Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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8/16/2005
11:01 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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I'm Sticking With Travelocity Because Of Its Lousy Customer Service

The offshoring of IT work to India is now mainstream, and the quality level of completed work is generally good, if not excellent. However, the same can't be said for offshore call centers, where language and cultural barriers often lead to frustrating customer experiences. Yet the practice will continue to grow--and here's one example of why.

The offshoring of IT work to India is now mainstream, and the quality level of completed work is generally good, if not excellent. However, the same can't be said for offshore call centers, where language and cultural barriers often lead to frustrating customer experiences. Yet the practice will continue to grow--and here's one example of why.Last week, I dealt with call centers operated by Travelocity and America Online. Travelocity patched me through to "Kevin" (yeah, right, and my name is Sinbad). Despite his best efforts, Kevin, obviously in India, wasn't much help. His English was poor, he couldn't grok what I needed him to do, and his suggestions were of the rote, decision-tree type.

On the other hand, AOL's rep was a pleasant, capable woman who sounded like she was square in the heartland. At most, she was no further away than Canada. This rep was knowledgeable, articulate, and had a number of helpful suggestions.

The upshot: I will continue to use Travelocity but I'm ditching AOL.

Huh? Yup, I find AOL delivers little value for the money and doesn't provide anything I can't get for free, or almost free, from any number of other services. I'm not alone in this--AOL's subscriber rate is in freefall. Travelocity, on the other hand, has saved me thousands of dollars over the years by letting me easily compare airfares and other travel options through its brilliant interface. For that, I'm willing to live with a bit of agita on the rare occasions I need to call customer service. As for AOL, a great call-center experience doesn't help much if the underlying business proposition is lacking.

A lot of smart companies have come to this realization. They know that an Indian call center will ultimately frustrate some customers. But they also know they won't lose those customers if their prices are low and they offer a compelling product or service. In this age of stagnant wages, skyrocketing costs for basics like housing, gas, health care, and education, consumers are in a no-frills mode.

That bodes well for the Indian call-center industry. Sure, it's far from perfect, but most people intuitively understand that India is part of a low-cost supply chain that's necessary if we're to continue to enjoy sub-$400 PCs, Internet service for $9.95 a month from the likes of a NetZero, and virtually free access to powerful online tools like Travelocity. It's the same reason Americans continue to flock to Wal-Mart in droves to buy Chinese-made jeans and electronics. It's all about value.

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