An overseas call

I wanted to close our Vodafone mobile-phone account. That was all. My wife had phoned twice to end our three-year-old arrangement, giving up the first time and learning on the second call that she was not authorised to speak to Vodafone about this service. So I had to call, and I just love dealing with call centres, especially overseas call centres.

My determination sagged when my call was answered by someone in India, when there was no shadow of a doubt that this particular call centre worker was not simply someone with an Indian accent in Melbourne, and for a few seconds I considered hanging up and calling back. But I knew I’d get someone else in India if I called back so I decided to stick it out. Indeed, I was so keen to get this little job done that I didn’t even ask if he was in Melbourne, depriving myself of the answer I love, ‘‘Yes please’’.

I try to be patient when I am forced to deal with people in an overseas call centre, and I try to imagine that the job is a great opportunity for them and their family, that almost certainly they are working in unreasonable conditions and under unreasonable pressure. I try not to dwell on the fact that the job was a good opportunity for an Australian until the business in Australia sent the job overseas, and as an employee of a company that is about to send 41 of my workmates’ jobs overseas I am no less resentful.

We hit a snag straight up. My four-digit pin. No, I didn’t know it, could he ask me a security question instead? Instead he wanted me to suggest a few pin combinations, and, naturally, it occurred to me that he could be noting my usual pin numbers to sell to scammers. I was relieved I got it right first time. Should I apologise for having less confidence in people working in a call centre in a country beyond the reach of Australian police?

So we were into the business at hand. One of his sisters has given him her superseded iPhone so he no longer needs the Vodafone phone, and I’d be grateful if you’d close the account today.

So you have your own iPhone yes? Will you talk to someone about a Vodafone deal for the iPhone please? No thank you. Hold the line while I transfer your call to someone who can help you please.

The woman who answered the relayed call was clearly more high powered. Her name was Vimala and she spoke forcefully.

Why do you want to close the account? My son no longer needs the phone. Why not? Is he getting a phone with another company? No, he has been provided with a phone by his employer. (A lie.)

By his employer? But Vodafone can provide a Samsung Galaxy or iPhone for this service. Vodafone will give him a Galaxy or iPhone if he keeps the service? Yes, for a discount. No thanks, please close the account, I have to go.

Please hold the line for two minutes while I make some arrangements.

Two or three minutes later Vimala was back. Since you’ve been with the company for three years Vodafone can offer you an iPad. At a discounted rate? Yes. No thanks, please close the account.

Will your son be liking a phone service in addition to his employer’s phone? No. He could then be keeping his private number. No thank you. Is your son wanting to be using his phone to access the internet? No, he doesn’t want your phone service. Then he could be using a data plan for the iPad?

This is an abbreviated version of the exchange, and for a while I was a little worried that Vimala might refuse to close the account. After what seemed like 10 minutes I told her that I’d had enough, that I did not want to keep even the number, and she closed the account in a matter of seconds. Or she said she did. I won’t willingly expose myself to that again.

Are you getting on better with overseas call centres a decade later? Is the intolerance a form of racism?

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