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Offshore call centers. They’re so cheap you can’t afford one.

My recent experience with my formerly favorite computer company reminded me of a decision Delta Airlines made a few years ago.

In what I like to think of as a rare outbreak of common sense, Delta was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, “it stopped routing calls to India-based call centers over the first three months of the year. Customers had complained they had trouble communicating with Indian agents”

The article also quoted a certain Ben Trowbridge, chief executive of Alsbridge Inc., a Dallas-based company that advises on outsourcing.  Mr. Trowbridge delivers a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious when he says, ”It is fundamentally cheaper to do it in India, but there’s also the question of whether it’s better to do it cheaper or better to do it better in terms of the relationship with your customers.”  Fortunately, it is now obvious to Delta Airlines.

It reminds me of the sign over the cash register in my grandfather’s shop (he was a gunsmith, knife sharpener and an expert on cheap bourbon) which said, “We’ll do it for you cheap, good and fast.  Pick two.”

OK, in our modern day, Indian call center iteration, the pitch to modern business space cadets (and their boards of directors)  is, “I’ll answer your customers’ phone calls for one-sixth the cost you’re paying now.  I’ll answer the phone on the second ring and if I don’t, nobody will have to be on hold for more than 90 seconds.  But, whether or not I know how to use your customer’s language, or whether or not your customer will have any idea what the heck my call center people are saying is (entirely) another matter.  And by the way, I can’t guarantee you my call center staff will know the difference between “idiom” and “idiot.”  But, don’t forget, I’m CHEAP and your company will SAVE A LOT OF MONEY.”

Good grief, when you think about how much it costs to actually GET a customer you wonder just how much  Kool Aid it took to convince management that it would be a great idea to save money by letting a bunch of idioms talk to their customers and, worse yet, make decisions that have a big impact on how customers were treated.

Fortunately, for all those who fly Delta, somebody concluded that some things are worth whatever they cost.

Of course, there is the whole political issue.   For any company, sending jobs overseas, or keeping  jobs overseas, is a needless risk to its public and political reputation.  Just imagine the flack that would ensue if a company, had to announce some “employee cutbacks” and were later discovered to have a call center outside the US.  Ouch!  Truly, there are some things that are so cheap they can’t be afforded.  Period.

Most of you won’t know Pogo, nor will you know his creator, Walt Kelly.  But, you will readily grasp this famous proverb, penned by Mr. Kelly: “We have met the enemy.  And, he is us.”