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I don’t think the outsourced India phone answerers really speak and understand English

Posted by John Reed on

My wife liked the Shari’s Berries cookies I sent her for Valentines Day. So I tried to order the same for Mother’s Day. The guy in India, or so it sounded on the phone, asked me three times what I wanted to send. Three times I told him same as Valentine’s Day.

He said he did not know what it was. I pointed out to him that his web site had an order history tab, but that I could not get it to work. He said again he did not know what I ordered on Valentine’s day.

These guys send me multiple emails a day. It worked. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I’ll get her something from See’s Candies.

Oh, and a Happy Sacred Cow Day to Shari and her unAmerican, sort of speaks English, cheap, outsourced, you get what you pay for workforce in Mumbai.

Quicken did that for a while. Then one day I called to order more checks and got an American. I thanked her profusely for being American. She said all the customers did that.

The Indians here in the U.S. seem smarter than the average American to me. But over the phone to those still in India, they seem like dunderheads to me. The guy asked me three times what I wanted to send in spite of my answering him each time. Actually, I think the Quicken guy from India had the same problem. I wanted the same checks order as the previous times. Indeed, Quicken is all set up to do exactly that. But the India telemarketing guy made me start from scratch as if I were a brand new customer.

You can kid around with American phone answerers, and with the Irish ones Shopify has after hours, but not with the Indians in India. That inability to kid around is not per se a problem, but it is a part of the cultural divide that makes the claim that Indians can speak English a sort of half truth.

If you cannot fathom the culture, your ability to “speak” and understand the language with the other culture is compromised. The East Asians and those Americans who really know the East Asian languages will tell you that. India is Southwest Asia and the same is true there.

In my Harvard Business School section, we had a lot of foreign students: French, German, Persian, British, Korean, Belgian, Irish. The Korean—East Asia—was rather hard to understand and he never seemed to have any close friends there. But the hardest guy to understand in that section was one of the Indians, who had “spoken English” for his whole life!
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One of the British actors in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was interviewed on TV about the movie. He said he would see Indians squatted down with a thousand-yard stare on the sidewalk—normal Indians, not homeless or some such. And he said when he sees locals on the street in other countries, he figures he knows the kinds of thoughts they are having. But he said he had no clue about what those Indians were thinking.
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And look at the title of that movie—“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Is that English? They got the word “Exotic” right.
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Would it ever occur to people in India and the Far East who hope to attract tourists from North America or the U.K. to ask someone from there for a good hotel name. Or to at least look at the names of the hotels in those countries? 

I remember a article in the Wall Street Journal once about the difficulty of Americans communicating with a whole lot of foreigners whose native language is purportedly English. This even happens between Americans and Australians, New Zealanders, British, and Irish. And good luck trying to communicate with people whose native language is English in the Caribbean, India, Central America, Nauru, The Philippines, Singapore, 


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