Long Distance Diversion

On December 6, 2009 · 1 Comments

I canceled my DSL service a few days ago and moved to one of those "bundled" broadband services with voice, television and Internet access all rolled into a single plan. All went well and I don’t have any of the horror stories one typically hears about with these types of installations. It still fascinates me though, amazes me actually, whenever I call a customer service number that forwards to a call center on the other side of the world.

It’s probably no different than when our forebearers first came to grips with the telegraph, telephone, and wireless radio communication. It’s certainly no different than my pinging around the planetary Internet in search of material for the Twelve Mile Circle. I guess the primary difference is that when I hear a voice on the other end of the connection, I’m confronted immediately with the geographic reality.

Washington to Delhi
SOURCE: Great Circle Mapper

I spoke with someone in India in this instance. I deduced this from the accent and confirmed it with a quick web search. My ISP — the company I was leaving — had relocated its call center operations from North America to the Indian subcontinent several years ago. My departure had nothing to do with the service I’d received or the location of its call center. I’d simply outgrown what they could offer. No hard feelings.

That got me thinking, of course. I plotted the approximate distance from my location to the call center using the Great Circle Mapper website. It created the rather attractive map I’ve reproduced above. The shortest distance came out to about 12,000 kilometres (7,500 miles) using a route through the northern polar regions. My call terminated more than ten time zones away. My early evening conversation had been handled by someone who more than likely worked the entire night and answered my call at 5:00 am local time.

View India Outsourcing in a larger map

Business process outsourcing isn’t anything new by any means and India certainly has a place at the forefront with its ready supply of well-educated English speaking people and competitive cost of living. I’ve borrowed the map above from a Public Broadcasting Service article called 1-800-India which provides a little bit of a breakdown by city.

Wikipedia lists the leading BPO cities as "Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, NCR (New Delhi, Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, NOIDA, Greater Noida, Jaipur, Lucknow, Dehradun, Rewari , Ghaziabad), Pune, Mumbai and Kolkata."

I have no idea where my call terminated precisely. All I could discover about the ISP was a generic "India" location.

Non-Geographic Content Follows — I won’t be offended if you choose to stop reading now

There are plenty of negative stereotypes about overseas call centers and I’m sure there have been genuinely unpleasant experiences. Nonetheless, I didn’t have a problem with the call or any others I’ve made previously that terminated internationally. I guess that’s a benefit of living in a highly multicultural area with a healthy percentage of foreign-born citizens and a rich tapestry of accents. Perhaps if I lived in a more homogeneous area the communication barrier might be a bit more acute. However I’ve chosen a place where a third of the residents speak a language other than English at home and I’ve long since acclimated to distinct patterns of speech including those from South Asia. I sympathize with the people who work in those centers. They’re required to follow an unyielding tyranny of phone scripts for long overnight hours, often with impatient customers who demand quick resolution on the other end of the line. Someone is always waiting for their job if they stumble. I try to remain pleasant and civil.

The most fascinating aspect of the call other than the geography involved had to have been my ISP’s bizarre downward negotiation as it attempted to hold onto ever-decreasing monthly revenue streams. I remained steadfast because my decision had already been made and executed. Nonetheless I realized I had to go through the entire sequence of steps before the call center operator could complete my request. I didn’t get frustrated, no, rather I somewhat enjoyed the increasing absurdity of the dance forced upon the customer service representative and myself by the script. I kept trying to guess how low they would go. The downward retreat went something like this:

  • You’ve been a customer for many years. We’ll cut your monthly rate by $10 if you stay. — No thanks. Replacement service has already been installed in my home and it’s fully operational.
  • What if your service goes down? You might need a backup. — That’s very expensive redundancy. It doesn’t sound like a good return on investment to me. I think I’ll risk it and go without a backup.
  • I’m sure you travel. How about a dial-up account? We have local dial-up numbers throughout North America. It’s only $9.95 a month. — Most of the hotels I stay at offer free wireless access. Besides, it’s been years since I used dial-up. My laptop doesn’t even have a dial-up modem.
  • Certainly you’d like to keep your email address. It will be such an inconvenience to change it. We’ll let you keep your email account for only $1.95 a month. — I’ve used Gmail for the last couple of years and it’s free. Nobody sends mail to my old account anymore.
  • Still, you must have lots of addresses and messages stored in that account. These will all disappear when we terminate your services. How about keeping the address active for a month or two so you will have time to move everything? — Nope. It’s empty. I’d like my cancellation confirmation number, please.

I was placed on hold for a couple of minutes so she could "process the cancellation." Generally at this point a desperate ISP will raise the issue to a second-tier customer service representative to really press the hard sell. My guess is they were conferring while I was on hold and they decided I was too far gone to convince otherwise. It would be better to get me off the line so they could deal with the next call. The call center operator came back on the line and processed my cancellation. My wife did get a call a couple days later and they tried the email trick again, but I’d already alerted her and she didn’t bite.

On December 6, 2009 · 1 Comments

One Response to “Long Distance Diversion”

  1. pfly says:

    We went through the same kind of “bizarre downward negotiation” when switching from DSL to cable. To make it worse we were canceling phone as well as Internet (moving to cell phone only). The call center wasn’t in India though–rather the American South, judging from the accents. The process took over an hour of being put on hold multiple times, and quite a lot of “hard sell” pressure. In the end they asked for a reason–why were we canceling our service? We said it was because the line quality was poor–we had regularly experience outages, sudden drops in bandwidth, etc, and had been told it was due to our location along the telephone lines. Multiple attempts by the ISP to fix the infrastructure problem had failed, etc etc etc. They actually told us that that was not a good enough reason: they could not cancel our account with that reason. At that point my wife, who was on the phone with them, lost it and told them the reason was because it was *so hard* to cancel the account. Apparently that was an acceptable reason, go figure.

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