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Accents Vs. English Competency - the Problem With International Call Center Personnel.

Updated on December 19, 2017
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don is a Writer and a Storyteller. He has published over 7 books on varied subjects along with many articles and commentary on his blogs.

A Mad Chicken image

Me when I get mad at the corporate customer support people who do not understand American English
Me when I get mad at the corporate customer support people who do not understand American English | Source

Automated Telephone Systems

Wanna Know what Really Makes me really Mad?

That would be the very frustrating situation when you call a company for help and you get a representative that speaks textbook English but not REAL CONVERSATIONAL ENGLISH.

Here's my story.

I had just returned Home after traveling over six hours through three states, in an RV, towing a car through sporadic rain.

Needless to say, I was tired and just a little short tempered after this long a trip.

We had spent several hours in threatening weather loading our stuff into our camper after a great two weeks of camping. And although some weather was predicted to be on our trail home, we had decided to head out anyway..

Opening your house after being away on vacation

Whenever we leave our home on a camping trip, there are a number of things we do that we call shutting the house down before we leave.

So, of course, we had to open up the house before we could relax after we got home.

You know, the AC had to be set up for us to be home, versus for us to be away. I mean, doesn't everyone have a programmable heating/cooling system? These simple devices that you can install yourself can save you a lot of money.

Well, that is another story for another time.

We turned the Hot Water Heater temperature back up by ten degrees, because we had turned it down before we left and we knew we would be gone for two weeks, and the savings was going to be significant for that long a period of time..

We opened the all of the room's doors that we had closed before we left (to allow for an air mass differentials over the total square footage), while we were gone versus while we are at home. Who cares if the guest room is five degrees hotter than the Living room when no one is home?

And finally, we dropped down onto our sofa, kicked off our shoes, and turned on our PC's as well as the TV.

Now the PC's worked OK. That meant our home modem and router were OK, and even if we had experienced an electrical interruption, everything had reset properly, and we were doing OK!

But the TV? Well, here is where tho plot thickens.

All of the TV programming was screwed up.

By the way we had Satellite service, and I won't mention which one. Because, I really don't think it matters!


Corporations and their Customer Service Systems

I have noticed that, once a corporation becomes large enough, it will turn its customer relations system into an automated, impersonal, BUFFER system.

A system not necessarily designed to serve the customer but actually designed to expediently process those nasty things called customer complaints.

By expedient, I mean, with minimal personal contact, and maximum computer-controlled, and logical, decision processing management.

In other words, people who answer calls cost money, so filter the customers complaints as much as possible with a computer, before you hand them over to a real person.

And, honestly, if I owned a company who had to deal with a large number of customers, I would want to filter incoming calls myself, within reason.

The Customer Service computer and the choices you make

The process is actually a beautiful thing.

That is, if you are a techno-Geek like me, and are easily entertained by the supposition that someone can program a computer (cheaply,always cheaply) to act like a human being and hold a conversation.

But to most Americans, this can quickly become a frustrating system of time consuming, and seemingly stupid, decision selections designed by some one who wants to cover maybe a hundred potential problems, while you, the customer, only have one problem.

And Screw the other 99. Usually, you, the customer, only have a small amount of time that you want to spend on this problem of yours.

While, on the other hand, the computer really doesn't give a hoot how much time you have.

It's program is designed to process you and your problem through a strict flow chart of possibilities, whether you like it or not.

Computers, you see, do not recognize the limits of time, or a real persons level of irritation.

They are timeless, and will ask you the same programmed questions in the same programmed sequence, forever, if necessary.

No emotions are involved. Just like in the Terminator movies.

All Logic, and no Emotions!

Answer the questions, in the order programmed, or start over!

Ad Nauseum!

The Computer doesn't care, and God knows, the company, obviously, doesn't seem to either.

So, whether you like it or not, you must follow their "tried and true" sequence of questions.

Step one, there are many variations, but essentialy: Do you speak English, and if not do you speak Spanish.

There are dozens of variants on how to determine this, but it is an essential question, especially today, in English speaking America (sic)!

