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Hello? Delta closes Indian call centers

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor  April 17, 2009 12:56 PM

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Delta says it's no longer outsourcing reservation calls to India.
Why? The move was made in response to years of complaints by American customers who say they sometimes have a tremendous amount of difficulty understanding the foreign telephone workers.
Richard Anderson, the airline's chief executive, told employees in a recorded message Thursday night that Delta had stopped forwarding calls to India in the first quarter and would be bringing the function back in-house in the United States.
"The customer acceptance of call centers in foreign countries is low and our customers were not shy about letting us have that feedback,'' he said.
Delta employed about 4,500 call-center workers in the United States after it ended its outsourcing operations in India, said Kent Landers, a Delta spokesman, in an e-mail.
While it has closed shop in India, the carrier will maintain its centers in Jamaica and South Africa, Landers said.
Delta's retrenchment comes about two months after United said it would pull 165 call-center jobs back to the United States to improve customer service.

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40 comments so far...
  1. Kudos for Delta (and United) listening to their customers. Since India has been growing very quickly over the last decade and their costs have begun to increase, the Indian cost advantage has decreased sufficiently that Delta could bring these jobs back without taking a large financial hit. Also, now my name won't be mangled by "Doris" when I call to inquire about my reservation.

    Posted by WelcomingJobsBack April 17, 09 05:46 PM
  1. It's about time these American Companies realize that if they pride themselves on superior customer service, they need to deliver! I know of a few other companies that have switched back to North American customer call centers. Bring back the jobs to the US!

    Posted by Laurie April 17, 09 06:29 PM
  1. Dey tyuk aur jyiibs!!

    Posted by hillbilly April 17, 09 08:00 PM
  1. Whenever I get one of those unintelligible Indians on the phone I alway request that I be transferred to someone "who speaks actual American English." Dell is the worst.

    Posted by Richard April 17, 09 10:06 PM

  1. I needed help with my computer and ended up talking to someone in India. He was terrific and fixed my problem. Yes It was hard to understand him at the beginning but if you open your your mind, your ears will eventually follow. If Delta goes belly up it won't be because their reservation system.

    Posted by Slum Dog Millionaire April 17, 09 10:20 PM
  1. Thanx to this company for taking these jobs out. Now youth of India can focus on more meaningful jobs.

    Posted by sunny April 17, 09 10:51 PM
  1. I worked in Delta's Boston reservations office for 15 years before they closed it about 3 years ago. We had the best, most knowledgeable, and helpful agents in the system, but Delta didn't care. We always knew that the success of the company depended on quality customer service but Delta didn't care. We knew they were delusional when then thought that it didn't matter that the people answering the phones in India didn't know to offer Ft. Lauderdale when West Palm Beach was full. Or suggest cheaper alternatives. Or explain the cryptic policies. Too bad this realization is three years too late.

    Posted by Aviatrix April 18, 09 01:16 AM
  1. You seem to have no dificulty understanding the Irish or the ordinary English who speak pretty much like the Indian call center folk, who are specially chosen for clarity and kind service.

    You are so eager to send your goods and services abroad. Apples, now imported from America, are no longer affordable in Mumbai. Local varieties have disappeared. People are eating expensive junk like Kelloggs's cornflakes, backed by tremendous advtg. Holistic? When will u see the world is one?

    Yes, definitely get the best services but not just because it is American.
    The article does not mention the problems. Perhaps it is protectionist to do so?

    American Citizen abroad

    Posted by Sheela April 18, 09 02:22 AM
  1. Now lets see the computer companies do the same.

    Posted by Steve L. April 18, 09 06:17 AM
  1. Frankly, I don't care whether I speak with someone on the moon when I require customer service. My objection to Delta's India call center was that most of the time they simply were incompetent to work the system to give me useful alternatives to price and schedule. In addition, I also found many of them poor communicators. When I demanded, often repeatedly with little success, to speak with a US supervisor my questions and routing problems were then quickly and competently answered and resolved. Speaking with the India call center was always a form of mental torture. Good for Delta.

