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AdLib On November - 15 - 2009

TECH INDIA WORKERSIn ancient times, when the Earth was young and teabagging was part of a cultured afternoon, merchants would provide those who frequented their establishments with a quaint, old fashioned consideration called “customer service”.

Then came the 1980’s and the era of “Greed is good” (not to mention Jordache Jeans and New Coke). Junk Bond fueled corporations and Wall Street went on a buying spree with their fraudulent capital (thank goodness we learned from that!) and bought up other corporations and businesses.

In order to hasten the return of revenue so they could turn around and buy other corporations they couldn’t afford, they enshrined the profession of Efficiency Experts to make two employees do the work of three or four and make pink slips the new black.

And there was one department at companies that the new owners consistently saw as unnecessary as Bob Dole taking Viagra…customer service.

This may sound fanciful today, even the ramblings of man who stuck his mouth under the Mimosa fountain today at Sunday Brunch but at one time the Customer Service Rep was a well paid position for professionals who had valuable people skills.

The idea of keeping customers happy and burnishing the reputation of one’s company in this way used to be seen as good business.

Thankfully, this theory was put to rest along with those of energy conservation and the lack of lead in paint on children’s toys.

Now, customer service is outsourced no differently than the chore of emptying the dumpsters out back…both being messy and distasteful necessities to these corporations.

And customers get to add to the frustration their flickering tv or spark-spitting microwave oven has caused them with the guilt of venting at the innocent, low wage person in India who is paid to be the receptacle of customer dissatisfaction with U.S. corporate greed and indifference.

In fact, the corporations using a literally and figuratively distant person to deal with customers is both compounding the customer’s existing frustration and very symbolic.

So, though we are increasingly referred to as consumers instead of citizens in this nation, we are helpless to do much more then to please hold as our call is so important to them that they have to divert it out of the country.

Categories: Featured, Humor, Observations

Written by AdLib

My motto is, "It is better to have blogged and lost hours of your day, than never to have blogged at all."

27 Responses so far.

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  1. BigDogMom says:

    AdLib, I had the pleasure last Friday morning spending a 1/2 hour registering Quickbooks software for my client. I thought I could do it all online, well you can’t anymore. At the end of the process you have to call there ‘800’ number to complete the registration.

    Well I got ‘Mike’, my Intuit customer service rep. Well Mike’s accent was so strong, that every other word from me was, ‘pardon’, ‘exuse me, can you repeat that’, so on. What should have been a simple on-line process now has become a nighmare.

    All because Intuit wants to sell me or my client, checks, deposit slips, on-line credit card services and last but not least, a 1 yr tech support for the product that I have used for over 10 yrs.

    My frustration level was quite high by the end of the call, poor ‘Mike’, and to top it off, I expect an e-mail or phone call today, asking me to take a survey on how their good their ‘Customer Service’ was……have a nice day!

    • AdLib says:

      What’s unfortunate is that in these situations corporations force us into, we have a choice of being kind and being jerked around or being curt and being jerked around less.

      I empathize with the low paid people who are pushed into acting as tools for corporations. At the same time, I don’t want to be pulled into their game.

      So, I am more curt with the type of situations you describe, I give specific instructions at the beginning of the conversation as to what exactly I want them to do and what I do not want them to do (they have their prompts for trying to avoid serving you and initially assuming you are to blame for a problem…I don’t allow them to go through their checklist when I know what I want).

      In the end, as I allude to in my post, both sides of the Customer Service call are forced into this situation and into their roles by corporate greed and indifference. The bad side for the consumer is that their purchase which results in needing customer service is financing their own frustration.

  2. KQuark says:

    I remember years ago when Reagan first told us that we are becoming a “service economy” and losing high paying manufacturing jobs did not matter, hearing a social commentator at the time say if we are a “service economy” we are a BAD “service economy” because from his perspective customer service was getting worse and worse.

    Corporations deal on minimalist theory. Have the minimum number of employees, pay them the least they can get away with, offer minimum benefits (that’s why they have outsourced and temped jobs away), etc. Corporations say they do this to reduce the cost to their customers but in reality do it to gain indecent salaries and perks for themselves and to maximize profits for their shareholders. Face it American corporations have just squeezed any semblance of a thriving middle class out of the economic system. The only answer is taxing the hell out of the rich or forcing corporations to become employee owned.

    In my old industry more and more previously shutdown papermills are being bought back by employees. Competition is tough but they can compete well once they have majority ownership because they don’t have to make insane profits. Employee owned companies also tend to be much better stewards of the environment because the people that own the company don’t live in cities with ivory towers, they live in the communities where they work.

    http://www.blueheronpaper.com/about_hist.html

    • AdLib says:

      There should be much more of employee-owning of companies, it seems like a no-brainer that those experienced in a field who are not blind with greed could become very successful when competing against a corp that has to factor in its greed into its prices.

      As for your first point, that’s exactly why customer service has become so bad.

      Instead of having well paid professionals who have good people skills, you hire low paid “workers” who are only trained not to get upset and just repeat, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” like robots, so of course customer service is now shit.

