Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Are overseas call centres making us all a little more racist?

I've spent a fair bit of time on the phone to customer services departments over the last few days having just moved house from Inverness to Glasgow, and my heart sinks every time I hear an Asian accent asking "Mr Howel?" Immediately when I hear them murder my name (which incidentally is Hoyle, and is pronounced as read) I know that they are unlikely to understand what I am asking for, will repeatedly say the same things over and over again no matter my request, and will find me getting ruder and more impatient on the other end of the phone. I just signed off a particularly fruitless conversation with a young man from HSBC with "You're not answering my question! You're idiots! F*** off!" I did intend to hang up before I said the f word in frustration but am not entirely sure I made it in time. I am not the kind of man who is rude to anyone in any circumstances, so I can only imagine the kind of conversations these telephone operators are having with the more impolite of British citizens.

When I'm talking to a call centre in Cumbernauld or Clydebank, I'll cough (bad cold) and they'll say "Oh, have you got the cold that's going about, you're not sounding so good?" and I'll reply "Yeah, sorry for all the disgusting noises." We are able to have a conversation based on shared experience, culture and language which flows naturally based upon a level of empathetic understanding. When someone in India asks "Can I call you Ewan (NOT pronounced as read)" and I say simply "No" then we're immediately cast in my mind as the poorly trained performing monkey and the grumpy old man.

Having to have these conversations over the phone further establishes our alienation. They can't pick up the look of dismay on my face as they get my name wrong, I can't pick up the blank affect that they have learned to adopt as protection against British bile. What is worse is the fact that the relationship is likely to be creating considerable prejudice in both nations. We think they're idiots, they think we're angry, impolite racists. I wouldn't be surprised if tourism from India has taken a nosedive since the foreign call centre became commonplace. Anyone thinking of a visit will be told by all call-centre staff "Oh no, don't go there, they're all arseholes. I was just doing my job today, telling this guy "Ewan" - what kind of stupid name is that? - what he asked (yeah right) and he says "You're idiots, f*** off" No manners"

As soon as I've paid off my overdraft I'm finding a bank with no overseas call centres to do my bit for British-Indian relations. I never again want to tell a call-centre worker who I'm sure was trying his hardest to "f*** off".


Rankersbo said...

I'm afraid I don't generally have your positive experience of dealing with UK based call centres

Anonymous said...

I can cope with most UK accents - I find Yorkshire most difficult to understand.

What gets up my nose about call centres in general is that the staff are trained to say '.... how may I help you?..' and I am pretty sure they couldn't care less whether they can help me or not.

I was once involved in a conversation with a Phillipines-based call centre (can't recall which organisation was involved). The staff were obviously US-trained because the droid kept calling me "ma'am" - I had to tell him that in the UK only the Queen was ever addressed in that manner.

Anders said...

Quite agree. On Friday after another pointless conversation with National Rail Enquiries, I came off the phone thinking I should have known better than to ring them, but then straightaway feeling guilty that I was being racist about Indians. Rail enquiries typifies your point about shared experiences - you can't understand how British railways work without using them, and the only time I need to ring them, (as opposed to using the internet), is if my enquiry is more complicated. Which is then when they don't understand the question or answer a different one based on what they can glean from a computer screen.

The other issue is that all call centres need to be employing people who can not only do their job but are also easy to understand over the phone. There will be plenty of unintelligible people in this country of all accents, it's just that they don't usually get offered a job in a call centre. What is a clear accent in India is different from what is clear to someone living overseas.