Saturday, February 09, 2008

Do You Understand?

When I place a call for information and an obviously non-native-English speaker answers, I find myself dreading the ordeal. I know I should empathize with the person who probably hates having to speak on the phone, but instead I often seem to lose my patience as I try to describe what it is I need.

Today I called an organic market to find out if they carried Organic Valley non-fat powdered milk, an ingredient for my home-made yogurt which has been hard to find lately. The first person was definitely not born in this country. He actually repeated the syllables exactly as I had spoken them, but I could tell he was clueless as to what that was.

By the time I spoke to the fourth person, I had verified that they indeed now have this powdered milk once again, but it was a struggle to get to that point.

It would seem that answering the phone has now been relegated largely to people who speak English as a second language, many of whom don’t even live in this country but instead may be halfway around the world. I learned a lot about this phenomenon when I read The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. He explained that part of the training these people receive in places like India and China is a crash course in American English.

But there are often times when it seems almost impossible to ask a question or describe a product or a problem. This language of ours is not easy by any means.

I can only imagine this problem is going to get worse as more and more outsourcing takes place. Maybe people like me need a course in patience, so we can suffer through these phone conversations without feeling like some sort of racist.

11 Comments:

Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Do you know that all Canadian Service Calls for Bell Sympatico Support are fielded in India because it is cheaper? Sometimes it is hard to understand a heavy accent and when you are already having trouble understanding technology, this makes it very difficult to follow as they try to walk you through steps on your computer. This is amazing to me.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- People in India are actually doing tax returns for people in the US and taking orders for drive-throughs at McDonalds. Why should a company pay several times the salary of a person in Bangalore if it doesn't have to?

10:53 PM  
Blogger kimy said...

I do find it terribly ironic that here we are in the midst of a recession (yes, we are in the midst pundits - it isn't coming or eminent, it arrived a while ago!!) and so much is outsourced - not only manufacturing but also the service sector. crazy.

makes me think of the dr. seuss book, "if I ran the zoo"....

thank you for your kindness regarding aunt mary.

yes, I am coming to your neck of the woods! maybe we can schedule some a blogging bud convergence for saturday february 23rd in dc!! check with the goddess at the gold puppy....let's make it happen! xxmouse

12:05 AM  
Blogger Pauline said...

A crash course in English for someone who does not speak it would be like a crash course in Chinese for me! I've struggled through conversations with computer technicians but I find that patience and repetition almost always get me where I need to be. I've had some interesting conversations with these folk, knowing they, too, are struggling.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I get pretty angry on the phone. I try to avoid it whenever possible for the sake of customer service agents everywhere.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

You know so many languages, I'm surprised you didn't know how to speak in this person's own tongue.

As for myself, I don't even try using the phone. That's what Google is for.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- I'm actually not in such a hurry most of the time, but the frustration still persists when I just can't make myself understood. How do you describe powdered milk to someone who doesn't know what it is?

Kristin -- Every now and then I just end it by saying, "Thank you, I'll try somewhere else."

Reya -- As good as Google is, it doesn't tell you what's on somebody's shelf!

9:28 AM  
Blogger Colette Amelia said...

I don't have this problem too often but what really makes me mental is the robotic receptionist! I tell you I have been enraged too many times I mean it is bad enough when you find yourself talking to a robot but when she (always a she) reprimands you for doing something incorrect I want to strangle somebody.

I have gone so far as cancel my voicemail, and long distance with Telus because of this bitchy robot. They had so many complaints about her they got a new voice but then she found her way to the voice mail so everytime you checked she was ordering you around. too much! and they wonder why nobody has any money to spend...robots and off shore jobs so we are all unemployed!

5:10 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Colette -- The mention of a robot voice reminds me of the female voice on my husband's GPS system that is forever telling us to go the long way around!

9:02 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Fortunately, I do not little need for talking with most service representatives.

However, sometimes I have had ones with very heavily accented English (or worse yet, heavily accented and poor English).

I simply accept that they are trying to do their job to the best of their ability.

Maybe if I had to deal with it on a regular basis, I would find it more frustrating.

The last customer service representative I spoke with was out of the US, a lovely sounding woman named Mayela.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

Interestingly enough, there seems to be a surge in companies using stay-at-home moms from Utah.

For me, the interesting times in the Bay Area are when two disparate accents collide. This happens frequently when my husband (with his Persian accent) tries to communicate with any fast food employee, and the incident is only exaggerated by the use of microphones and speakers.

We all do what we can to get by, it's best to bring your patience and forbearing when we visit stores or call them on the phone. I admit, I did lose my easy-going attitude with the Comcast people last week in their refusal to give me anything but a four hour window to fix a problem that they had created.

Oh well, on we go!

9:44 AM  

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