The next two to five question that are deemed necessary by the Great Computer, are designed to determine just who the Hell you are, and are you a valid, authenticated, bona-fide customer of the great master corporate entity. (Shades of OZ here?)

Once you pass all of these barriers, you are almost always offered assistance by a more specialized computer.

One that is really just another software program designed to attack the specifics of a pre-selected problem mode passed over from the previous computer program.

Of course, if you and the computer decide that you are in the wrong information path, you are always given the option to go back in the menu selection system, and review your options again.

But, if you are actually in the right area, you are then processed through another selection of questions and answers, to narrow your problem options down even further.

You can follow this continuing path of problem selection, or if the original programmer was a human being with real feelings, he gave you the option to speak to another real human being, at this time.

At this moment, your heartbeat drops to a normal pace, your blood pressure drops along with it, and your headache suddenly eases.

"A Real Person!" OMG


Speaking with Real People on a Service Call

Then the OMG turns into OMG!

The person on the other end of the phone has an accent!

And not just any accent, they have one of those accents.

And, I have to stop and apologize now to all those of you out there who might have an accent! Hell, I have an Accent, I'm from the Hills of Virginia!

They may all be PhD's!

They may all be people with intelligence levels that exceed Einstein, himself!

They may be so brilliant that they are working on ideas or inventions that will change the world.

But, when you have a problem, you DO NOT NEED to be an interpreter.

You need communication and resolution!

Customer Service is really about Communication

Really! Communication!

I don't care how brilliant someone is!

If you and I cannot have a beer together, and discuss something that we have in common, then we are not speaking the same language.

Oh, most of the words we use may sound right, even if a little accented. But, are we truly communicating?

If my problem is not immediately understood and acceptable resolutions properly presented to me then we have a Communication problem.

And I suspect, even you, do not want to deal with them! Especially when you have a problem and have been dealing with computer selections for quite a while up to this point.

You see, if we don't understand each other, then in reality we are NOT communicating!

So Why Do I Have To Try?

Oh Yeah! We both may speak English, and what the Hell, we may have even used the same class books in school. I don;t know. But we aren't communicating,

Except at a rudimentary level.


A communication problem

For example: To me there are two kinds of chickens:

One is a pretty bird that has feathers and clucks aroundon on an idealistic farm.

While the other is a plastic coated package of breasts, wings and thighs, that are pre-cut, cleaned, washed, and packaged, that I buy by the pound, and prepare, according to my favorite recipes, at home.

But, to this person on the other side of the world, a Chicken may be a plucked dead bird, hanging by it's feet, in a local shopping kiosk, on a side street in their village.

A bird that they will take home, clean and chop up themselves, and prepare in their local tradition and eat according to their families needs.

Our differences, you see, including such things as Chickens, can make our actual communication attempts unfathomable!

Take this single difference in lifestyles, what we see as a Chicken; and multiply it across both mine and their daily lives. And the two of us, even though we speak the same language, we really do not communicate on a basic level, very well at all.



The Communication Gap Widens

So, After spending maybe 10 minutes of computer selection programs, and wait times, I get an answer from GEORGE!

George is in India!

George, is bored!

George, really does not care about my problem.

And ..... Of course, George is not his real name but it is the one assigned to him.

Some public relations person told these companies that Americans would not be comfortable talking to some named PHassan or Akim, or God forbid, Muhammad.

Good old George has a menu of questions he is supposed to ask me, along with a list of acceptable answers for each displayed on his computer screen that he has been trained to take me through. Probably trained with someone else from, you guessed it, india..

It becomes obvious that I am not allowed to deviate. I must follow his menu.

If I attempt to turn the call to an actual conversation, he gets confused, and tries to lead me back to the master menu on his computer scren.

I Must Not Deviate!

He is answering a telephone for the money. He probably has, at least, a Masters Degree, and possibly even a PhD, I don't know!

But it is obvious that I am below him! I am a simpleton! He has problems even having a conversation with me!

I mean, really! We are not equals! He lives in a strict caste system!

I, on the other hand, am an English speaking mongrel that he must deal with to earn his check.

So, I should shut up, and answer his stupid questions, so he can get off of the line and move on with his exalted life.

Well, I persist in my demands for real answers. I persist to the point, that he really is frustrated.

