Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Old Ball & Chain

I recently fielded an escalated call that didn’t end so well. Toward the end of this call, at the customer’s request, I had conferenced in a vendor with whom the customer (who, actually wasn’t, technically, a customer at all), was having an issue. When the vendor was unable to assist the caller either, the customer, whose ire had by this point had been fanned into a full 5-alarm blaze, aimed a few parting shots at both of us. For me, the Call Center Manger, this quasi-customer had the following benediction: “I hope you’re happy when they move your job to India!!” I was about to shoot back, “I should BE so LUCKY!!!”, however his comment prompted me to fall into a reverie, a Call Center Cogitation, if you will, on the issue of call center outsourcing.

Outsourcing in the Call Center world is now a well-known, discussed and written-about subject. The words have now entered the popular lexicon, and exposed our legions of dedicated Misfit Toys (see “Type Casting”) to a host of new imprecations from our well-meaning customers.

Knowing the call center world as I do, having been steeped in it for over 20 years, I began to wonder why various Human Rights organizations have not raised a great cry over the exporting of Call Centers and call center culture other nations, some of them “developing” nations? Why is there not a clarion alarm being sounded when ads are run in Call Center mags touting the benefits of Guatemala? I mean, doesn’t everyone know what this will ultimately DO to the indigenous cultures, to the very fabric of their existence? Can't people see what it has done to us??!! As Marlon Brando said in Apocolypse Now, “...the horror!”

I am kidding of course, because I can easily explain the reason behind India’s embracing of Call Centers. It’s simple. Buddhism originated in India. A basic tenet of Buddhism is that “Life is Suffering.” A basic tenet of Call Centers is “To work in Call Center is Suffering”. Thus, a perfect union between call centers and Buddhism. I haven’t figured out why Guatemala wants call centers, though.

As I thought about suffering, I was led to recall the most recent trend of outsourcing call center operations to prisons. In an article on this subject on NPR’s website (2-23/2005), it is revealed that Federal Prison Industries (a company established by the prison system) trumpets its call center programs as “Domestic outsourcing at offshore prices.” Well, I'm sure it is. But never mind how cheap it is to have a prison run your call center - think of the benefits to prisoner rehab and recidivism it must be having: if you’re a prisoner who had been tapped to work in the prison call center, and you finish your prison sentence, you can be damn sure you’re never going to do anything that will land you in that call center/prison again. Never mind the “Three strikes, you’re out” law - it's “Three Strikes, You’re IN" – In the cube, that is - slap on that Plantronics headset. I would think that an increase in outsourcing to prisons can only push crime rates down dramatically.

However, I think we can take this a step further. Combine offshore outsourcing with prisons. Think of the movie "Midnight Express", about the hapless would-be small time American drug smuggler who winds up in a brutal Turkish prison. Now there's a place for a call center. Talk about cheap outsourcing. The reps wouldn't need any breaks and all you'd have to feed them would be cockroaches.

Anyway, my reverie was brought to an end by the dial tone. Quasi-customer had escaped with the final word, while I, Cogitating Call Center Manger, put the receiver down and turned back to my ACD, wondering if I could ever get used to the temperatures in Calcutta.


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