      It’s like newspapers firing journalists instead of their ad sales people. they just think, “They don’t bring in revenue, they’re expendable.” There is no recognition that the work of journalists for a paper or satisfying customer service translate into loyal customers and revenue.

      That’s why I think there are real opportunities for employee-owned companies to swoop in and out-serve and underbid big companies.

    • BigDogMom says:

      I think it’s wonderful that your company is now owned by it’s employees. Like small business owners, employee owned companies have more invested and are proud to produce good products, and good customer satifaction.

      My husband and I are both run our own businesses, our end product for our clients needs to be the best and we are proud to give them our best at a fair market price. If we don’t, we loose our reputation and we go out of business.

      It’s too bad some the larger Corporations here in America don’t have this mind set anymore.

    • choicelady says:

      I’m delighted to read that employees are buying up papermills -- it is my profound belief, supported by political economists such as Gar Alperovitz (“America Beyond Capitalism”) that this is the “third way” that makes the most sense. It’s clear we have to go beyond employee stock option plans where management is left in the hands of gormless bean counters who continue to ruin the businesses, but true employee ownership AND managment is the most profitable business going. Without management, you have United Airlines. With management -- Southwest. Alperovitz argues well that this also, as you note, improves democracy since people live and work in their communities. However, my attempt some years back to help employees buy out a very good business about to be abandoned by KKR for no particular reason proved VERY difficult. The standards for purchase by employees were different from those that would have been put out for another corporation. Financing was horrible -- junk bonds because the workers at the plant were considered a ‘bad risk’. These laws have to change NOW so that businesses can flourish in the hands of those who understand how to run them. America since Reagan has been only too willing to let our economy crash -- just so long as we leave it to the rich and stupid to do so. This is my main concern -- restoring sanity through employee ownership and management. Thanks KQuark for the info on papermills. Wonderful to know!

    • whatsthatsound says:

      The “thriving middle class”, which we thought of as the bedrock of American success and economic health, was, we are learning, simply a moveable feast for the profit maximizers at the top. With about a billion middle class Chinese and Indians to cultivate into consumers of their toys, why worry if the U.S. goes south?

      • KQuark says:

        Exactly.

        Europe has adjusted much better to the new realities by expanding it’s safety nets as growth has slowed in mature economies. The US needs to be realistic about it’s economic growth models and understand that growth for a relatively few at the top is not real growth. You just can’t sustain growth on consuming alone as we have all seen.

        • BigDogMom says:

          I wonder if the one’s who created this ‘Service Economy’ that we have here today, ever figured in what would happen if us middle class consumers stopped consuming. Like what we have going on now.

          The upper 10% of the wealthy cannot substain this ‘Service/Consumer Based Economy’, on their own…

          • AdLib says:

            I doubt it, just as we saw with the economic crash, these types only focus on what they can grab and stick in their pocket today.

            If they’re chopping down the tree their house is built on, it doesn’t matter if they can get more money for the lumber.

  3. whatsthatsound says:

    My hometown is a suburb of Columbus Ohio that only has about eight thousand people. It has, or had, a really nice library. It gets frequent traffic, but we’re still only talking about maybe a few hundred patrons on a good day, considering the population it pools from. Plus, there always seem to be plenty of people working there. So, one time, when I called there, I got:
    “Welcome to the Grandview Library! If you are calling about reserving a book, press one now. If you are calling about late books, press two……blah blah blah”
    It was maddening! And those options, which I can understand for something as massive as an airline company (but a local library?), never seem to have quite the option you’re calling about. I always end up wanting to push 3 1/2.

    • AdLib says:

      You think that’s bad, I have to go through the same thing to schedule a play date for my 6 year old daughter. I have to call her 800 number because she won’t allow me to schedule with her in person, speak to someone in India and then wait for email confirmation.

      It’s not easy being a parent nowadays.

    • Kalima says:

      LOL wts, we certainly chose the wrong country to live in. By the time they are on number 9, I have to start all over again, more than twice sometimes because they tend to speak too quickly.

      • bitohistory says:

        I usually just start punching *0#0***0000###…. and most times a recording comes on saying they will connect me with a LIVE person.Such aggravation. Hello! Pay some one to answer your phone, is that so hard?

        • Kalima says:

          You are very naughty but at least your machine speaks English. :)

          • bitohistory says:

            Kalima near time to go for me. Tonight is my night to stay up past my med/bed time and watch the Beeb and Mystery. Tonight D.I John Tolin. I do hope all goes well for you tomorrow. Some more {{{hugs}}}

            • Kalima says:

              Enjoy your evening bitohistory, I hope you have fun.

              Thank you so much for your kind wishes, oh and the hugs too. :)

              Goodnight. Take care.

            • Kalima says:

              Thank you kesmarn, you are very kind. I’m hoping for a good outcome this time, last Monday’s procedure didn’t work so well and had nothing to do with my doctor either, he’s sweetheart and very good at what he does. Fingers crossed. :)

            • kesmarn says:

              Kalima, hope I’m not interrupting here, but I think you said you had a medical visit tomorrow. I just wanted to extend my good wishes and hope that all goes well for you.

