The World Is Flat

Being as hip as I am, I’m now reading Thomas Friedman’s 2006 book on globalization “The World is Flat.”  The New York Times Columnist is sharp in international affairs, and tells the tale of outsourcing from many perspectives: the Chinese learning Japanese to serve Japanese companies; the Mormon housewives and retirees hired by Jet Blue airlines to work the company’s reservation system; the call centers in India serving any number of U.S. companies.

Friedman tells of how Indians earn about $300 a month to work in these places, with full medical coverage for ALL family and free dinners every night.  Most of these workers have MBA’s, and at minimum undergraduate degrees in something impressive like engineering or mathematics.

My laptop is an HP dv9000z…which means it was built for entertainment.  It has a heavy duty audio and video card, suped-up AMD processor, and oodles of things I don’t need.  Earlier this year the screen was acting up, and the problem turned out to be a known glitch.  The result was my laptop could be fixed for free, and returned to extended warranty coverage.

So when my CD-Rom began opening on its own, I took advantage of a free repair.  And by using HP’s customer help…it also meant I got to speak with folks in an Indian call center.

So when I spoke with “Kayleigh,” my HP online helper, I was wondering in the back of my mind where she was located.  But when “Sarah” called to follow-up on my help request I asked.

“Could I ask where you’re calling from?” Friedman’s book said the call centers are instructed to tell the truth.

“Sure,” Sarah says in a thick Indian accent. “I am in India.”

“Wow.  Bangalore by chance?” Many centers are in Bangalore.

“No..in Southern India.  Have you been here?”

“No I haven’t.  I’ve thought about it, but never had the chance.  Do you like this job?”  I’m trying not to pry, while prying.

“I actually do.  I like being able to talk with people from all over the world.  It’s very interesting.”

We continued talking about my CD-ROM, but Sarah urged me to visit India before hanging up.  She said there was much to see, and I would enjoy it.

It’s fascinating to think about an international playing field.  When you call a company, you naturally think you’re talking with someone who can relate to your situation or problem, but that’s not the case at all.  While some companies do have domestic call centers, they seem few and far between any more, with exception to banks.

But these Indian call centers have workers full of enthusiasm and professionalism, while the workers earn fractional wages and often live in cramped, bare-basics living quarters.  I’ll try to look past the fact my name in the system is “Garth Gapie” (please don’t ask, because I don’t know) because the physicial service has always worked out for me.

I received the new CD-ROM in two days, including the pre-paid postage and box to send my old one back.  It truly is a mind-blowing situation when call center employees who may live in India’s slums with 15 family members; who have MBA’s or engineering degrees; who are articulate and professional, are the ones answering the troubleshooting questions for Americans and their high-priced electronics.

The irony reminds me of lyrics from a Canadian hip hop artist–Shad.

“I know it’s so cliche but I’m angry that some can’t eat
Meanwhile I’m letting a damn feast of pastas and canned meats
Rot in my pantry
Like LORD please can we speak on this frankly
Like God why you letting this happen?
Amen, he answered, son I’m askin you the same thing
Cause you’re supposed to be my servants
Out here working
Like you’re my hands reaching out to those that’s hurtin
You don’t have long on this earth
And I hope you won’t compromise…”

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