    Posted by conserve April 18, 09 07:44 AM
  1. Computer companies are the worst for this - although often I am unable to understand the overseas rep, what makes it worse is that technology has its own vocabulary and language and if the rep on the line is less (or more) technology-savvy, it can make the conversation completely unhelpful.

    In general, though, I suspect that the outsourced companies, in an effort to scoop up even more of the outsourcing business, are resorting to hiring anyone who can partially understand 'American Idol', the most fluent and intelligible folks having already been taken. I have on many occasions had frustrating and pointless conversations with call center reps who were working from a script and were completely tongue-tied if I didn't say exactly what was written on their script. Add to this that the reps are trained to first direct the caller to a user's manual, and then to the company website, and you end up with customer "service" that provides no service at all.

    I am a systems administrator for my company, and we are seriously considering dropping a few products due to the inability of our company to get understandable support when we have a problem. You can be sure that we will be making our product decisions on the availability of understandable and appropriate service.

    Corporate America...are you listening?

    Posted by I'm_at_work April 18, 09 08:41 AM
  1. I wish Sprint would outsource their customer service to India!

    Posted by Cow Hampshire April 18, 09 08:49 AM
  1. It's about time! Our company uses IT people in Bangladesh, "Steve" and "Elizabeth" technically speak English, but get beyond the standard problems or script and you're shift out of luck.

    Posted by DavidDavidDavid April 18, 09 09:29 AM
  1. If Delta can be convinced to return their call centers to this country then so can other companies. We need to continue to complain to management about these Indian and Phillipino call centers at every opportunity. I'm tired of having to ask these people to repeat themselves or spell the words they are trying to say. After a 20 minute conversation with my credit card company's call center the other day, the call taker and I finally gave up and agreed we couldn't understand each other. This is progress? It may be cheaper for the credit card companies, but it's a disservice to it's customers.

    Posted by TrueFaith April 18, 09 09:50 AM
  1. Let's not forget the Boston Globe which uses the Philipines. Its not fun trying to resolve a billing mistake with someone halfway around the world from the billing office!

    Posted by Globe Reader April 18, 09 10:30 AM
  1. Major KUDOS to Delta and any other company that brings their call centers back to the United States! HP is also one of the worst - every time I called customer service I got someone in India who didn't speak english nearly good enough to effectively help me. Then, you think they finally understand you and they make promises you actually think will be kept but, aren't . I am seriously going to research and test where a company's call center is before I buy their product and if it's not in America, I'm not buying! My next computer will be an Apple where I actually talk to an American - IN PERSON!

    Posted by C April 18, 09 12:03 PM
  1. And it only took 7 years! Excellent work. You people think this was due to quality? Think again. It's pure economics. Indian labor isn't as cheap as it once was and the management overhead associated with operating a remote call center is significant. This decision was purely as result of cost. Don't think for one microsecond Delta actually cares about the complaints they receive. They care only about cutting costs wherever possible. This is to be expected for a business that is fundamentally insolvent.

    Posted by Harold Ramis April 18, 09 12:06 PM
  1. A good move.

    Posted by John April 18, 09 12:52 PM
  1. Hooray! After years of suffering though Dell's God-awful call centers, this is a move other major American corporations should make if they care about their customer base. As for #8's comment about Irish and English speakers of are in fact wrong. They are often as unintelligible... just try sitting through a Scottish movie! First 10 minutes are a struggle to figure out what anybody's saying...and I'm a language teacher who speaks 5 languages!!! In any case, THANK YOU Delta.

