punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,
punkwalrus
punkwalrus

Call centers: You Love them, you hate them, "Dey zteenk!"

Some of you know that one of the reasons I left AOL (which just had another 700 layoffs), was that twice I had been outsourced out of a job: once by Tucson in 1996, and once by another department in 2004. I also saw a lot of people lose their jobs because AOL found some way to make it cheaper. I guess that's to corporate way, trim costs and all, but it certainly made for low morale, bleeding away talent, and employee drift. So when I heard people in my UNIX Admin department were doing work with "exporting excess work" in Bangalore, India... I had played that game before. "Oh no," they lie, "your department is SO busy, we hired these outsourcers to take up the slack..." A year or so later, "You Got Canned!"

I researched the situation pretty heavily, and even watched some videos from the various companies that wanted your business. This is the scary part: it's a fucking good idea. Seriously, if you want bulk service, India is currently the way to go. Croatia, Russia, and the Philippines are not far behind, either. All stereotypes about "By dem ees Hasheed, belcome to Dell Dech Zuppord!" is false.

1. They speak English almost perfectly. Why? Former British colony, don't you know. They even have classes to fake midwestern and southern accents. That cute girl named Betsy-Lou who just handled your medical claim was probably Ishiana Rupil.
2. They are well educated. Well-trained may be another matter, but it's not like you are speaking to some warm body they picked off the street.
3. You can get a programmer for about $6000-8000/yr who will work 10 hour days for you. A Java programmer here will cost about $75k/year in salary plus medical, office space, coffee, etc... which makes the cost almost $100k/yr. For the same price, you could get 10 programmers who will work in shifts, making them a 24 x 7 resource for you. Call center customer service is even less. The company that hires the people will deal with the insurance, overhead, etc... which is probably pretty bad, but $6k/yr in Bangalore is enough to hire servants and live in a very nice home.
4. Twelve hour time difference? They will work at night.

BUT... and this a big BUT... like any service industry, there's good companies and there are bad companies. There's also the chance a good company will become a bad company overnight with just one management change. There's also the inevitable communication issue. Having worked with call centers in the US, I can honestly say that just knowing English is not enough. I have dealt with some people dumber than a box of rocks who were supposed to be "senior technicians." I have also dealt with liars, lazy people, and people in perpetual "I'll get back to you" mode. I am sure it's the same anywhere you go.

Call center managers can be the worst. I have met some good ones, but they stand out from a sea of obtuse talent, irritating personalities, and downright corruption. I have no idea what kinds of skills it takes to end up in a position, but I suspect it's only kept by sheer will and desperation forged by years of childhood abuse.

So, this brings me to the real point of this entry. Someone found this e-mail exchange where he works, and the Office Space/Dilbert style politics, combined with poor Engrish, makes for a funny "I am glad that's not me" kind of read:

http://www.numair.com/2005/10/indian-techie-flamewar.html

My personal favorites:

"You are such a basted, you don't know, how do talk to any person. You are mental sick."

"Sentient has the money and muscle power to FUCK you in your back side so hard that your generations to come will be born defunct just the way you are mentally sick & defunct."


I had been working at AOL for less than a year, when someone who had access to the "Mail everyone in the company" secret. So he did. It was about 3 pages of this huge brain dump about why he was leaving, fuck you all, oh, and here are people's salaries, who' s sleeping with who, and who's getting laid off next quarter and why. I wish I could say it was brilliant and he left the call center with thunderous applause... but that never happens. It seemed whiny and everyone pretended like it didn't happen. There were even warnings from upper management to delete the mail and never speak of it. There are no moments that I have personally seen like Sally Fields holding up the sign that said "Union" in the 1979 film, "Norma Rae," or Richard Gere taking his girlfriend away in "Officer and a Gentleman." There are so many times I have seen, and even personally learned (ouch) that a grand exit doesn't exist in office environments or message boards. Your best bet is to leave under cover of darkness with your ego intact and back out gracefully before it all blows up in your face. Otherwise, you rants come off like childish outbursts, the people you thought would support you slink away, and you realize that you might as well be wearing a Napoleon costume with a Nazi-dressed duck on your head, screaming the UFOs are coming. But time and time again, I saw call center management do these sorts of things. And it never makes an impact, no one applauds them or quits on your behalf. Management won't change anything but secure the "mail to everyone" secret, and change Steve Case's office e-mail... again.

Because they don't care. And I doubt they care any less in India. Not because they are evil, but because you can't afford to slow down for individual attention on such a scale. And knowing that, I left AOL before I got laid off, before someone drug up, "You never learned this thing we never taught you how to do... how disappointing," or make themselves feel better with false anonymous reports, or metric you didn't know existed but that's why you got fired, and thank you for playing. Nor would I would have to deal with the "laid off stigma" where ex-employees would be afraid to talk to me or whatever.
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