasonable price, and I expect a reasonable level of support. If you can’t provide that, perhaps you should charge more.

  12. Dean Harding says:

    "(did we work together in Canberra?)"

    Don’t think so, I’ve never worked in Canberra…

  13. Morten says:

    Can’t. Resist. Straight. Line…

    "How many work in your department?"

    "Oh, about half"

    Sorry, I’ll be going now…

  14. Nobody Important says:

    What do you expect …  An engineer down the street to take 10 minutes out of their day to fix your problem?

    Maybe some halfway decent online documentation, or a warning message that’s more than a vague grunt, especially when it’s about a security issue.  It’s less about expense than attitude.

    By the way, you don’t know how much money was spent on the router.

  15. Trevor says:

    Don’t blame the oil companies for $4 a gallon gas because you bought an SUV.

    $4 / gallon, that is nothing in the UK we pay:

    £1.15 / litre

    which is:

    £5.23 / gallon

    which is:

    $10.34 / gallon

  16. Cheong says:

    That rise a question: By "Providing a decent documentation for each product", "hire a team of 30 people at India to support calls, give sheets of FAQ for them to recite", or "hire a team of capable 10 staffs locally", which of them, in company’s perspective, is the better way to spend money?

    I’d think that especially for highly technical products (VOIP box for example), decent documentation would save at least 50% of support calls…

  17. David Walker says:

    @steveg:  "Gas", of course, is a shortened term for "gasoline".  You’re right, it’s not a gas in the physics or chemistry sense.  But then English is like that.

    Can we call a car an "auto", which is short for "automobile"??

    But, we have to call the other kind of gas "natural gas", which I suppose is in opposition to "artificial gas[oline]".

  18. Bob says:

    $4 US / gallon is stil cheaper then most other countries. Stop complaining.

  19. Faramond says:

    I once called Microsoft’s US toll-free line to report a fairly serious bug in a product. (I was living in Germany at the time but called the US number because I bought the product in the US, am not a native German speaker, and did not want to have to pay for the call.)

    After several minutes of describing the issue, the other party on the line asked where I resided. I responded, "Germany." The customer service rep then replied, "If you are not in the United States, I cannot take your call."

    The funny thing is that–judging by his accent–he was not in the United States either!

  20. Ag says:

    @ Trevor

    Mixing Imperial gallon (UK gallon) with US gallon are we?

    £5.23/£1.15 = 4.5478 litres. 1 Imperial gallon = 4.54609 litres.

    I think the people in the US buy their so called "gasoline" by the US gallon, 3.78541 litres. So somewhere in the neighbourhod of $8.61/US gallon would be more correct.

    In Sweden, for instance, the price is also around £1.15/litre.

    Anyhow, they have had it cheap in the US for a long time now, computer related products and everything, they better prepare themself.

    On topic:

    As to Call centers and "India Calling"; every now and then one see someone, typically from the US or the UK, whining about a call center conversation with someone who’s name can’t be pronounced [if not fake] and who can’t be understood.

    In Scandinavia it can happen that when calling a support call center for computer related questions you find yourself involved speaking English with someone in Ireland or elsewhere, because the normal support is closed. Do we complain? Some are a bit spoiled.

    I agree with most what Economist said, but also with Nobody Important: it’s about attitude to support.

  21. steveg says:

    @David Walker: "Gas", of course, is a shortened term for "gasoline".  You’re right, it’s not a gas in the physics or chemistry sense.  But then English is like that.

    Sigh. I know, know, I should get off my state soapbox… gas that’s liquid, solid waste that’s liquid, plasma tvs that are definitely solid, liquid gases that turn to gas before you know it.

    The universe seems to be built on a fabric of lies and linguistic contortions.

  22. Marcel says:

    Regarding the gas/petrol price, this is where the Google calculator comes in extremely handy. Just type in "1.50 eur/liter in usd/gallon" into the normal Google search box and it outputs "1.50 (Euros / liter) = 8.78631929 U.S. dollars / US gallon". Quite an amazing tool, really. Doesn’t make the stuff any cheaper, though :(

  23. James says:

    The sad thing is, getting products which do actually have decent support seems to be at least difficult, if not outright impossible.

    Last year, I found myself with a dead printer (DOA, in fact) — but just getting a replacement part shipped took over two hours of debate with a support drone. This wasn’t even a cut price budget printer, but a big, fancy, A3, duplex color "business" inkjet costing hundreds.

    Then there’s the expensive 64-bit laptop a colleague bought, whose manufacturers deny even having 64 bit drivers available. They do, of course — their downloadable drivers combine 32 and 64 bit versions — but the 64 bit version doesn’t actually work when installed. To get the laptop working, you have to get drivers from a rival manufacturer which happens to use the same third-party component under another name.

    Drivers are actually a particular bugbear for me: it’s as if there’s some sort of competition between manufacturers to see who can produce the least useful driver for a product! The USB keyboards and mice I’ve been installing lately are particularly bad offenders, with the official driver package first asking which model is connected (hm, now, if only there were some way to determine that automatically. Some sort of serial connection between the device and the PC, perhaps. Something like USB, even…)

    Perhaps it would help if product reviews started paying attention to driver support as well, naming and shaming the worst offenders, praising those who actually do a competent job for once.

  24. Carter says:

    I hate the India call centers, mostly because they do not screen the accents, I don’t care how great your knowledge of the products are, (though like zzz I find that lacking,) I cannot be helped if the call center workers accent is so thick that I cannot understand after they repeat themselves a third time, by then I would rather hang up and seek a different service or product provider.

  25. Poochner says:

    Ah, for the good old days.  I once had an old PC clone (two words, first sounds like an extinct car, second like an old phone company) known for incompatibility of hardware.  I wanted to install this new "linux" thing on it (slackware on a shoebox full of diskettes).  First disk, it couldn’t boot up properly, so I called the PC manufacturer’s line on Saturday morning, expecting to get nowhere for a while.  I gave a two sentence explanation, and heard "Sure, let me get Bob."  When Bob comes back, "Go into the BIOS and change setting X to Y.  I’ll wait."

    And that from a company known for bad support.  I can honestly say I’ve been lucky over the years; when I’ve needed to call support, I’ve gotten support, but most often I can find what I need on my own.

  26. KenW says:

    For those suggesting that $4/gallon is low in the US compared to their European country’s prices:

    How far do you drive in your country? I once made a trip from the extreme NE US (Bangor, Maine) to the extreme SW (San Diego, California), a trip of ~3300 miles.

    When you’re driving across France or Spain, in your mini-compact car, you can’t compare your drive of a few hundred miles cross-country to the equivalent trip here in the US.

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