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Why the Customer Service Representative You are Speaking to is in the Philippines

I am a Russian Orthodox Christian, freelance writer and photographer from West Virginia. I have a B.A. in Philosophy and Fine Art from ETSU.

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Think Before You Scream

The last 9–5 type job I had was as a supervisor on a call center de-escalation team. I was the person they sent customers to when they were highly agitated, angry, using bad language, demanding to speak to a supervisor, or demanding to speak to someone in the U.S. I was outsourced to a company I agreed not to disclose, and even though my experience working for them was really bad, I still won’t reveal that information because I said I wouldn’t, and my word is good. I will say that it isn’t an American company, but most people think it is because they have highly effective marketing in English speaking countries.

When I was hired out to this company, they had just moved their tier one call centers from the U.S. to the Philippines. They were still analyzing the effects this was having, and thus my job got created to deal with the customers who couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with the new customer service representatives. A common question I was asked by callers was, “Why do you have your call center in the Philippines? I can’t understand them!” I would reply calmly and say, “Well, it’s a Korean company, and I’m not sure why they don’t have call centers in Korea, but I suspect they use people in the Philippines because most people there speak at least three languages, so it is easier to find multi-lingual workers there than it is in the U.S.” That usually ended that part of the conversation.

I really liked my co-workers across the sea. They were hard-working and very thorough, and extremely concerned about doing a good job. My co-workers in the U.S., for the most part, lacked all three of these qualities, which gave me no end of difficulty when trying to fix their mistakes. The workers in the Philippines were paid the same as I was, so moving operations there didn’t have anything to do with saving money, as many people suspected. Some of my co-workers were dissatisfied with their pay and angry that the Tier one workers got the same pay as we did, but I knew they deserved it. With few exceptions, I found their English to be excellent and easy to understand. I suspect that many callers who had a problem with their accent were really having a problem with speaking to someone who wasn’t a native speaker of English, and so they didn’t want to understand them.

On top of all the usual stress of the job, unlike me, they also had to deal with the prejudice of the customers. Sometimes they sounded so sad when they would tell me the caller they were transferring was asking to speak to a representative in the U.S. and I would try to cheer them up. If they said the person claimed they couldn’t understand them, I would play ignorant and say something like, “Well, there must be something wrong with their phone because I can hear you just fine.” I would also sometimes say I was sorry they had to deal with that person and that I hoped the rest of the day went better for them. I got to know some of them quite well and would engage them in conversation when we were waiting for information or something. Some of them thought my laugh was particularly funny, and if I got tickled at something they would start laughing at my laugh and then I’d get amused that they thought it was funny and laugh more, and we would just keep laughing.

I really hated it when customers would be mean to the Tier one reps because I loved them and knew how hard they worked. I could tell some of them were completely unaccustomed to dealing with people who behaved as badly as some of the Americans they spoke to. It was embarrassing, and I would try to lighten the situation and get them to laugh before they transferred the call to me. Once a gentleman was yelled at and got flustered and didn’t know what to do, so when he told me what happened I said in my best John Wayne voice, “Well, this is what you can do; you can transfer them to me because I just love screaming customers!” Then he started laughing and wasn’t as hard on himself about it. I think they were afraid that if they couldn’t deal with a situation, they would get into trouble. I always made sure they knew they weren’t in trouble and often I also let them know that I was going to tell the customer the exact same thing they had so they would know that I knew they had done the right thing. Sometimes a customer would hang up before they could complete the transfer or they would accidentally drop the line when trying to transfer and they would sound a bit scared until I would say, “Oh, that’s o.k., I really wasn’t looking forward to that one anyway.” Then they would laugh, and we would both have a better day.

I don’t miss anything about the job or my American co-workers, but I often think of my friends across the sea and hope that people are being nice to them. I still get so angry when I hear people complain about customer service reps overseas, and I tell them what I experienced. There are so many negative assumptions made that have no basis. I hope everyone who reads this will come away with a better understanding of things and perhaps more sensitivity. The next time you hear someone say something like, “Why don’t they have customer service representatives who speak English anymore?” you can answer by saying, “Yeah, they should get some call reps in the Philippines!”

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Makrina Garland

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