9 February 2017

Voices

Recently, I have had to phone an electricity and gas  provider  called Scottish Power on three separate occasions. To begin with, you have to key in your account number followed by the hash key. Then you have to wait and wait, listening to banal music. Sometimes a recorded voice intervenes saying "Your call is important to us", "You are moving to the head of the queue" or "All calls are recorded for training purposes".

Finally, you get through to a human being sitting in a noisy call centre. There's a hubbub of voices in the background. You are asked to give your account number again and other information such as date of birth, email address, the four main blood groups and the capital of Outer Mongolia.

On the first occasion I phoned them, the call centre operative was a woman of Asian descent. I could tell this from her thick Indian accent. It was so pronounced that I could hardly tell what she was saying and I told her so - "I'm sorry. I can't understand a word you are saying. Please slow down and speak more clearly." I hope I wasn't being unwittingly racist. Of course, the background din didn't help.

On the second occasion I phoned them to sort out problems of their making, I got through to a Glaswegian gentleman. His accent was almost as impenetrable as the Indian lady's a few days before. To me it sounded as if Jock had just emerged from "The Sporran and Haggis" after a heavy drinking session and a full packet of "Woodbines". Fortunately, I was at university in Scotland where I gradually gained some understanding of the Glasgow accent. It is rather like a foreign language. After a few "Could you repeat that pleases", I managed to get through the call successfully.

This morning, after the customary long wait, I got through to a Russian call centre operative called Svetlana. I understood her more easily than the other two but it was still hard work. I was worried in case she had been visiting "Yorkshire Pudding" with other Russian and Ukrainian blogosphere observers. After a few minutes of fascinating banter about meter readings, the call reached a natural conclusion and I was able to thank Svetlana for her assistance. In her husky Siberian voice she asked, "Eez there anything else I can... help you with today Mr Pudding?" And for a moment I imagined riding with her on a sled pulled by huskies to an ice cave where we would drink vodka to the plaintive sounds of balalaika music before tossing our fur coats on the floor.

In some aspects of life I can be quite conservative and traditional. Is it wrong of me to expect call centres to employ people who speak English lucidly and intelligibly - preferably people for whom English is their first language? Furthermore, is it wrong of me to expect swift human response whenever I phone a company like Scottish Power? How come my time is so unimportant that they can squander it without apology or recompense?

"Your call is important to us". Yeah, right! 

35 comments:

  1. They say the Scottish accent is the most accurate pronunciation of the English language. For example when a scottsman talks you really can tell which, witch is which.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That may be true of the accents of the Scottish Borders or The Western Isles but not of broad Glaswegian. There's no such thing as "the Scottish accent" just as in America New Yorkers talk very differently from Texans.

      Delete
  2. If they were to have a human being answer your call and quickly, it might require them to employ a few more people and that would never do.
    An intelligible accent would be nice but in a multicultural society the question is really, intelligible to who?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A very diplomatic response Kylie. Perhaps the Australian government could employ you as a mediator between Trump and Malcolm Turnbull.

      Delete
    2. ummm, how about no?

      Delete
  3. Actually, I find "the" Scottish accent (which does not exist as such, I know that) really, really sexy. But even having said that, I would want to understand the person at the other end of the line properly.
    Even with an accent, no matter of what provenience, it is possible to pronounce words clearly. Someone who is good at communicating with others will be able to adapt to the caller. But skilled people are expensive...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. I guess that's the bottom line Meike. Call centre workers do not earn massive salaries.

      Delete
  4. My main complaint in life, I think. These things make everyone so angry! I love it when I call and spend valuable time waiting and then someone comes on the line with an accent that I know I will never be able to understand without asking her/him to repeat every word ten times, and he/she tells me that their name is Bob/Jane or Chris/Kathy or Neil/Nancy! Grrrrrr!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I doubt that there are ANY call centre workers called Neil as Neil as an exalted name that is only bestowed upon saintly, super-talented members of the male gender. It was no surprise that the first man on the moon was called Neil.

      Delete
  5. You are not alone Mr Pudding. I have the same kind of trouble with all sorts of organisations I ring and, like you, I hope it doesn't sound racist, but at times - because I hear poorly on the phone - Asian and Glaswegian accents completely render me to a gibbering wreck, as I cannot understand a bl***y word they say. The other day, I rang my local hospital and the switchboard put me through to an extension answered by a lady who sounded Italian or Spanish. It became clear within seconds that she was not the right contact, so I asked her to put me back to the operator.
    She asked me what I was operating.
    I shouted, no, I want the switchboard.
    Which board? she queried.
    Don't worry, I'll dial again.
    Dye what again?

    You are by no means alone, Mr Pudding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well that's a comfort ADDY. I thought I was the only one who had entered an alternative universe overseen by Monty Python and Stanley Unwin.

