Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Hyderabad/UK: call centres/models of education

On two occasions a year apart I've had to call Technical Support about interruptions to my broadband. The first led to a protracted nightmare of communications in which the main problem was the inability of the person at the other end of the line in India to understand what I was talking about. This wasn’t a matter of language in the narrow sense of linguistic forms or accent but of a lack of the experience that would enable them -- there were a number of them on different days -- to envisage my situation, resulting in the successive dispatch by email of the same irrelevant questions after each call. Finally I got, also in India (I think) a more senior person with experience of what was involved in grappling with computers in real situations.

I had to call again a few days ago and this time I got an Irish chap who couldn’t have been better -- I’d use him any time as a model for customer relations. It’s clear that the company -- let’s give them the credit: TalkTalk -- had moved their call centre (back?) to the UK or Ireland. This person knew what I was talking about, made an immediate guess at what the problem might be, gave me something to try, tried something himself while I discontinued the call and called me back when he’d said he would. Meanwhile something he’d said had reminded me that I had a spare microfilter (to go between the phone socket and modem/router cable) and I’d tried substituting it, which had appeared to solve the problem. He agreed this had improved things but because he’d nevertheless noted a problem with my line was going to put in for a full test by the engineers which would report to me within 10 days -- if not I was to call again and he’d nag them.

The following comparison occurs to me. The junior people in India have been trained by the book, learning by heart what to say when confronted with this or that specified problem. When the problem is reported in different terms or isn’t exactly the textbook case they’re lost. Compare learning in English schools to meet specified ‘targets’ or evaluations by precisely specified criteria; learners pass the tests but don’t know the subject.

My Irish expert knew his way around IT. He’d learned by immersion in the field as well as from formal instruction in the discipline. He’d experienced the muddiness of real-world, ill-defined, multi-explanation problems and had the profession’s collectively built and informally disseminated know-how as an unspecifiably extensive web of resources to draw on.

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