Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Talking to America...

"Thank you for calling **** support, my name is Adam. How may I help you today?"

These lines ruled my life for just a bit more than a year. In sleep I used to mumble technical mumbo jumbo. I used to wake up in a very murky state of mind, look out of the window and at the watch and wonder whether it was 6 in the morning or in the night. I used to hate going to work, and looked forward to seeing sunshine. I was almost brain dead. I was, all the while,
talking to America.
Welcome to the Tech Call Center life!

By any estimate, I must've talked to more than three thousand people in the US.
They came in all types - geeks, who'd talk a lot of technical sense into me, and educate me and eventually solve the problem themselves; people who'd throw a lot of technical jargon at you, but who'd almost know nothing; very old people who find it hard to move around, and with whom I'd spend hours (my longest call was 9 hours); People who're deaf and who'd have an interpreter at home to translate things I say into sign language; Impatient teenagers; young ladies who'd disarmingly say "uh!oh!" when something goes wrong and you really forget to get angry; people with children running around, pulling the wires...the list is endless.

But there was always a common thread running there...

They were always irritated first at the fact that they'd had to wait for so long (sometimes more tahn an hour and a half), and then surprised (mostly) that they'd reached India. Almost always they ask
"And where are you located?"
"No, India"
"India? As in the country India?"
"that's right" (smile at what's going to come next)
"Oooooooooooooooooooo! I don't believe this!! You mean I am speaking to someone half way across the globe?? Wow!!"

And then they ask where in India I am, what's my real name and all that. Some people have tried really hard to get my name right, and all these things made calls worthwhile.

Of course, there were always those depressing calls during which you'd wish that some stupid asteroid would drop right out of the roof. The people would shout, scream, and swear at you, and you are caught at this end, keeping a smiling face and armed with only a mute button. No, no, it doesn't shut off their voice, but our voice. Good enough to swear at them. Hmmm...

And there were calls when you'd be totally lost as what to do. Those are really bad ones, because it just makes you feel very incompetent and foolish.

The leads and the trainers always encourage us to develop rapport with the customers, by initiating some kind of small talk. It'd normally ask with us enquiring about the weather there, and talking about snowing and negative temperatures as if we lived in the arctic.
Sometimes things can get real bad, like this

"Thank you for calling support, how may I help you?"
"Hi, my ------ is ------" (Lot of noise in the background)
"I am sorry ma'am, I was not able to hear you, can you please repeat that?"
"Yeah, I said that my ------ is -------" (it's got worse, and you can ALMOST hear a dog barking)
"I am sorry ma'am but there's a lot of noise in the background. Could you please take the dog into another room?"
Silence for a minute.And then "That was my son!"
The line gets cut.

And then there was the time when a colleague asked the customer to turn off her "Fire Alarm", instead of telling her to turn off her "firewall".

Another big rapport building happened when an agent was keenly enquiring about a lady's hobbies.
"Oh, I have a lot of pets around- a dog, scamper, a parakeet, a tortoise and a kitten - ginger"
I guess the agent was a "kitten lover", because the only thing he could muster up was,
"And how big's your pussy ma'am?"
Understandably, the customer hung up.
Of course, the "pussy" was the kitten...er...ummm..I hope so... :)

We get used to taking calls in sleep too, what with the shifts starting at times as insane as 3 in the morning. And the calls keep on coming, giving us a mere 2 minutes in between, and that too, to log the previous call. Not quite a breather, that!

There were loads of "Fun" stuff happening there too, like the best cubicle award and the best call and so on. I still remember this guy (my buddy too) who used to dope and take calls. "Helps me concentrate and keeps me calm", he used to say.

After a while, you learn the tricks of the trade. We understood that when the customers ask for an escalation and the supervisor takes that call, they quickly calm down and even if the only thing the supervisor does is to assure him that he's in safe hands and that we'll get things sorted out in no time, the customer believes him and calms down and gets much more co-operative. But the only issue was the the supervisor wouldn't take escalations. Hmmm...
So, turn to your cubicle-mate.

"Abey Ranjeet, take this call, da..."
"Escalation again dude?"
"Yea, simple issue, but the old man won't listen patiently"
And then he'd take the call and tell the customer, "Hi, I am Adam's supervisor" and blabber on. Once he was calm, he'd hand back the call to me.

Morning shifts were really heaven. We rarely got those, but once those came along, it was fun. We used to play NFS, sometimes even multiplayer, over the network. No calls, no hassles, awesome life.

New batch training was fun. Its called "sidejacking" or some funny name like that, where a trainee would come, sit by you, and listen to your call. It really helped increase your "star value". they'd sometimes drool at how quickly we fixed the issues, and of course, if we're unable to solve, we'd give some concocted explanation of a recurring manufacturing defect in the B3A1 chip inside the device. It worked everytime.

The callers were almost 100% Americans.We'd rarely get an Indian or a Pakistani or a Hungarian or a Chinese.

Most of the Americans came across as very insecure and vulnerable, but very sincere. They'd put their entire belief in you. They'd do anything if they find that it's reasonable. And they appreciate it very much if you get it right for them. A very caring lot of people. I somehow had an idea of a very arrogant kind of people when America was mentioned and all these people proved me wrong. I'd seen too many movies I guess and had a bit of an idea about them being morally weak. But there too, I was wrong. They uphold their values, are fiercely patriotic, and are very compassionate. They sympathise, empathise,cry and laugh much easier than their Indian friends. Very very warm people.

After a year, a sense of desperation seeps in, when your calls tend to repeat over and over and over again. Its a routine, then. It's like reading out a script, and before they even finish telling you what the issue is, you know what's wrong and you are ready to solve the thing and get over with it.

That is when you start hating the world and curse the BPO word and detest telling people what you do for a living.

And that was when I decided it was high time I started writing (code, of course) for America rather than talk to America...


Anonymous said...

hmmm..something i've been thru too...i can relate quite a bit to this..have fun..

Anonymous said...

Interesting Read...! Nice one Maddy... The only diff was I got vexed with 5 months of it... I guess most of us did and were waiting to jump out and ready to do ANYTHING but say "Thank you for calling **** support" again...!

Anonymous said...

Yo yo yo, was happnin', shakes? Nice blog u got here. "Two thirds water" -- nice! I tried my hand at this in a sudden mood for inspiration or more likely a desire for inspiration. Irrespective of that my writing had become so fucked up that I had to give up. You on the other hand, well..I ain't calling you 'shakes' for nothing, man. This Himani person is right, ever tried serious writing?