      Delete
  6. I am rolling on the floor after reading your comments about the call centers. I thought only Americans had to deal with that. You are too funny!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well I am glad I brightened your day Jean. Our senses of humour must be similar and slightly dark too!

      Delete
  7. Oh' I thought it was just me who had problems with strange English speakers. I can understand Glaswegian, Jamaican and Welsh it is the London accents that give me the greatest of problems for their words all roll into one unintelligible sound & I hand over to my Liverpudlian partner for her to sort out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Broad Liverpudlian call centres - such as the one run by Littlewoods Pools - are also reliable sources of communication breakdown. Is that how you met your missus Heron?

      Delete
    2. No we met at a conference at Bath Uni many years ago.

      Delete
  8. I agree with your last paragraph, and I'm on the other side of things since my job requires me to deal with unhappy people over the phone. I think that if you live in an English-speaking country and you need assistance you should expect to deal with other English-speakers. I've had calls from Spanish, Indian, Asian, Russian, and Polish speaking people with various levels of accent. The multiculturalism doesn't bother me in the least, but we're a small law firm. We're not the UN. If you need our help, you have to speak our language.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well I do speak your language (English!) but I do not need your help unless you'd like to fly over to England to decorate our lounge. We will supply the paint, rollers and brushes.

      Delete
  9. I just wish people would slow down when they talk! At least that gives my brain time to process the various possibilities in the words as we carry on with the conversation. Luckily my situation is not a call for help; I only get calls from telemarketers, so it's easy to say I can't understand you and hang up. It's another matter to NEED that person's knowledge and not be able to access it. My co-worker just commented the other day that she used her hearing aids as an excuse to politely end a call and try again. I think I'm going to use that the next time I have problems. It would be so much nicer than crashing the receiver back onto the phone as I do now. It takes quite a bit to make me rude but this is one of those "bits" ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You used the word "telemarketer" Jenny! Really, there's no need to use swear words when visiting this well-mannered blog!

      Delete
    2. It's your own fault, you drove me to it!

      Delete
    3. Telemarket off Jenny!

      Delete
  10. Dear mr Pudding!! I almost fell out of bed with laughter reading this, the phenomena is well known to all of us and I am convinced that these companies get discounts if they order the service of A: callcenters in the far east, B totally meaningless intermission messages. For quite some time, the swedish seniors would order their handicap transport through a callcenter situated in Lituania....there was also one in Sudan or somewhere. How they could possibly know whether mrs H lived close to the physioteraphist and could pick up mr G on their way, saving ten minutes on the highway, is beyond me. Also how the lituanians or africans could make themselves understood for 80 year olds with the hearingdevice turned off for saving battery!!
    The best way to understand callcenters is to watch Hotel Marigold, part one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hang on Fairtrader! Over here in England we are often told that Sweden is a Nordic nirvana where everything is coolly efficient - from schools to hospitals to industry. It's hard to believe that you also suffer from call centre craziness.

      Delete
  11. Grrrrrrrr!

    No, it's not too much to expect to be able to understand the person on the other end of the phone line! I ask similar...for them to slow down etc. I'm not rude when I do the asking (being rude gets you nowhere, but sometimes it becomes very difficult to keep controlled).

    It can be so frustrating. I'd love one day to be surprised to hear a voice not impeded by a heavy accent; a voice not from Timbuktu, the Philippines or Uzbekistan!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am so sorry that my post has stirred you up to boiling point Lee! Now go and a have a lie down with your pussies, close your eyes and think of Hinchinbrook.

      Delete
  12. I agree with both your points. You pay the gas guy good money. Surely he could provide good service. I hate call centers. You wait sometimes for up to 40 minutes and then you have to fight to get your point across. I've not met Svetlana yet!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe Svetlana wears thigh boots and wields a whip. I guess you'd like that Red!

      Delete










  13. Oh, this is amazing!
    I thought we were the only country that had this problem. Our call centres are all located somewhere in India, have a list of set questions and answers in front of them and cannot stray from these as they really do not speak English !! Even a call to an ambulance in an emergency is not answered locally but can be answered on the other side of the country ! You have to wonder about the efficiency of these systems. Grrrrrrr!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why the big empty space Helen? I hope it wasn't what they call a pregnant pause!

      Delete
  14. Weren't you lucky you had the blood group question after the quiz at the pub and the resulting flood of information on the subject. lol.

    Alphie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. That was a happy coincidence Alphie!

      Delete
  15. I thought I was the only one who had this problem, but it seems it's universal. Perhaps it's all a fiendish plot to stop us complaining? I bet they'd soon speak understandable English is we were offering to pay for something.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You may be right CG but in the end that was what my call to Scottish Power was about.

      Delete
  16. LOL -- I love your descriptions of Svetlana. I will do almost anything to avoid a call centre, which of course is exactly what those companies want. Nightmare!

    ReplyDelete

Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.