Accents Vs. English Competency - the Problem With International Call Center Personnel.
A Mad Chicken image
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!
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
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.
I have my service back.