Call Centre Anguish14 Nov 12 12:07PM EST |
When moving house recently, I was assigned the duty of coordinating our utility connections. I consider myself a sociable person with a finesse for negotiation skills, so I like to deal with such tasks with that great interpersonal tool known as the internet.
However, my internet research soon revealed that the relevant websites that were supposed to help me were designed to take me through a short, dark tunnel, completely devoid of useful information, right to the payment screen.
Thus, I felt compelled to pick up the phone to clarify some basic questions. My telephone research soon revealed to me that the relevant call centres were designed to take me through a long, dark tunnel, completely devoid of useful information, right to the payment centre.
I was under the mistaken impression that I had called to clarify some details of the contract before returning to the internet and completing the transaction within the comfort zone of my own torturous decision making process. Instead, I found myself proffering more personal information than my mother could tell you before enduring a twenty minute monotone recital of the Terms and Conditions, during which I was regularly prompted to confirm my understanding and correct my grammar.
“Do you understand this condition sir?”
“Is that a yes?”
“Could you say ‘yes’ please sir?”
“Oh yah, I guess so.”
“That will have to do.”
As if to emphasise the monotony, the questions were delivered using a technique commonly adopted in Indian call centres known as accent neutralisation. Gone are the bouncing inflections of cross-cultural experiences regarding cricket and Kingfisher beer. Instead, the questions are delivered in a style I find reminiscent of Javier Bardem’s hit-man character in the film ‘No Country for Old Men’. A slow, exasperated American accent vaguely hiding the disdain of a man intent to terminate my existence with the use of a cattle gun.
Why did they choose an American accent to front Australian call centres? Was it a) after thorough research they found that people in English-speaking markets could more easily understand and relate to a neutral English American accent; or b) all of us mono-lingual species from the English-speaking west all sound like Americans to them anyway?
In hindsight and after several failed phone calls, I wish it had occurred to me at this point that the Indian call centre operator probably didn’t like putting on an American accent any more than I appreciated the presumption that I preferred it to an Indian accent. If I had simply suggested they might like to use their natural English speaking accent it may have been mutually beneficial for the both of us.
Instead, as the interrogation protracted...
“Please sir, do you agree to this condition? Answer Yes or No.”
... my thoughts were led adrift to a scene in ‘No Country for Old Men’ where Javier Bardem’s character, driving a stolen police car, pulls over a car in front of him. Posing as a police officer, he approaches the driver’s side window and requests the driver to get out of the car. The driver looks down at the cattle gun in his hand and asks what it is. Javier Bardem slowly repeats the question: "Please sir. Get out of the car." As the man gets out of the car my attention is brought back to the conversation in hand:
“He’s not a policeman! It’s a cattle gun! A cattle gun!!”
The conversation ended with the dial tone ringing in my ear.
After several such phone calls, I struck upon an Australian call centre. Immediately, my guard dropped; she sounded like the friendly tuck shop lady. This would be as stress free as buying a pie and a can of solo, I thought. The conversation moved from an exchange of Lamington recipes to a now too-familiar offering of many personal details over a discussion of contract necessities.
“If you bundle three products with us we will give you a 10% discount.”
“No thanks I don’t want the other products.”
“But you’ll get a 10% discount.”
“Only once have I paid an extra 200% for the other two products."
Something was not right. Friendly tuck shop ladies never pushed extra pie sales on me. Clearly I didn’t need them.
“Do you agree to enter this contract for the term of your natural life?”
The tuck shop lady wouldn’t offer me a candy poisoned with an eternal lock-in contract, would she?
“If, in the case of an afterlife, do you agree to continue this contract for eternity?”
Yet another phone call ended with the dial tone ringing in my ear as I yelled down the phone line,
“You’re not the tuck shop lady! You’re just Javier Bardem with an Australian accent! Stay in the car! He’s got a cattle gun! A cattle gun!!”
Online, the sign up strategy was to whiz me through the process with a few clicks of the mouse including a check box to acknowledge I had read the Terms and Conditions. On the phone, the aim was to manipulate my cultural sensibilities with varying accent strategies whilst subjecting me to a prolonged interrogation. Once I was finally relieved of the interrogation, they patched me through to the payment centre where I was relieved of my credit card details.
It’s been three months now since I moved into my new house. I have no insurance, no internet and no electricity, but I have a plan. I’ve downloaded voice transmitter software to my phone. This time the operator will not be hearing my voice. Instead they will be hearing the most evil, intimidating and condescending voice known to mankind - Tweety Bird's.
Now we’re on a level playing field.