Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Not Such a Close Call

Buzz about the new sitcom "Outsourced" takes me back to a past life in Seattle. While the city is smaller than Los Angeles, where I now live, there is no denying the Seattle metropolitan area is viewed as a global community. It is after all home to such worldly phenomenon as Microsoft, Boeing and Big Foot.

But, an international hub is not complete without a few glitches. For example, jobs often are outsourced to foreign nations, which explains why quality service is an Indian phrase meaning, "Good luck, Sucker!

You see, worldliness centers around cultural and entrepreneurial diversity. If it were a perfect world, our differences would create Heaven on Earth in the Great Northwest. However, the likenesses shared by mankind throughout the universe plays havoc with reality, causing the Puget Sound region to sometimes become unsound.

My companion and I became victims of this synergism. All we did was attempt to communicate. It was on one of those rare fall days when the sun actually showed its face. We decided to play hooky from work so we could go check out the area's volcanoes. Little did we know our tempers instead of a mountain would be exploding.

"Let's call in sick for work and go see Mount St. Helen's," my roommate suggested.

Upon conducting a quick self-diagnosis, I agreed. "Yeah, I think I'm suffering with an asthma attack. Breathing some fresh mountain air will be good for me."

My buddy picked up the phone and his sunny disposition turned to outrage. Instead of a dial tone, he heard only the sound of silence.

"I think the cat has been chewing on the phone cord again," he scowled.

His expression reeked of exasperation. So, I grabbed my cell phone and dialed the number to our landline to make sure the problem was nothing more than the cord. After a few rings, I heard, "The number you are calling is no longer in service or has been disconnected. Please try your call again later."

"It's more than the cord," I announced. "We have a serious problem of some sort."

"Some Microsoft nerd sent out a universal e-mail saying Big Foot has been sighted again," my pal grumbled. "Maybe when Big Foot was on his way to the creek to do some bare-handed salmon fishing he accidentally ran into the telephone poles and knocked down the overhead wires."

My companion tends to revert to cynicism when he's angry. I'd like to think I remain sensible. So, I grabbed my cell phone and called the phone company to report the situation. Of course, an automated system was screening calls from people like me.

After 15 minutes of pressing numbers, a switchboard operator finally came on the line and said she would connect me with a customer service representative. I was delighted to know I soon would be assisted by a real person. My outlook changed when I learned that human touch would be reaching across the continent and over the sea from India.

As I explained my dilemma, it became clear a language barrier existed between me and the outsourced phone center employee. He could not seem to find our account information in his computer system, although he was sure a person who shared my partner's nomenclature – but with a different middle initial – had to be us. It seemed the imposter was a derelict with a delinquent bill.

"That's the wrong name," I screamed at the phone representative. "What do we have to do to prove that to you?"

In garbled English, the guy answered. "You need to go to office, pay $80 rehooking fee, show two photo identifications and proof of – what's the word, it's either citizenship or citizenboat."

"An $80 reconnection fee is absolutely ridiculous," I shouted in hopes that he could understand the language better if I yelled. "This is not our fault. To charge a fee to restore our service is wrong."

"Oh, you want sarong," the man replied. "You call back in an hour when I start answering the women's wear customer complaint line."

"I'm sorry," I enunciated. "I think you misunderstood."

"Oh, you want sari. You call back in forty-eight minutes when I start answering the women's wear customer complaint line."

It instantly became obvious this guy held a monopoly on outsourced customer service jobs. This situation only added to my frustration. "I don't want women's wear, I want phone service. I want it now!"

"You want phone company service center. That line is now closed. Now, I open women's wear hotline."

"If you want to talk women's wear, then let me tell you something, mister. You are wearing on this woman's last nerve."

Suddenly, I heard a click followed by the sound of silence. I checked the cell phone battery thinking I just needed a recharge. But, I discovered the customer service man had an attitude in need of adjustment. He had hung up on me.

I called back. But I waited a few minutes to tame my temper. After all, it really wasn't the phone center worker's fault. He was just some schmuck in Bombay trying to earn a living. He had that right. It is the American way.

Following the seventh ring, I heard a familiar voice. "Microsoft technical service center, how may you help me today?"

"I was calling Teleco Northwest about getting my phone service reconnected," I said. "I thought I dialed 206-432-1666. Is this the right number?"

"Yes, but for next two hours, I answer computer consumer calls. What problem are you having with your Windows?"

"I'm not having Windows problems. However, I cannot connect to the internet because you can't seem to understand that my phone service was mistakenly disconnected. Therefore, I have no working modem."

"If you need to reload your Windows, you call back in three hours when I answer Builders Block hardware hotline."

"You're impossible," I bellowed. "You and I obviously are not speaking the same language. We're definitely miles apart in mutual understanding as well as geography."

"Where are you calling from, sir?" he inquired.

"I'm in Seattle. Now, let's talk about getting my phone service reconnected."

"Are you related to Big Foot?"

When the snickering ended, I screamed, "What does Big Foot have to do with my phone service?"

"You must be kin to Big Foot. You are Big Mouth."

By now, I was ready to blow my top. I knew the sight would not be pretty. I knew my eruption was going to make Mount St. Helen's 1980s action look wimpy.

"I am the customer here. I do not want to hear any more of your lip. I want to speak to your supervisor. I want to speak to him or her now."

Reluctantly, he transferred my call. Following the seventh ring, I heard his familiar voice. "Thank you for calling the Boeing Aviation job line. We currently have an available position in our customer service phone center. Qualified candidates must be willing to relocate to India."

I hung up, sighed and consulted with my friend. "Well, Darling, I guess we better hurry and get dressed or we'll be late for work."

Note: The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Some of the facts have been changed to protect the comedy.