  4. kesmarn says:

    And then there’s the bizarre flip side to this whole scenario: in the very places where you might actually legitimately assume that the customer is NOT always right, THERE is where you see the customer-must-be-satisfied-at-all-costs philosophy implemented! The prime example being universities and hospitals.
    I have a good friend who was a dean at a university in New York City. She said the stress level was unbelievable because parents would call and scream if their kids were given anything short of straight A grades. There was pressure to accept transfer grades from other educational institutions with extremely dubious credentials, and pressure to fudge graduation requirements because little Johnny/Janey was getting married soon and would have a hard time taking those last two required classes, etc., etc. Since universities were/are competing for student dollars, the threat of a student’s pulling out and going elsewhere was always a real concern. Kids who had missed over a third of the classroom sessions, failed to turn in assignments and missed midterm exams still expected to get passing grades…and not just C’s either.

    But the funniest example, for me, of the consumer who knew best was a patient I had at the hospital. She had convinced herself that the pump which was being used to regulate the rate of her IV fluid was somehow sending electricity down the tubing and into her arm. She was pretty sure that she was throwing sparks when her hand touched the (plastic coated) siderail. (Of course, the fact that nobody got a “jolt” when they touched her hadn’t registered.) When I explained as politely as I could, while keeping a straight face, that such a thing was not possible, she snorted and said: “Hmph. Well, that’s just YOUR opinion!” The years of professional training and experience I had had with this equipment meant nothing. Her opinion was absolutely equal to mine. (I’m not saying she hadn’t a right to hold and voice her opinion, of course, but is there anything such as expertise at all?) We have to be very careful about tactfully steering people away from eating bags of fast food when their blood sugars are terribly high, and from pushing their IV poles down the hall and out the door so that they can smoke while we’re treating their pneumonia, or from requesting even larger doses of narcotics when their blood pressures are 82/40. Because, if they feel we lack courtesy and are offended, they will give the institution a bad evaluation and then our managers won’t get their bonuses and the “consumers” will stay away from our doors! :o)

    If only the banks and insurance companies and utilities would adopt the style of many of the universities and health care institutions!

    • AdLib says:

      In the latter case, it is the irony of ignorance, of one is too ignorant to recognize logic then logic looks the same as foolishness.

      In the case of the type of people you refer to initially, I know the type and would suggest that they are drunk with a cocktail of selfishness/self-importance, entitlement and a splash of ignorance.

      The crass American, bullying their way to get what they want because as they’ve had enforced through society, they deserve everything they want.

      The sad thing about your story is that it illustrates in areas like education, people can have leverage to undermine the mission and principles of the service but when it comes to corporate run social services that are vital, people have no leverage while the service is undermined by itself.

      • kesmarn says:

        So true, AdLib. My friend who was the dean at the NYC university is now a professor at a different one. She recently had a student drop a class she was teaching because, as he said: “I would take a different approach to teaching this material.” It wasn’t that he couldn’t understand her method; it was just not the way HE would teach the class. Naturally, it never looks good to the administration to have students bailing out on classes. I feel bad for my friend, who is really a brilliant teacher, in that she even has to give a thought to her “approval ratings.” But she does. Meantime, the kid who dropped the class misses out on a chance to get someone ELSE’S take on a subject. (Since he clearly already knows his own take on it!) But he wants to set the agenda for his own undergrad career--for better or worse--and who’s gonna stop him? Ignorance is bliss.

    • KQuark says:

      I know exactly what you mean and it’s especially true in high tech fields.

      I worked as a technical field rep for one year because I thought I wanted to get out of R&D but it was so difficult dealing with illogical customers who had all these crazy theories about how your product worked that it almost drove me insane. It’s amazing how many times we expressly did not do what the customer wanted because it would have caused them huge problems in their manufacturing process. The worst part is you wanted to do best for the customer but you knew what they wanted was the wrong thing so it presented a huge moral dilemma as well.

  5. AlphaBitch says:

    The movie Outsourced was a good one on this topic.

  6. javaz says:

    Sadly, it’s not just corporations that outsource Customer Service.

    An elderly acquaintance of ours has told us horror stories about making doctor appointments for her and her husband.
    She would call to setup an appointment, and the voice on the other end was not an American accent.
    Something was lost in translation twice, since she arrived at the doctor’s office across town and was told they did not have her name or her husband’s name on the appointment list.
    She asked to setup an appointment while at the office and the person told her that she had to call the number on the card.
    They did not actually make appointments at her HMO, but it was handled by another service.

    When our 87 year old friend called to reschedule an appointment, she requested to speak to an American because she could not understand the person on the other end of the line, so they transferred her to Joe in Kansas, and Joe spoke better English with an Indian accent!

    She has since learned to request appointments using a fax machine so that she has proof of scheduled appointments.

    • AdLib says:

      So Joe in Kansas was neither, just a lie to patronize her.

      That’s awful, at 87 being forced to have to fax appointment requests because an HMO can’t be bothered with allowing clients to schedule with their own doctors.

      There are certainly much more horrific stories about how people are treated by their HMOs but this one seems to make a black and white case for how the greed of insurance companies has come between patients and their doctors…literally.


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