1 November 2003
A couple of weeks ago, on Sixty Minutes there was a segment about a training school in India with a man trying to teach the class how to "sound American." The students were learning how to be American telephone operators. It was the first I'd heard that companies are now outsourcing some of their telephone work to other countries.
Not long after, I read an article about a doctor in Pakistan who had been doing medical transcription for the University of California San Francisco hospital. The hospital had contracted with a transcription service, which hired subcontractors and those subcontractors had hired subcontractors. One of them had contractors in Pakistan and this physician had been transcribing, but had not been paid. She threatened to publish the patients' medical records on the Internet unless she received her money.
The story caught my eye, as a medical transcriptionist. The whole idea was fascinating, since medical transcriptionists in this country could be prosecuted for revealing personal medical information, but transcriptionists from other countries would not be subject to our laws here and it opened a whole new can of worms.
(Fortunately that case seems to have been resolved without compromising patient confidentiality.)
Today, I received a bill from CompuServe on an account I closed just before I left for Australia. It was a notice that my bill was overdue and that they were putting the account on hold until it was paid.
Previously, my monthly charges were put to my Visa card, which had started out as a CompuServe Visa, then was sold to Providian and ultimately to Chase. Recently, Chase transferred the account to MasterCard and so my number was changed and thus CompuServe's attempt to bill to my card was rejected.
I called the 800 number and after making it through all the number choices, the call was answered by a man with a heavy Indian accent. The thing about customer service reps is that you know they are reading from a prepared script. When you throw them a curve, they aren't allowed to think independently but must read off of the sheet they are given.
We went round and round with my explaining that I had paid the bill by check and requested that the account be closed. He finally told me that CompuServe does not accept payment by check and that they will only accept credit card payment. I said I was not going to give them my new credit card number because then I'd never be rid of them. (Amazingly he said, "yes, that's right.")
I did not have my bank statement at hand, so I was unable to give him the date of the payment and he terminated the call. I got all the relevant documents together and called back.
This time I reached a woman, again with a heavy Indian accent, who identified herself as "Jennifer." (Somehow I didn't quite believe that was her real name!)
We went round and round again, with exactly the same script. She couldn't help me either, because this was a situation she hadn't encountered either. But she did understand that I thought I had cancelled the account, so she decided that I should talk to the department that handles cancellations.
The operator in cancellations had a good ol' Amurrican accent and she made certain that the account had been cancelled (and gave me a cancellation number), but when I asked about making certain the payment had been credited, she said that I would have to talk with billing again. At this point I gave up.
However, I did ask her if CompuServe has been outsourcing its billing work to India and she confirmed that both billing and tech support was now being handled by operators in India.
I do love the fact that technology has progressed to the point where one can talk to someone on the other side of the world and it's as clear as if they were next door. It does make the world a bit smaller. But it's strange to think that if you dial an 800 number here in California you may be reaching someone in New Delhi, not Cincinnati, where you think you are calling!