Here are the telltale signs you’re about to talk to an overseas call center: A slight delay – milliseconds, probably – after the call is picked up, indicating that you’re on the line with someone far away. A faint hissing sound, also a giveaway that you’re about to chat with a company representative halfway across the world.
And, if that’s not enough, the introduction: Someone in a heavily-accented voice with a name that’s as American as apple pie – Joe, Jane or Bob.
Not that there’s anything wrong with an outsourced call center. In fact, a recent survey found these call center employees were quick studies and enjoyed relatively high customer-service scores.
Still, what happens when you’re dealing with one of the less effective ones?
I get that question a lot. Dealing with an overseas call center doesn’t have to end in frustration. Here are three tips for getting better customer service:
Don’t waste time
Call center employees are rated based on how quickly they can “resolve” your case. It’s important to make a determination relatively quickly. Are we needlessly taking up each others’ time, here? If you can’t understand the representative, or if they are taking two minutes to apologize for being on hold for ten seconds, then you are probably better off politely disconnecting the call and either phoning back or emailing the company. (Note: Emails can be highly effective in most situations, and should be used before picking up the phone.)
A lot of company representatives – not just those in overseas call centers – are limited in the kinds of solutions they can offer. Often, you can hear them reading scripts from their computer. Their answers are just too pat to be anything but read, if not rehearsed. Recognizing script reading isn’t difficult, but deciding what to do next often is. You have two options – ask for a supervisor or hang up and call again, and possibly get through to someone who won’t read a script.
Beware of culture barriers
Even though call center workers go by Americanized names and speak English, they are probably not American.
Language barriers, though often formidable, aren’t necessarily the highest ones. Culture can stand in the way of an effective resolution.
I remember one overseas call center worker, who was on the phone with my partner to resolve a problem with her PC. After ten minutes of increasingly agitated back-and-forth, the representative asked if he could “to speak with the man of the house.” She has two post-graduate degrees, one of which is in information systems. The problem, as it turns out, wasn’t him or her – it was probably a cultural barrier. She ended the conversation, called back, and happened to be routed to an American call center, which fixed her problem.
Offshore call centers can present you with a number of unique problems, including script-reading, language and culture hurdles. You can almost always find a way around them by contacting the company in a different way – either by email or by simply phoning back later.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.