Stop outsourcing my customer-service calls to India

When I call to make an airline reservation, they think I’m ordering chicken tikka when I’m just trying to get an aisle seat.

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I talk to India four or five times a day. Unfortunately, I am not trying to halt nuclear proliferation or negotiate a Kashmir settlement.

I am attempting to achieve far more difficult goals – making airline reservations, questioning a credit card charge, and, most daunting of all, begging to restore an Internet connection.

As in so many international negotiations, what we have here is “a failure to communicate.” Basically, I can’t understand what they’re saying, while they are equally baffled by my English language skills.

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(By the way, a hint to outsourcing companies: Telling your Asian subcontinental employees to identify themselves as “Kenny” or “Billy” or “Butchie” simply doesn’t work. Just as calling myself Prabha or Mahatma will not trick anyone into asking for my chicken tikka recipe.)

As a result of these daily miscommunicatons, I have booked tickets to Altoona rather than Atlanta, found out that the charge for a case of tongue depressors was justified, and learned that my Internet account either a) never existed b) was canceled four weeks ago or c) is working perfectly.
And yet I continue my daily phone calls, speaking to all those unfailingly polite people who have no idea what I’m saying – and vice versa.

“BUTCHIE:” “So, your account is T-Joe-44.”

ME: “Did you say B?”

BUTCHIE: “No, G.”

ME: “Yes, C.”

BUTCHIE: “Of course. Just a moment, please.”

Pause.

More pause.

BUTCHIE: “I am so sorry for the delay. May I have your father’s middle name?”

ME: “Yes, it is Jack.”

BUTCHIE: “No.”

ME: “No?”

BUTCHIE: “Yes, it is no, not Mack.”

ME: “No, it is not Zack, yes it is Jack.”

BUTCHIE: “Of course, still, it is not the correct name for account P-Doe-34.”

Pause.

More pause.

BUTCHIE: “Do I hear tears?”

ME: “You hear tears.”

BUTCHIE: “Oh, good. I am relieved.”

ME: “You are?”

BUTCHIE: “Beers are better than tears, Although I do not drink...”

ME: “I drink.”

BUTCHIE: “In that case I recommend a deodorant...”

Now, call me chicken. Call me anything you want. But after days of conversations like this, I realize that screams, threats, and curses don’t do any good.

They merely result in a repeat of the same answers that made no sense to any of my questions that made no sense to Kevin or Butchie or Billy Joe.
That is why I have found it is much better to change my father’s middle name to Mack, fly to Altoona and then find my way to Atlanta, come up with a use for 10,000 tongue depressors, and accept an Internet connection that provides me with more hiccups than a Hungarian dinner.

I have, however, established a close relationship with Butchie, even though he tells me my chicken tikka recipe is more Broadway than Bombay. Or did he say “Beltway?” Doesn’t matter. We understand each other. I think.

• Chuck Cohen writes from Mill Valley, Calif.

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