So frustrated, in fact that he is to the point that he sees no acceptable resolution! He cannot handle this, this, PERSON on the phone who demands answers and refuses to follow his simple menu.

So He hang up on me!

I, by this time, being a red-blooded American, who has been "dissed" by some third world prick, want to Kick someones Ass!

So,gathering myself, I dial again, and patiently go through the preliminary automated process again, and finally; I hear an American accent! Lights go off in my mind, imaginary crowds stand and cheer, beautiful young women in bathing suits hand me flowers while a marching band plays my favorite rock song.

I have just WON the Customer Service Call Response Lottery.

The person on the other end of the line is asking my name, in a beautiful twangy New Jersey accent..

They patiently listen to me Bitch about George.

They apologize for my treatment by George!

They actually communicate with me!

We, together, quickly confirm the problem and even add a few comments about the weather!

They take the steps necessary to fix the problem!

I thank them profusely!

We agree to hang up, and I turn to my TV satellite box.

It Works!

I have my service back.

OMG!

Funny Call Center Salesperson

Customer Focus in Call Centers

Comments

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    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      7 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      You are right, D! Most companies with these "automated levels of Hell" CS systems, end up hurting themselves. And, you're right, I use the "big-0" button a lot myself. It seems to work with over 75% of them now.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Don, the cell phone company I repped had so many complaints about outsourcing CustServ to India that they had to bring it back to America. Oh, and they lost quite a few customers over that "cost-cutting" move.

      Yes, there is a way to get an English-speaking rep immediately, but I can never remember it so I just hit "0" several times! ;D

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      7 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Trish, great example, and supposedly this saves these corporations money. But what about customer relations? This use of third-world personnel that use a checklist to answer questions in poor English doesn't make ME love them very much. And, honestly, I really don't think they care. Thanks for the great Comment!

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 

      7 years ago

      Hi Don,

      I feel your pain. What I love is when the computer asks for all your identifiables, then after a period of time, it says you need to speak to a representative, this after a good 10 minutes of puter-speak. Ok, so yippee, I'm going to talk with a real live person. Only for that person to then say, please identify yourself, name, zip code, last 4 digits of your SSN, phone #, and oh yes! didn't I just tell the computer all that stuff? It irritates me no end that I have to repeat this crap. What's the damn point of telling it to a computer if it doesn't allow the rep that gets on the phone to see what you, the customer confirmed. GRRRRRRR!

      I've never tried it, but I've been told that you can request an English speaking rep.

      One thing I've done is rather than go through 10 menus, I simply press 0, or, if the computer is giving you examples of what to say about your problem, I ignore their examples and simply say representative. That at least gets me to a live person in a short time.

      A problem I discovered, in a hub I've written about this very subject, is that in trying to explain what I'm trying to accomplish, the person on the other end just doesn't get it. At that point I simply thank them for their time and hang up, hoping for a better result the next time I call.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Good luck!! ;D

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      7 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      D, Even though I wrote this a while back, it came to mind today when I was yet again "forwarded" to yet another person somewhere in, I assume, India. and yep, once again, we could not communicate very well, and I just hung up after the third time she called me Mister Bobbeeeeeet! My problem can wait until tomorrow when I can try to get sent to an American, or at least one over there who is a little better than the one today.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Don, whenever I'd feel sorry for myself after my cell phone CustServ job (along with the jobs of 799 others) was transferred to a call center in India, I only had to imagine a Good Ol' Boy long-haul trucker barreling along at 70 mph trying to communicate with a rep 10,000 miles away who only understood "real" English. Still brings tears to my eyes...from laughter! ;D

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      8 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Yeah, At your moment of highest frustration, you end up speaking "English" with someone so culturally different from you that anything short of using simple words and sentences results in elevated pain. Reminds me of the BP CEO trying to talk to the American press -- another great communications gap, that resulted in a Nations anger! Oh Well, a glass of wine, count to ten, go into my mantra, and all eventually ends up well.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      8 years ago from Chicago

      This is an incredibly frustrating experience, I know. Don't know how to fix it though. It seems to be just the way it is now. Maybe I'll have to grin and bear it. :D

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