    Posted by vesuvia April 18, 09 01:55 PM
  1. Delta needs to fix their own American customer service. I was on a non-stop international flight on a Delta jet that was clearly a domestic jet without the number of staff nor amenities for a 15-hr flight. The in-flight announcements were in English Only. The attendants were surly and uncooperative, didn't care that many of the passengers, natives of the destination, did not speak English (the food cart attendants kept repeating themselves in English to them without showing what they were talking about), my blanket, fresh out of its wrapper, had some sort of dried crusty human discharge on it and after ringing the bell twice and waiting for 20 minutes, a clearly irritated attendant took it and told me to turn my bell off. Add to that the movie screen in our cabin did not work and no one offered an explanation. I do not fly Delta anymore, and I shell out the extra cash for a European airline. I don't give a hoot about the American airline industry when it comes to international service. It is horrifying when domestic airlines try to make extra money by expanding service to international destinations without investing in necessities such as more staff and extra rolls of toilet paper.

    Posted by window April 18, 09 02:09 PM
  1. Hello Dell????? Are you listening?
    Look at the front page of today's Patriot Ledger. It's a picture of thousands
    of Americans lined up at a job fair in NH. Every time I get "customer service" in India, I think about the out of work Americans. That thought only starts after I calm down from the aggravation of deplorable service with Indian call centers. They are programmed to answer particular questions with canned responses. Good luck if your questions or request doesn't fall into one of their categories. If your question requires an application of knowledge or use of logic you're screwed.

    Posted by nospamsam April 18, 09 03:55 PM
  1. Good riddance. I hope all the call centers pack up and leave, along with the American trash USA has been dumping in India for the last decade or so. They have done little or no good to the local economy. The local industries were either "acquired" or were forced to down their shutters. Products were slowly but surely killed in record time and disappeared off market shelves. I would be more than happy to see them leave.

    Posted by another slumdog millionaire April 18, 09 04:18 PM
  1. It is a pipe dream for companies to think they can get quality service cheaper out of 3rd world countries. Corp. execs who think so are delusional. There's a thing in economics called TNSTAAFL (There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). You get what you pay for. There is no such thing as "low cost/high quality" - only low cost, low quality. India's workers are ranked 124th in world worker productivity. According to a 2007 UN/International Labor Organization report, Americans are ranked #1 in productivity. Which kind of workers would you rather have?

    Posted by Bobo April 18, 09 04:19 PM
  1. God bless Delta!
    They finally decided call centers are not what their customers like. Hope more companies will follow.
    I am so tired of calling in and not being able to understand the other person at the other end. Some are trained to only certain phrases in in English (and not very clear English, I might add). If you ask outside of their vocabulary - they loose you.
    Call centers were a bad idea all together.

    Posted by Pingo April 18, 09 04:24 PM
  1. Don't think for a second that Dell's customer service in India is competent! They constantly ask you to hold on while they "get someone on the line who can help you". I had an issue in March, and each time I called I was transferred several times before 'inadvertently' being disconnected. The last (and I mean last!) time I called, I was transferred a total of six times, explaining the very minor issue with each one, before I finally got fed up and let the seventh idiot have it. Never again will I buy from Dell! And no, their English is not very good at all . . .

    Posted by Randy April 18, 09 06:27 PM
  1. Globalization at its best :
    Joe Smith started the day early having set his
    alarm clock
    (MADE IN JAPAN ) for 6am.
    While his coffeepot
    was perking, he shaved with his
    electric razor
    He put on a
    dress shirt
    designer jeans
    tennis shoes
    After cooking his breakfast in his new
    electric skillet
    he sat down with his
    to see how much he could spend today. After setting his
    to the radio
    he got in his car
    filled it with GAS
    (from Saudi Arabia )
    and continued his search
    for a good paying job.
    At the end
    of yet another discouraging
    and fruitless day
    checking his
    (Made In Malaysia ),
    Joe decided to relax for a while.
    He put on his sandals
    poured himself a glass of
    and turned on his
    and then wondered
    why he can't find
    a good paying job
    in CANADA .

    Posted by Bob April 18, 09 06:47 PM
  1. It's ironic that no one has anything negative to say about the Jamaican and South African workers. They have non-American accents, as well.

    Indians grow up speaking English --- British English --- the same as Jamaicans. I have never, once, in all of my calls that ended up routed to India had trouble understanding the person on the other end. If you have difficulty understanding accents, there is nothing wrong with that. But insulting the person for having an accent is extremely wrong.

