Sunday, March 26, 2006

Call Centers R Us

The Crazy Insane Lady at the Washington Post is at it again. I realize that this article is from a few months ago but since I just read it, we’ll count it as current events. Crazy Lady decided to write about Call Centers in Delhi, the general outsourcing trend, and how it is affecting people locally in India. Not a bad topic considering that Lou Dobbs and his ilk go on and on about this topic as if BPOs were a plague of locusts.

Now I can come at this from several different angles: after all with nine-plus years working in Call Centers in both Canada and the US, I know just a little something about how they work. Plus, as somebody who lives (if only temporarily) here in India, I have a slight feeling for the local viewpoint also. Which leaves me with the delicious question of: Where to begin?

Paragraph 5 it is…
The Indian twenty-somethings laboring in these call centers not only work together -- they also drink together, dance together, date one another and, most important, understand one another. Their jobs compel them to cultivate American pronunciations and keep up with U.S. pop culture. They have their own hybrid vocabulary. ("No probs, yaar" means "no problem, my friend.") And they have boundless expectations about where their new careers can take them.
Hello, are you daft?! People in India are not a subspecies of homo sapiens, they are remarkably like you guys back in the Real World. Do people in Crazy Lady’s sacred offices at the Washington Post not work together, hang out together, participate in a bit of interoffice dating, or, God forbid, understand and get one another? Because no matter where I’ve worked, that’s been going on either in front or behind the scenes whether it’s at the local Barnes and Noble or Hubby’s rarified offices in downtown DC. Is it really news that it could happen in India??

I could comment on how different jobs have different forms of slang that go with them but Ms. Crazy Lady might not understand that since she also doesn’t seem to realize that people in India have been saying “No probs, yaar” for ages. After all, generally speaking, you spend more time at work than you do at home with your own family and you have to find new things to say to one another at least once in a while.
And in a best-selling novel, "One Night @ The Call Center," two BPO workers quit to open their own company, saying they were sick of working all night for Americans in jobs with no potential.
Written by Chetan Bhagat, whom CL should have cited, this is honestly a great book. If any of my Call Center friends want to read this I can bring you a copy back. While filled with some things only people in India would fully “get,” it is also endlessly hilarious when taken simply as a Call Center book: things like evil customers, the internal joy you feel when you realize that the phone system is down, and much more. That said, CL has way over simplified the plot of this book. Hell, she managed to give away part of the ending. Good job, CL.

On to page two…
Because of fears of customer identity theft and security breaches, agents leave all personal items -- pens, phones, any scraps of paper -- in lockers upon entry. They operate in highly regulated environments, including drug testing and monitored phone calls. "Tailgating" -- following someone through a door without scanning ID -- is forbidden.
Thank God that not one single company in the United States, the Washington Post included, uses drug testing. How rude and invasive would that be? *sarcasm meter will now be turned off *

Monitoring phone calls is, I hate to tell you, a vitally important part of Call Center and work reality everywhere. Doesn’t your boss at Job X ask to review your work to make sure you’re doing it correctly? Well, the recorded phone call is basically the same thing. That’s how I check that you’re doing your job up to standards (And despite what some former Team Members thought, not random ones that I made up). I, for one, am pleased that CL doesn’t need an editor to check up and review her work. Thank goodness for perfection.

Warning: Rant Ahead…

CL then goes on to mention that being a Rep is a damned hard job. She doesn’t say it in so many words but I’m here to tell you it is. Here’s the thing Mr. Desk Jockey, when you’re having a bad day or you’re tired or sick, or whatever, what do you do? You might slack off a little or even spend a paid day goofing off since you’re ahead on your current project. Rep World is a little different. We have stats that must be maintained daily – one day of goofing off can mess me up for an entire month. (Not to mention mess up my entire team’s stats!)

We have to take calls for 7-plus hours a day with no breaks in between. “Not Ready” and “Make Busy” time negatively affect my stats, which negatively affect me and my job and even you Mr. Caller. After all, if I’m in Not Ready with my head down for 30 seconds because my boyfriend broke up with me that means that you’re on hold waiting for me for 30 seconds. You and my boss can fight over who is madder at me later. In case you think I’m exaggerating, just ask the many people I have sent an email or pop-up to demanding to know why they’ve been in “Not Ready” mode for 2 minutes. It’s true.

End of Rant.
Supervisors motivate members of their teams with positive feedback and occasional gifts for good performance. As Khaneja offered a tour of his floor, decorated in balloons and a NASCAR theme to celebrate a new client, he gestured toward a glass case displaying employee perks: a silver flask, an Adidas T-shirt, Brut cologne.
I feel bad that Crazy Lady was never given a perk or gift by her boss. Here’s a *hug* from me to make up for it. Is it so difficult to think that Indian companies wouldn’t provide employee perks? Are such Call Centers supposed to be heartless sweatshops?
The Long Island iced tea plus an order of fish and chips totaled $13, a bit more than the average weekly income in India. But Pundir, the daughter of mango farmers, earns about $20,000 annually. "It is good money at the end of the day," said Pundir, who abandoned her MBA studies because she saw a better career path in call centers. "In 4 1/2 years, I've risen through the ranks."
I did a wee bit ‘o research into this before I began this blog and let me tell you that Ms. Mango is one very well paid Indian Call Center Representative. Nearly all are paid much less than that – try 20,000 rupees per month. Which isn’t to say that they’re being under or over paid – the cost of living is much different here than it is back home. That is just a fact of life. I can buy groceries for a week for under $10 including veggies here; I can barely get the staples for that back home. Different countries, different standards of living. One isn’t better than the other – they’re just different.

There were a few more things to mock in CL’s article but I feel that I’ve been mean enough already. Since today’s blog will trackback (unlike my previous jibes at her) she’ll probably actually read this… or not. It isn’t that she hasn’t done her homework, I’m sure she has. The cubicle photo in the article is very reminiscent of my cube in Maryland (Not the really great big one Lady J, the little ones before that). It is simply that she seems to think that her audience and her subject are both very stupid. India is too silly to realize that America is subverting its culture with outsourcing and America is too naive to realize that things on the subcontinent are more like they are at home than some people think.

“Thank you for being a Wandering The World customer. This is Delhi Typ0. How may I help you?”


Anonymous said...

And you make me so happy when you defend India like that. :D

Anonymous said...

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