Web recently wrote a piece outlining his recent customer service experiences with various companies in the context of whether their service is outsourced to a foreign country. I figure I’ll do the same. You can see it below the fold, if you wish, but I’ll put the summary of my thoughts on the matter up top.

It is, generally speaking, my experience that Indian call center employees (with one major exception) are largely more pleasant and eager to help than American call center employees are. This is contrary to Web’s experience. Even with the below-mentioned problems with Western Digital, it was never that they didn’t care or weren’t interested in helping, it was that they genuinely couldn’t. This makes some sense to me since a call center job in India is probably a good one that you want to keep but call centers in the US are often somewhere between a professional job and a fast food job in pay and esteem. Even within the US it makes a difference. Call centers in Deseret are sometimes destination careers, but call centers in Colosse are for those that can’t find anything better.

I think that the Indian call centers are substantively hobbled by two things, though. First is language. They are difficult to understand and they have difficulty understanding us. Their language is very different from our own which makes accents unusually thick. This is very problematic when it comes to situations where you’re reading off serial numbers and the like or when you’re trying to explain a rather complex problem. This is one of the main reasons why Indian tech support will almost always be inferior to stateside.

The other thing touches on one of the big reasons I think that Web (and to a lesser extent I) have had so much more success getting our issues resolved with Americans at the other end than Indians. When a company outsources to India, they’re doing more than just saving a buck. They are purposefully declaring that customer service is not a priority for them. They have decided that if they’re going to cut corners, that’s where they are going to cut it. I suspect it is often the case that poor customer service and offshore call centers so frequently overlap not because offshore call centers cause poor customer service but because companies that are not interested in good customer service are most likely to offshore. I don’t know whether the ThinkPad person I talked to was in Atlanta or Africa, but IBM and Lenovo have historically placed such an emphasis on customer support with ThinkPads that even if it’s outsourced to Africa I am unusually confident that I will get good customer service. Linksys, it would seem, has different priorities. As does Dell, whether they outsource or not.

So what does “poor customer service” mean beyond the accent of the person that you’re talking to? Well, for one thing it means that they’re more interested in call-handling than issue-resolving. They want to take the easy calls and then let people with more difficult problems figure things out for themselves. It’s not just that the employees are Indian, but that they know little about the product itself and their job primarily consists of reading off a guide. Companies that care will make the guide very good. Companies that don’t, won’t. When I was working for a satellite TV company, our guide was so good that it wouldn’t have hurt so badly if they outsourced (which they apparently now do). On the other hand, if LinkSys didn’t care to put in the information about how I could bypass installing their software, it’s unlikely that the American call-handler would have been able to help me, either.

Some of this brings me back to something I believe when I hear people complain about poor customer service, offshored customer service, or both: Frequently, you get what you pay for. I have little sympathy for those people that decide to save money by buying a Dell and then are upset when their customer support call is answered by someone in India. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes buy from companies with bad customer service (even when I have a choice, which sometimes I really don’t) and that’s not to say that I don’t get frustrated when it happens. I do, however, avoid getting indignant (except when I don’t have a choice but to deal with this particular company). One question that a lot of people are reticent to answer is “How much is good customer service worth to you?” If it’s not worth paying extra for, it’s not something that you should get too irate about.

My recent experiences below:

