Time to Boycott Companies Outsourcing Customer Service

You're an American cell phone customer. For 15 months, your bill has been reliably in the $80 range, but this month you open it up to find an ugly $315 staring you in the face. WTF?! After further examination, you realize that your unlimited text plan has inexplicably fallen off your account, and you were charged 10 cents each for your 2350 text messages. Ouch. You call up your cell phone carrier's billing number, expecting this to be quickly and easily resolved.

After a 25 minute hold, you're relieved to hear a human being on the other end of the line. The gentleman introduces himself as "David Smith", but his thick Indian accent and long pauses before answering you would seem to indicate that this is not his given name.

Okay, so "David" probably works in an outsourced Indian call center, but why hold that against him? He's probably a capable human being. Just because he's not American doesn't mean he can't handle what seems to be a relatively straightforward and easy problem to rectify. You give David a chance.

Needless to say, David Smith's supervisor never calls you, and you still have that $235 on your bill. You try calling back, wait on hold again, only to get Bangalore's own "Jennifer Williams" on the phone, who tells you the same thing as David. You feel trapped. You can't reach anyone with common sense to resolve the situation, and yet you're on the hook for this money. If you refuse to pay it, it will affect your credit. What do most people do in this spot? Sadly, they just break down and pay, especially if the amount is something like $50 instead of $235.

Many see the complaints aginst outsourced call centers as a form of racism or cultural elitism. They figure that people just have prejudices against accents or those with whom they can't directly relate. But it's not that at all. It's that these outsourced agents lack the ability and authorization to solve most problems. They are not given much training. They are not empowered to solve problems, but rather adhere to a strict set of rules which often defy common sense. They are not trained to retain angry customers. Basically, they are paid to be human voices that act like machines.

Large companies outsource customer service because it is expensive to hire American employees. It goes far beyond the salaries paid to American employees, which are already much higher than their third-world counterparts. There's also the costs of the infrastructure to support them, management expenses, HR expenses, taxes, and countless other things that really add up, especially when thousands (or tens of thousands) of customer service agents are needed. Thus, these companies save A LOT of money by outsourcing customer service to the third world. They definitely realize that they will provide very poor customer service after doing so, and will probably lose some customers as a result, but the tradeoff is still worth it. The money they save dwarfs the money that they lose.

There's one other hidden benefit to outsourcing customer service, and it was shown in the example above. A large percentage of customer service calls involve fixing some billing issues -- almost always something that was in the company's favor. If these things don't get fixed, and the customer just capitulates and pays because he can't stand the stress of fighting for his money back, the company gets money it never deserved. Multiply this by many thousands (or millions) of customers, and you're talking about a very large sum of extra (and very unethical) income.

All companies have a responsibility to the customer to provide proper resolution for billing errors. This is because the customer has something big on the line if he simply refuses to pay the erroneous charges -- his credit! Therefore, it is unacceptable, and should be illegal, for these companies to make resolution of billing errors difficult or impossible for the customer. There should always be an easy and painless way to discuss billing issues with a well-trained person that listens, without having to go through heroics.

Outsourced call centers have the following problems, which combine to make them virtually useless:

Customer service outsourcing is a slap in the face to the customer base, and it is becoming increasingly common with each passing day. I would be gladly willing to pay a little more for service if, in return, I could know that my customer service needs would be handled competently and respectfully by actual employees of the company. I think that most others at this point would also be happy with this tradeoff.

It has gotten to the point where I am trying as hard as I can to boycott companies that outsource customer service. I suggest you do the same, both to send a message and for your own sanity. Let's send a message to these corporations that intentionally making it difficult to resolve billing issues is a form of backdoor fraud, and we're not going to take it anymore. Let's make it clear to them that "saving" money in this crucial area is not acceptable, and we won't continue supporting them as long as they do.

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