Outsourcing Badwill • 5 June 2008 • The SnowBlog

Outsourcing Badwill

In a previous life, I used to think about things like out-sourcing and who should or shouldn't risk it, and under what circumstances. Em's been telling me about her difficulties in reasoning with BT about the provision of a phone line when she moves to her new home. If you think of customer service as the process of nipping customer dissatisfaction in the bud, then naturally you'd keep it pretty close to your core business and out-sourcing would be far from your thoughts (think perhaps of Zen Internet and their remarkable help desk). If, on the other end, you view customer interaction as a source of complaints which need to be deflected, without making the situation too much worse, then you might well hand the whole thing over to a call centre in Mumbai. Now, you might say that grumbling about having to talk to Indians is racist, but I think perhaps it's the opposite. Say BT let you down and you're fuming mad about it. What do BT do next? Do they let you talk to someone in authority? Or possibly the person responsible for the screw-up, so that you can resolve the matter? No, they route your call to a very polite Indian gentleman, who you suspect is getting a pittance for stepping in as BT's punching bag. And considering that English is not his first language, you really don't want to be the one complaining about what is probably a remarkably fluent grasp of English - albeit not up to the task of following the ins and outs of line provision or scheduling problems with move orders. Take that approach a few steps further and every time BT make a mistake they'll be offering you the choice of a kitten to punch in the face to relieve your stress, or a little old lady in her nineties, with severe arthritis, to do your housework for a week. When we have a bone to pick with BT, most of us don't want to be insulting the language skills of a low-paid worker halfway round the world - and perhaps hastening the point at which they lose their job and income; what we actually want is someone to sort out our phone service. Hiding behind polite, helpful, but ultimately powerless Indians is not my idea of good customer service. In fact it almost seems to be cynically relying on our reluctance to appear racist in order to simultaneously ignore our grievances and confound our agitation over the fact. Now who do you suppose one phones at BT to complain about institutional racism? And does it involve the call being routed overseas?


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