10 December 2009

"Can you repeat that please?"

Call centres in India have become something of a cliché in recent years, a shorthand for uncaring big business in the UK that has decided that the customer service department doesn't deserve major investment and so employ a bunch of sub-continental people because they're much cheaper.

In many cases, I suspect they're a myth now. Indeed, some companies are using "UK call centres" as an actual selling point these days, whereas before you'd expect it to be a given. Churchill's Insurance ads, which you can't avoid if you're a watcher of Dave or Sky Sports News, make a big play of this. Given that they're also shelling out for Melanie Sykes, I'm surprised they can afford call centres over here.

Anyway, I had cause to telephone a call centre yesterday which happened to be based in India. Your heart goes all heavy when you hear the pre-recorded message (in an American accent) telling you the call will be charged at the national rate, and then there is a gap just long enough to make you suspect you've been cut off, before finally a call centre worker connects to you.

There are three straightforward problems. Firstly, the accent of the call centre worker is very strong indeed. You have to listen intently and even then you occasionally ask them to repeat, which makes you feel bad. And I suspect a Hull accent like mine isn't awfully audible when travelling down a phone line to Mumbai either.

Secondly, the quality of the line is not terrific, with a delay that often prompts you to talk over the person at the other end, thereby again forcing you to ask them to repeat. A slight cough from you and the other voice is drowned out entirely. And woe betide anyone in the same room as you who tries to suggest what you should say or even offer you a brew. Even the most flexible of multi-taskers would struggle here.

Thirdly, the person at the other end often doesn't realise you're talking to them when you ask a question and therefore doesn't reply. You then repeat the question, and finally say "HELLO?!" in a semi-agitated way which finally digs their ribs and returns them to your query.

And all this at the national rate.

It was Netgear I was ringing, as we'd had to acquire a new wireless router because the old one had suffered a power surge too many and had bust. Of course, replacing one wireless router with an identical new one doesn't just mean it automatically takes on your broadband and computer settings, and so we had to go through this rigmarole from the call centre somewhere in the sub-continent.

It's a long old process, but boy are they patient and boy, do they know what they're doing. In the end we had to ring twice due to a software issue they couldn't solve (it involved the re-installation of Internet Explorer, which I don't use and haven't for years) but once we got past that hurdle, we kept going.

They sent me a survey afterwards and I felt compelled to fill it in, as I suspect it's a thankless task to have impatient people from all over the world yelling at them and so when they do the job well, they deserve to be thanked for it. Like those occasions when a cold caller interrupts your day, the chagrin you feel should be aimed at those who choose to exploit them, rather than the exploited themselves.

For all this, I really hope the new router never, ever, ever breaks.

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