Customer Service, Delhi Style
Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street in Manhattan sits squately 160 or so blocks from my apartment, the equivalent of nearly eight miles, a $35 cab ride, a 25 cent telephone call, a four hour stroll, or a $2.00 subway ride. We share the same crowded and complex island. At this personable little shop, a furniture salesman calls me by my first name, thrilled that at least one wanderer has given him commission for the day and simply perhaps, because my credit is good. My careful research has finally netted me a couch, a large red leather one fashioned mostly in Italy to replace one that looks like several cats used it as a scratching post and with a large indentation in the center. I have no cats and I’m not that large.
My new couch landed in my living room, courtesy of two delivery men who attempted to shake me down for extra money. I live six flights up and only a narrow loveseat could make it into the elevator without trepidation. The extortion didn’t make it past a $20 bill in my wallet and I decided to contact Macy’s to complain. I dug up a Customer Service number on my receipt and dialed. I figured I would be reaching someone in the United States, like one of those ubiquitous call centers used by banks, and I might chat with a pleasant man or woman in a city like Boston or Florida or Arizona. Every once in a while I’m connected to an operator in New Jersey, although a Jersey accent might be shocking to the rest of the country. While I waited, a cordless telephone piped in American pop music into my ear as I wandered in circles around my apartment. I listened to four songs, including a glass shattering number by pop siren Mariah Carey.
A male voice interrupted the music and stopped the room from spinning.
“Macy’s. My name is Julius. How may I help you?”
His voice was distinctly Indian, with a carefully enunciated monotone that dragged each vowel out with military precision. In fact, it sounded like he was reading from a chart, with his professor carefully underlining each syllable with a wooden pointer.
“Oh, yeah, hi. I’m calling about my couch, you know, a sofa, and the delivery. I – by the way, where am I calling?”
“Madam, I am located in New Delhi,” Julius answered. “How may I help you?”
“Is there anyone available in the United States?’ I gently queried, wondering what an office building in India looked like thousands of miles away, if he shopped at Macy’s, what wages he earned, and would anyone be able to understand my New York accent, let alone colloquiums like “yeah, so what’s the point?” and other phrases not dissected in their training manuals.
“I mean, Macy’s is not that far from where I live. How do I reach someone at the 34th Street store? And — how did I wind up getting India?”
“Madam,” he repeated, not unkindly. “How may I help you?”
“My sofa was delivered and the drivers tried to shake me down for money,” I clumsily explained.
“Madam, it is not good to shake so much.”
I hung up the phone.
I didn’t have much better luck with AOL when I spoke to Chad, Norman, and Vince in India about how to get rid of my cookies. Cookies are things that store information on my computer, I think, not Nabisco snack items. My dial-up service wasn’t working properly and when I called for assistance, my quest for service began with a circuitous route from New York to New Delhi, then two cities in the Midwest whose names I’ve forgotten, Philippe in Canada, and then Ernie from the Philippines who resolved the problem. I need to clean my cache. Well, it seems like I need a passport, too.
Outsourcing to other countries has its limits. So I wondered what the dialogue would be like between Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra, who caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and a customer service representative from India when this king of malaprops calls America Online for service on his computer.
Yeah. Hello? Hello? Is this thing working? Is anyone there? Thank you for calling AOL Tech Support. My name is Bob. You can call me by my first name. What is your name, please?
Hello? Is anyone home?
Yogi? Am I really speaking with a yogi?
Yeah. My name is Yogi. Can you help me with my computer? (background whisper: I’m on the telephone with a man who says he’s a yogi. Thank you so much for that information. What is your complete name, sir?
Berra. Yogi Berra.
Mr. Berra Yogi.
No, it’s the opposite way around. It’s Yo-gi Ber-ra.
Okay. Mr. Yogi. I am so excited to speak with a yogi. I will do my best to help you. Where are you calling from Mr. Yogi?
I’m calling you on my phone.
Where is your phone?
In my ear.
Ah. So you are calling from Ireland.
Ireland? Never been there. I’m calling you from New Jersey.
And where is Newj Ersey?
It’s right next to New York. Can you guys fix my computer?
Ah, New York. Perhaps you know my cousin, Dr. Patel?
I don’t know no Dr. Patel.
He drives a cab in New York City. He’s studying to be a medical doctor.
Ain’t that something. But what’s wrong with my computer?
Ah, so you are a Yogi with a computer.
I got a message from my grandson and I can’t turn this thing on.
Mr. Yogi, please tell me the name of your computer.
My computer doesn’t have a name. It’s just a computer.
I see. No name for your computer. Does it have the word Apple on it?
Yeah, I see the word Apple.
Mr. Yogi, press the button next to the Apple.
90% of this is pressing a button. The other 10% is pressing another button.
Mr. Yogi, what happens what you press the button?
The same thing that always happens. The computer turns on. You mean I have to call all the way to China for someone to tell me to turn on my computer?
Mr. Yogi, I am trying to help you. Is your computer on or is it shut down?
It’s ain’t shut down til it’s shut down.
What is your password?
Hey, who are you anyway? I never give out my signals.
Mr. Yogi, maybe you could meditate for a little while before we proceed.
I’m not on medication and what’s it your business, anyway?
Mr. Yogi, please click on the setup icon.
Do you see a box that says cache?
What did I do? Win something?
Mr. Yogi, first you must click on the box that says setup. Then another box opens up that says cache – c-a-c-h-e.
Oh, yeah. I see the cache. I’ve observed a lot by watching.
Look for the cookies.
Carmen! Do we have any cookies?
Mr. Yogi, we are not eating any cookies. We are removing them.
Carmen! Throw the cookies out. This way my computer will work.
Sir, these are not cookies to eat.
What is your name again?
My name is Bob. How can I help you with your AOL today?
Uh, Bob. First you tell me to find my cookies. Now you tell me to throw them out. What’s it gonna be?
Mr. Yogi, look at your computer.
Do you see the word cookies?
Oh, yeah. I see the word cookies.
Click on the cookies.
Can I finish my chocolate chip one first?
Mr. Yogi, you may eat the cookie first.
Okay, I’m back.
Click on the cookie.
Mr. Yogi, why cannot you click on the cookie?
I just ate the cookie. I just told you that.
Click on the word cookie on the computer screen, Mr. Yogi.
I’m clicking, I’m clicking, and it clicked.
Mr. Yogi, do you see the box that says clean the cache?
The cache is clean.
Drag the cookies to the cache.
They are in the trash. Now you want me to get them out of the trash?
The computer cache. Do you see a globe?
Where am I gonna find a globe?
Look at the computer for a tiny, little blue globe and click.
Oh, yeah, I see it.
Click on that. And then go to the display tab.
Tab? What’s a tab?
It’s a little box and it says “empty cache now.” Do you see it?
I never saw it coming.
Now press the mouse and click.
Yep, okay. They are in the cache.
Mr. Yogi. Please now click.
I clicked. What’s next?
Mr. Yogi. Now you must restart your computer.
Okay. I’m restarting my computer.
I will wait while you restart your computer, Mr. Yogi from New York.
All right, Mr. Bob. My computer is back on again. It’s like déjà vu.
What is your view?
I’m sitting at my computer.
Is the computer turned on?
If I’m going to figure out how to use this, I’m not sure that we’re as smart as we think we could be.
Let me give you the reference number so you don’t have to explain things again if you have to call us back.