    Posted by TC April 18, 09 06:55 PM
  1. Sheela is an Indian name (hence her comments). I don't understand TC. I live near plenty of Indians and work with "our crew" in India. They do not speak British English. Maybe if they put alot of effort into it..... they can do it. I listen to conversations in the hallways at work and the elevators where I live. I don't understand alot of it, and alot of it isn't English. Granted there are Indians who do speak the Queen's English perfectly, but they don't work for same company I do.

    As far as Jamaicans, people seem to understand Sean John, so it's apparently not that difficult. South Africans have a weird accent, but they really do speak that as their primary language.

    Posted by Tom April 18, 09 10:37 PM
  1. Pingo: Delta has always had call centers (see my previous post--I worked in one in, ahem, BOSTON for 15 years, which had been there since 1972.). Here's the problem with outsourcing airline reservations/service: these were contract workers. They were never Delta employees. Contracting out what amounts to your sales force has always been an absurd idea. The contract workers have no stake in the company. There is no incentive to do a good job especially when they really don't have any idea what they're selling. I don't think any of them had ever been on an airplane whereas Delta encourages employees to travel, but I digress.

    Posted by Aviatrix April 18, 09 11:43 PM
  1. I have been at both ends of customer service.
    Understanding via phone is hard enough in the best of conditions.
    What makes India a target, is because the majority of call centers are located there. Nothing to do with prejudice.

    The problem with global economy is that that every one wants to export, but not import. Like it or not the world depends on the USA to buy stuff. But un-employed people (or under-employed) can not afford to buy, guess what happens to rest of world.

    Posted by genumikeg99 April 19, 09 03:41 AM
  1. So, finally, one American company has taken a tiny baby step to resolving what's wrong in our country....outsourced that American workers can be performing right here in the U.S.A. If you thought Dell was bad, try HP Customer Service where I spent days trying to resolve computer problems with reps I couldn't understand. Finally gave up and called my own tech which I paid for, even though my pc was under warranty. In any event, we should have seen it coming and done something to stop the flood of U.S. companies jumping ship to go overseas for cheaper labor, resulting in cheap quality goods. Call Centers were just the we're all paying the price. The recent Tax Tea Parties accomplished nothing...what should have taken place was a Nationwide protest against U.S. companies relocating and taking our jobs with them.

    Posted by uflocco April 19, 09 06:16 AM
  1. It is a business decision by Delta. If the Indian call centers had staff who were not properly trained or were not good communicators -- the blame lies close to home -- why did we not do a better job of training them? Delta management incompetence. It is easy to put the blame on accents -- however one must look at the business decisions made by Delta. Then and now.

    Posted by anavidreader April 19, 09 07:27 AM
  1. this isn't about accents. this is about providing quality service. my experience with foreign telephone centers has been horrible - for car rentals, computer support and airlines. when traveling, i need quick and confident answers to basic questions. this is not something i get on the phone from obviously foreign call centers. call it what you want, but it simply doesn't work. typically, the reason you're on the phone in the first place is because you have a question that you can't find an answer on the website or brochure. in my experience, within 30 seconds of providing you a scripted answer, i have to cut them off and tell them, "that's not what i'm asking". typically, this happens 3-4 times and i end up driving to one of their offices to speak with someone that actually understands my problem or question. this has happened to me many times.

    Posted by notabouthearingme April 19, 09 09:08 AM

    Posted by unknown April 19, 09 11:23 PM
  1. I honestly had a series of problems with delta since I travel to the south east quite a bit and acctually had one of my employees end up in Albany NY instead of Albany GA, that was quite costly for me. I'm glad that this type of company "airline" decided to move customer service back home where you can call and resolve a problem from you cell phone sitting at the airport and get things worked out quickly. But I have also had experiences with Indian call centers that were ok. But never good or great.

    Posted by Danny April 20, 09 01:26 AM
  1. The move by Delta is a gimmick. Here is quote from AJC.

