Dell: Is it the Indian accent that’s the problem?

Reading the comments appended to this recent BusinessWeek article on Dell, a pattern of complaints about their customer service struck me. Fact, they are Indian call center employees to whom Dell has outsourced this ‘service’ and for the most part are referred to as slow, stupid, talking with an incomprehensible accent and just making things worse for the customer seeking service.

It seems to me that this situation arises more from the fact that none of
the customer service representatives are Dell employees, they have been
trained to follow a script and have no authority to actually do
anything meaningful. Resulting in even more frustration for the Dell customers with
the inability of the person at the other end of the phone to do
anything to help them.

That is what struck me – that it was to easier to focus on the obvious issues such as accent or distance when in fact it is the inflexible programming of the scripts or the lack of authority to effect change that is the root of the problem.

A few months ago I missed my first ever credit card payment because I was travelling and I called the customer service line to talk to them about dropping the finance charges. The rep on the phone first offered to cut the amount in half when I pointed out to him that I’d never missed a payment in 5 years, then agreed to drop the charges when I paid the amount in full online. Interestingly enough, I was then transferred to an offshore call center to complete the transaction – it was obviously in India, since it was a familiar accent.

So MBNA hadn’t offshored their entire customer service operation – just those elements that can be handled by a third party trained in a prescripted subroutine such as asking me a bunch of questions to complete the transaction, or just reporting that you’re going to be travelling so that they don’t freeze your card because it shows a Paris charge.

The elements that require a conversation, a certain amount of decision making authority such as reporting a theft, requesting a credit increase or dropping a charge are handled by employees (one assumes but certainly those with the authority to do something).

While I don’t know for a fact whether Dell has outsourced their entire customer service operation to India or not, the pattern of the complaints seems to indicate that there has been no seperation of critical functions from routine transactions. Perhaps not everything can be offshored, outsourced, pared down. Maybe the priority needs be your customers, who buy your products and give you their money, that leads to your revenues which then boosts your shareholder value. It doesn’t need a design degree to become user centered.

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2 Responses to Dell: Is it the Indian accent that’s the problem?

  1. Hilmir says:

    Grr, that’s so true, Niti.
    I had a similar experience. In transfering some data over to my laptop, my Nokia phone completely frozed & upon restarting the unit, I was prompted to key in a 4 digit code. My phone was ineffectively locked down.
    Panicking slightly, I called in to their 24hr helpdesk, where I had the misfortune of conversing with a person, hellbent on telling me to make my way down to the nearest Care-centre, as soon as possible, as she couldn’t provide me any other option.
    Intrigued, I asked her what kind of problems/situations that actually assists in, by which she started rattling off several simple issues, that can be remedied by simply cracking open the phone manual..
    In the end, I had to make a trip to a carecentre, had to hand over my phone and pay a processing fee, which amounted to $50, just to get it unlocked. So in short, $50 for a 4 digit code.
    If only the intial serviceperson on 24hr helpdesk knew something about the secret code, I could have avoided the whole thing. If only she knew more, or could be arsed to check out which code I actually needed..
    And she spoke in crisp English.

  2. niti bhan says:

    Hi Hilmir,
    So good to see you comment here after a long time. Nice story you’ve shared, thanks!

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