Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Indian standard and time to upgrade

Indian standard and time to upgrade



My tennis partner Lance Miller told me during a side change between games that he had called customer support for a problem with his computer and the call had again gone to India. This time, he said, his experience was much, much better than six months ago, when he had run up against an agent who wasn?t entirely clued in. This time the agent was patient, engaging, and walked him through the problem till it was fixed, explaining everything along the way.

They are obviously on a learning curve, I told Lance. They are bound to get better. It is also possible that there may not be the same competency and verve among all tech support staff. Some may be slackers. Someone else may have had a bad hair day. This could happen anywhere, even if the call went to San Antonio, Texas or Salt Lake City, Utah, where some of MY calls for tech support have gone.

So here?s my question: Are India and Indians held to a higher standard because of this whole hoopla about off-shoring?

I would think so based on my own experience and a couple of other related incidents. All tech support calls relating to my cable internet service with the provider Comcast go to a local call center based in Maryland. I suffer at least one major internet outage every month.

Comcast?s customer service ranges from average to poor. Sometimes it takes them 2-3 days to fix the problem, when they need to make a house call. I have similar experience with Verizon, my phone carrier. Would such sloppiness be acceptable if the tech support team was based in India?

My guess is Lance would have blown a gasket. As would have an Indian customer based outside India. They will benchmark India against the best in the west. Fortunately, my experience with call centers in India has been uniformly good. Maybe they recognise my Indian name and give me better service.

But a number of my American friends have complained to me about poor service, incomprehensible accents etc. I think there is a certain pathology about dealing with India because of the negative sentiment about off-shoring. Lance?s update last week was a rare exception, and may his tribe, as also improved service from India, increase!

I was reflecting on this sitting in sweltering Washington during Mumbai?s deluge last week. Around the time of the catastrophic downpour in India, there was a brief thunderstorm here. Strong wind gusts and rain for an hour uprooted trees and knocked out power in my suburb. We lost power at 6 p.m. and it did not come back till 2 a.m.

?Kya yaar, yahan bhi apna des jaisa ho gaya (Well my friend, this is just like India),? a desi friend joked to me over the phone. But we took it good - naturedly and killed time going to a bookstore and a Cineplex in a nearly suburb which was unaffected.

I doubt if visitors from the US -- Indian or American -- would have had the same equanimity faced with the situation in Mumbai. There would have been horror stories about how unprepared India is for such situations. But guess what -- 37 inches of rain in a day would have devastated any American city -- not for a day or two, but for a week or two.

It takes only four inches of snow for Washington to shut down and hunker down as if nuclear war is around the corner. In contrast, Mumbai will be back on its feet in no time. There is no city in the world with as much resilience. For that matter, there are few countries in the world that can take such pounding as India does and still be on its feet.

But to return to the question of standards -- yes, because we are a hungry nation (hungry for success, that is) and are setting out to eat the world?s lunch, we should expect to be held to a higher standard. We should also use that to our advantage and meet and surpass those standards. I?d like to hear Lance say he?s rather be dealing with tech support in India than anywhere else in the world.
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