Sunday, September 07, 2008

A harried woman and a few cyber coolies

Read this article by Jenni Russell about her horrid experience of dealing with some Indian cyber coolies working for BT.

Earlier this summer my father, who is in his late 70s and disabled, had a stroke. It happened on a Friday, and my distraught mother rang in the late afternoon to say that he had collapsed, and could neither walk nor speak. She was calling the neighbours around their remote hillside in rural Wales to see whether they could help her lift him up. Forty-five minutes later I called her back but there was no reply. Fifteen minutes later: "This number is not recognised."

In a panic, I rang BT. The first person I spoke to was in an Indian call centre. Could he check the line please; this was an emergency. He asked me for the account number. What account number? The telephone number? No, he needed to know the account number before he was permitted to check the line. How would I find it? By asking the account holder. "But that's why I'm ringing you! I can't speak to the account holder because something's gone wrong with your line!" Then he couldn't help me. Well, could he transfer me to customer services, or the engineers?

Number, name, postcode, account number. Desperate, I explained the situation to person number two. This one was in England. She told me there was no record of my parents' line. And that, as far as she was concerned, was that. Please, I said, look again. This line existed until an hour ago. Meanwhile my father might be dying on a Welsh hillside. Complete indifference from person number two. I plead to be transferred to someone else.

I explain everything again to person number three. She finds the line and confirms that it has been cut off that afternoon. I know this isn't about bills, this is some madness. Can it be reconnected as a matter of emergency? She's not interested in my emergency. Nothing can be done until BT can determine why it has been cut off. I am transferred to person number four.

It is now an hour into the call. Number, name, postcode, account number. It turns out BT has been confused over the validity of the line, whatever that means. It is their mistake. They do not care. The engineers have gone home and I cannot talk directly to them anyway. I will have to go on a list for reconnection which could be a fortnight. Tearful, I ask if the wait can be shortened for cases like this. The answer is no. Person number four is as bored by me as the rest have been. Not one has said they're sorry - either for the situation, or for BT's mistake. Can I speak to a manager? No, they've left. No, there's no one else who can help. If I want to make an appointment for reconnection, I will have to speak to person number five.

Person number five offers me a date. It is a month away. Incredulous, with knots of fear in my stomach, I explain it all again. No reaction. This is the system, she says. Do I want to make the appointment or not? Because if I don't wish to accept it, she will terminate the call. As an afterthought, and because it's clearly on the script, she asks: "And is there anything else I can help you with today?"

I put down the phone and burst into tears. It has been an 80-minute call, and I have either been listening to machines, or conversing with automatons throughout. The indifference of the system feels brutal, and I can't break through it. It is now seven o'clock. As a last resort, I ring directory inquiries and ask them to put me through not to the faults line, but to BT's head office.

A real person answers the phone. She is a middle-aged Welsh woman with a comfortable voice, and when I tell her why I'm ringing, the first thing she says is: "Oh dear! That sounds terrible!" She is the chairman's secretary, and she isn't following any script. She says immediately that she has a list of managers and she will start ringing them now until she finds one who will deal with it and call me back. And she does. The phone is reconnected within 40 hours, and many apologies sent to my father as he recovers.

We all may have our own sordid tales to tell about dealing with the so-called Customer Care Executives working out of call centres for our cell phone company or our ISP.

But, we rarely hear any stories from the other side. I had a friend working in a call centre representing a Credit Card Company in USA. Once he got a call from a customer of Sri Lankan origin, he wanted his card to be activated immediately. My friend said to the gentleman that he had crossed the credit limit and it was impossible for him to activate the card unless the old account was settled. The customer (in a drunken state) argued for hours saying that he wished to talk to the Manager and that he deserved better treatment because of his long association with the Company. My friend pleaded that he can only register a complaint and someone from the Company will get back to him very soon. My friend got to hear choicest expletives English, Hindi and Tamil (the gentleman on the other side had understood that the Executive was an Indian and had asked him which all languages he followed). The situation stretched for three days and when he brought the issue to his senior’s notice, he was advised to resign before the issue blew up.

I also have a couple of friends who have worked in BPO sector who feel burnt out before crossing their twenties.

Here is the original article published in the Guardian.


harimohan said...

true paresh it is often exasperating to reach an operator after interminable twiddling of mobile keyboard and this automaton answers like a robot and sticks to his storyline !

Anonymous said...

Yes the Automation has made the world more complicated. hcp

monsoon dreams said...

its really frustrating to go thru all those pressing of keys and be back to square one after losing valuable time.have a great day,pareshji!

rauf said...

i can understand her plight Paresh. i have to press many buttons before i get to talk to a human, last time when i called Airtel, i asked the lady on the phone
'am i talking to a human ? she said yes
are you sure you are not a machine ?
i am sure she said
well i am not so sure that you are not a machine would you please sing along ? lalaa oooo lalala la la la ??
she laughed and relaxed. most of them are trainees, they panic easily when they are confronted with pains like me. they are a harrassed lot.
i offer 500 crores to the banks who call and offer me loans.

coming to our lady in question, its her fault actually.
She has very old parents. Any sensible woman would have the telephone numbers of their neighbours, obviously they are not living in the wilderness. She could have called the local grocery or drug store. She never made any such arrangements, she was too busy with her life.