    ....Although the pullout from India may not create a significant number of additional Delta jobs in the United States, Anderson said, “in this tough economic time, call volumes will decrease due to lower demand,” and the company can reduce staffing overseas rather than in its domestic call centers......

    We have to wait and see if bringing back call center jobs from India will create job opportunities and improve customer service.

    Accent is socio-cultural phenomenon and If we can't understand someone accent it's our problem. As one of the commentator (#16) mentioned that if the customer service is not in USA, he or she is not not going to buy the product. How about if the same argument is applied to us? What happens If people in the world will not buy the American products because they can't understand the Southern accent or African-American English.

    Posted by Alex April 22, 09 05:18 PM
  1. After reading some of the comments, particularly by #28, I am thinking how little knowledge we have regarding languages, dialects, and accents. Indian-English is very similar to British-English since they learned from them (i.e.,British)!!
    Indian English is one of the dialects of ENGLISH like Standard American English, Australian English, Jamaican English or South African English. What Tom is hearing in the hallway and elevators is probably a phenomenon known as code-switching (switching between English and native language) or Hinglish, using vocabulary from Hindi and English. Indians are multilingual and we should not expect Indians to change their accent since accent is influenced by phonemes (sounds) of their native languages. If we can't understand them, too bad.
    Just for curiosity, I found 32 jobs on for Customer Service Representative. All of the jobs are from AT&T and pay $10-12/per hour with no information about benefits. The minimum educational requirement is a high school diploma or GED. There are no job posting from Delta so far!!

    Posted by Ivar April 22, 09 10:35 PM
  1. Thank God - now to start bringing back IT - the quality is awful and deadlines are never met. And oh yes the Indians never make any much addiitonal work to make it work...they don't buy our products and are driving down consumer demand in the US. No one is spending in the US because they are afraid their jobs are all going to India...

    Posted by Ted C April 24, 09 09:08 PM
  1. A pretty good observation lVAR aka posting # 37 ...

    Posted by Arindam Ghosh May 14, 09 07:23 AM
  1. Going through all the comments, sounds funny. I have worked for Delta reservations and ticketing, esp for Skymiles programmes providing reservation to HI... at IBM Daksh. New Delhi - India. I was one of the best in handling the CMS the system on which reservation are made and also the DEL Net.., the process was later on moved to Wipro, another call center in India. During my tenure, I remember, before the process moved, our center was highest in customer - satisfaction ratings, revenue generation (for car rental, hotel reservation & visa and master card up - selling) as compared to all the centers Delta had through out the world for consecutive 7 months. Now people say that bring back jobs to US, I respect their feelings, but saying that accent or a call is routed to India makes you feel horrible, then you, yourself are horrible. I have access to lot of American customer - calls and I know what type of response you guys get. Once I conference a call to a US rep in ATL - GA..a old lady who was surviving on her SSN check and her daughter had died in her college asked for discount on her airfare.. the reply was ' if you have to fly and live in America, you have to pay' and the old lady just said Jesus and hung up.....Now that's what you call quality and service - the American way - then I would be more then happy for the lame corporates to go back to US open call center in desert of NV and who cares ~ but Iam sure, at least a CSR from India, would never say like this..........what do you feel about the old lady and her daughter who died.. this was a call somewhere in 2006...3 years and I still remember the hard way..

    Posted by ajay December 3, 09 07:31 PM
About globe-trotting Travel news, tips, deals and dispatches.
  • Anne Fitzgerald, Globe Travel Editor
  • Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor
  • Eric Wilbur, staff
  • Kari Bodnarchuk writes about outdoor adventures, offbeat places, and New England.
  • Patricia Borns, a frequent contributor to Globe Travel, writes and photographs travel, maritime, and historical narratives as well as blogs and books.
  • Patricia Harris, a regular contributor to Globe Travel, is author or co-author of more than 20 books on travel, food, and popular culture.
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  • Chris Klein is a regular contributor to Globe Travel. His latest book is "The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston."
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