  • IBM/Lenovo/ThinkPad: My experience used to be primarily with Americans, though the most recent call I placed with them had me talking to what sounded like an African. I am not familiar with a whole lot of outsourcing to Africa, so it’s possible that he is an immigrant. He was a bit difficult to understand, but he did a great job. The problem was that my laptop shipping date had been delayed indefinitely. I called to find out if there was another model I could get that would have it arriving on my doorstep sooner (which is what happened last time I got a laptop). He said that there wasn’t, but he gave me very specific information about what the hold up was and gave me a loose estimate of when it might be sent out. He was right on the money.
  • Rhapsody: Indian tech support. My credit card had expired and my service had been shut off. The problem is that I didn’t have the new credit card to use at the moment, so I was calling hoping to suspend the account for a month or so until the new card arrived. He looked at my account and told me not to worry about it and tha the would give me the month gratis.
  • Western Digital: Indian tech support. Very frustrating with the inability to communicate part serial numbers and address information. None of this would be a problem with Rhapsody or the ThinkPad people, who have an account with all of this information on it, but it was a problem here. I eventually got what I wanted, but it took more work than usual.
  • Seagate: American. I called twice and it was a breeze both times.
  • Linksys: Indian. I got my first wireless router. Linksys wants you to install this configuration software that I had no interest in installing. With previous Linksys routers, I was able to access it with any computer. Given that I have over a half-dozen machines, I didn’t want to install it on each machine to do what I could previously do with web pages. I was put on hold for a very long time and when I got ahold of the guy he was no help. He kept trying to tell me how to install the software instead of letting me know what I could do to bypass it. I knew there was a way, but I didn’t get it from him.
  • Discover: American. Other than the sales pitches, I generally have good luck with Discover.
  • Newegg: American. I call Newegg frequently because there is always some sort of problem with Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo usually tells me that the problem is on Newegg’s end so I have to call Newegg in between calls to Wells Fargo. They’re always pleasant and as helpful as they can be with what is always Wells Fargo’s problem.
  • Wells Fargo: American. Rarely helpful, though I’m not sure if it’s their fault at all. Their anti-fraud department just has an itchy trigger finger and their system does not do a very good job of conveying what the status of my car is when it’s in anti-fraud’s hand.
  • Mindstorm Internal IT SupportIndian. This is an odd case in a couple of ways. First, it feels weird that Mindstorm would offshore customer support for its own facilities overseas, but apparently they do for at least some of it. The first time I called them the person on the other end of the line was in Deseret. The more recent attempt had someone from India. It was also odd because it is really the first time I dealt with an Indian customer support agent who was really rude and unfriendly. He got extremely frustrated when I couldn’t understand what I was saying and kept trying to tell me that he was going to hang up and I should call back on a clearer line. I ended up getting what I needed out of the phone call, but it was a really frustrating experience.
  • Risk Assessment Agency: American. I called them up twice. In both cases they were helpful in answering my questions, though the issue was not resolved how I would have liked. They had erroneously reported that I had a lapse in coverage. I pointed this out and they said that they would take care of it. Apparently by “take care of it” they meant that they would remove most of my previous coverage from their records. So now it looks like I have a much thinner history of coverage than I do, but the little field for “Lapse in Coverage” does now say “No.” Whether this will come back to bite me, I’m not sure.
  • Local Gas Company: American. We had a gas outage because they swapped out some of our equipment and for one reason or another couldn’t leave it in the “on” position. Anyway, their automated system is just awful. It was never clear what numbers I should press and when I gave up and hit “0” to talk to someone, I got batted around between general support and installation. Once it was determine that I was not going to be pawned off again, the woman was extremely helpful. They couldn’t take appointments, but they worked until late so I would need to call back when I was home. I was initially upset because when I called back, they said there hours were 7-7 M-F (it was 8pm on Friday and 56 degrees in the apartment), but I bit the bullet and pressed 1 for an emergency. The woman on the other end didn’t bat an eye or say “A gas leak is an emergency, a cold apartment is an invitation to buy more blankets” but had someone sent out within an hour. Well done.

Category: Market

About the Author

8 Responses to Customer Disservice II

  1. Peter says:

    Of course, one of the hardest parts about speaking to customer service representatives is cutting one’s way through the phone trees so that it’s possible to speak to a rep in the first place.

  2. PD says:

    I don’t think US call centers are more knowledgeable. They do a better job of putting you on hold when they don’t have an answer.

  3. Webmaster says:


    I’ve found better luck on cutting through phone trees (and alternatively, getting transferred to the right place after a misdirect) with US call centers. I surmise that the primary reason for this is that the Indian “techs” honestly have no idea what to do if you are misdirected; since they’re subcontract, they won’t often know what the correct department is, and oftentimes that’s a different subcontractor so they couldn’t even transfer you if they were otherwise willing to. By contrast, with US call centers, often the person I need to speak with is either (a) in the same building or (b) reachable by a company-wide phone transfer.


    being put on hold when waiting for an answer I understand. Being bullshitted and given a bunch of malarkey that has nothing to do with the problem? I find that is the specialty of the Indians.

  4. PD says:

    US call centers are as much incompetent as any other. If they don’t put you on hold they keep passing the call to someone else that cannot help either.

  5. trumwill says:

    I heard that there used to be a website devoted to finding out how to talk to a live person for various companies. Never used it, though.

    When it comes to low-rent tech support, it can easily be Indian or American. When it comes to hiring troubleshooters who aren’t reading from a script, that seems to happen less frequently with Indians than Americans. As I said in the post, though, I suspect that if the offshorers reshored, you’d probably get about the same type of tech support, just in an easier-to-understand voice.

    PD beat me to the punch on agents playing hot potato with different questions. It’s the downside to what Web was talking about. They can more easily get you to who you need to talk to… but they can also more easily pawn you off to someone else. This is something I dread when calling customer support and I can’t think of a single instance where it’s happened with Indians. Then again, it’s something that seems to happen most with banks and credit cards and comparatively few of those outsource their tech support.

    Honestly, I’ve never noticed a difference between how often (and how long) I’m put on hold. Seems to happen with Americans and Indians alike, though if the agent is not a script-reader (which again, is more likely to be an America CSA) you’re more likely to get better results while put on hold.

  6. Webmaster says:


    you’re looking for http://gethuman.com/

    Greetings and salutations. Welcome to the emergency line of the San Angeles Police Department. If you prefer an automated response, press one, now. – line out of the movie Demolition Man

  7. Peter says:

    you’re looking for http://gethuman.com/

    Ha ha, it says that if you call the White House (202-456-1414), it goes “direct to human.”

  8. Dental Technology says:

    I have had terrible experiences with Wells Fargo. I got so sick of it that I ended up switching banks a few months ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.