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A Victory for the Consumer

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In another step towards sanity in customer relations, Delta Airlines has announced it is yet another company moving its call center back from India to the shores of the good old U.S. of A. Once again its customers will not have to endure the pain of speaking to someone in Bombay (Mumbai I guess).

Now before you go insane, I am a total free trader. Also, I find the Indian people absolutely wonderful. I don’t mind engaging them in a chat about cricket or Hinduism, but I like almost all Americans don’t wish to speak to someone who has no clue about our country or culture regarding my credit card balance or plane reservation. When you need help solving a problem or booking a flight or managing your credit card, you don’t want to speak to someone living a lie.

What I mean by that is they begin by telling you their name is Steve Johnson or Mary Adams. You just have to laugh at the sad attempt to create cultural identification. The poor Indian employees are not at fault, it is their Americans bosses who have them say these silly things. When you know the person with whom you are speaking has never even seen the shores of America and they tell you their name is a generic American name, it is one bad start to a conversation. I am waiting for some cute marketing guy to figure out I am Jewish and have his Indian employee call me and introduce himself as Alan Schwartz.

It often begins after sitting on hold for twenty minutes and then you hear “Hello, This is Steve Johnson, may I help you. I am very thankful you have called to get help here at Huge Credit Card Company. Mr. Bialosky are you having a nice day?” “No, I am not. I have three other lines ringing and I just sat on hold for twenty minutes. Can we just get down to business?”

“Yes, we can Mr. Bialosky, but let me first tell you that it is wonderful just to have a chance to speak to you about your problem and I promise to help you any way possible to make your experience at Huge Credit Card Company the most harmonious you have ever had. Let me also tell you that I am going to be talking for another 15 minutes and providing you absolutely no help in resolving your problem. I am quite sure that by time you are done with this call you will want to ax murder me, but we will all love each other anyway because the universe is a beautiful place to share our experiences.”

As smart and computer-capable and adept at English as the people in these call centers are, they do not have a clue about the American psyche or colloquialisms. It would not be much different for the British. I am quite sure they would not want to have to speak to Americans with our misuse of their language. We too get annoyed with their funny words like tube, lift and roundabout.

I don’t even like that I have to call across the country to get my newspaper delivered when there is a problem. For example, Daily Variety has a call center in Iowa for a publication read in New York and Los Angeles. If I have a problem with delivery I speak to someone who has never been to Los Angeles and probably thinks Malibu is adjacent to Beverly Hills. These kind of cost efficiencies are nothing but customer antagonizers.

You may remember McDonald’s was toying with the idea of having their drive-thrus hooked up to India to place your order, then downloaded to computer screens at the restaurants. Can you imagine some stoned twenty-year-old with the munchies trying to place an order for a Big Mac and fries from a person in India? That would be fodder for multiple skits on Saturday Night Live.

Sometimes capitalists follow trends without ever thinking their way through the effects. Some jobs make sense to operate in a foreign country. Because of their historical cultural ties, India makes sense. Most Americans would prefer to speak with Cindy in Texas or Ben in Pennsylvania who really understands their needs. Thankfully, corporate America seems to be waking up to that.

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