Real Live Customer Support Gal Weighs in on NBC’s ‘Outsourced’

September 27, 2010

NBC premiered “Outsourced” last week, its new show about a young American from good ol’ white bread Kansas City, who is sent to India to manage an outsourced call center that sells lame novelty gifts like like fake poop and battery-operated boobs that jiggle to “Jingle Bells.”  Even before the show aired, people were outraged at the unabashed use of Indian stereotypes, and well, the absolute lack of originality and real humor.

We watched the show and definitely thought it was meh at best. But we wanted to dig deeper, so we cornered Zendesk customer advocate Kelly Hoffer for a more expert point of view. As a hip and happening gal who deals with customers all day, every day, we thought she’d have some great observations and insights to how the show portrayed the relationships of the call center with its customers. (And incidentally, we were totally right).

What’d you think of the premiere episode of “Outsourced?”
It was a total missed opportunity. There was much room there for fun, and it could’ve been like “The Office” in India, or some kind of “30 Rock”-esque thing, but they missed the opportunity to completely. It was completely focused on xenophobia. Indians eat funny looking food and have sacred cow issues. It really was just unfortunate.

What do you think they could have done better?
They could’ve gone into the cultural stuff in a better way. It was like, OK, all the white people are going to go over here and all the Indian people are going to go over there. And then they tried to do this little mixture where it was — I’m going to go sit with my people for morale.

Oh you’re talking about how the Indians and Americans sit separate from each other in the company cafeteria. Yeah, that was lame. The show’s creator says he’s just trying to “put a human face on the other end of the line.” What went wrong?

It’s more about: These are problems that happen at a call center, these are not the cultural issues between Americans and Indians. That can’t be the focus of the show. What happens in a call center, that needs to be the focus, not these guys don’t understand America, isn’t that funny? If they had gone more in their idea of the A-Team, which were all the Indian sales reps who were in suits and ties and had been sent to America to study American accents, they could have a lot of fun with that. It’s more giving people their own identity, rather than lumping them into this cultural misasma of “Oh you’re Indian, you have an accent, and when you spell something, you say “r” as in raita rather than “r” as in Raiders.

Do you think that as more call centers are outsourced,  companies are training their call center employees to mirror American accents?

I think that was just to be funny. I think the desire to mirror American accents is because when you’re in your own country, and you’re calling, and you expect to get somebody who speaks a somewhat similar accent, and you don’t, not only are you already having a problem, which is why you’re calling the call center, but you can’t understand the person who is trying to help you. Do people get agitated really quickly…and being a New Yorker, I really understand that. But at the same time, yeah OK, the jobs are in India. Why are they there? Because they wanted to pay people less and that was the place to go. And they had a bit in the show where [a caller] says ‘Oh my god am I talking to India?!’

Do you think that really happens? Do customers really get pissed off like that?

Oh yeah, I’m sure that does happen. I really do think that happens. I think people get very very irritated when they are calling another country.

So it sounds like the show’s creator just absolutely missed the boat on this?
It didn’t give me the sense of, well hey, they’re just people with jobs just like you and it’s not really their fault that American companies are outsourcing to India and so they have the same problems dealing with customers as everyone else.

Now one thing that’s different between what the folks on the show do and what you do is that the call center was for sales, not customer support.
They’re not a support center. They are there for people to call and make orders. So it’s definitely outsourced, but they are definitely not a help desk. I’ve talked to a bunch of people in India from Citibank and they are generally very nice and very well trained. And my main concern when calling a support desk is that the person can answer my question not where they are.

Would you move to India like that guy did  to work at a call center?

No. But that’s because it’s hot.

?Join us every Monday for an “Outsourced” recap with an authentic customer support guy or gal.