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I impersonated a manager earlier.

Well, that's not strictly true. See, in the operational area I used to work in (where I now tend to sit when at work) gets calls from customers, and sometimes these customers are cross, and ask to speak to a manager. In those situations, a team leader will do, and since I'm now in the same salary band as a team leader, I figure I can step up to the plate if need be.

Anyway, something came up that prompted me to have a think about race, specifically when dealing with customer service issues. It's not just limited to outsourcing jobs overseas either. The following should explain where I'm coming from...

We had a customer who had gone to the bank to pay a bill of some sort. He asked the cashier if he could pay by credit card, and was told yes. So he handed over his card, and the BGC slip for the bill. The cashier then processed it as a cash advance from the credit card, and put that cash against the bill, thus incurring a 2% handling fee for the customer. He phoned up to complain, since he was under the impression that it would go through as a regular card payment to the company that had billed him, rather than a cash advance at the branch.

Anyway, he got through to a colleague of mine, who is Spanish. And while he's reasonably competent, he does speak with a very thick spanish accent, and seems to refuse to pronounce consonants wherever possible. The customer asked to speak to a manager - queue me.

When I put on the headset, the customer was muted, and I could hear him talking to somebody else and make a couple of disparaging remarks about foreigners. A few months ago, I would have hung up on him in disgust, but if I'm taking on the character of a manager, I have to at least act the part and not throw tantrums. My ability to not hang up on him rather impressed me - I must have grown up or something.

Anyway, he told me the story, I apologised on behalf of the branch for misleading him, adjusted his interest, refunded the charges, gave him my number in case of any more problems, and sorted it all out.

But the issue it raised is this. In this case, I took responsibility for the error, apologised on behalf of the bank, etc. Does the fact that I did this in a (reasonably) well spoken English accent give me more credibility? Should it?

At this point, apply it across the whole bank - would you take seriously an apology and an assurance that it won't happen again from somebody in an outsourced Indian call centre? If you'd gone into your local branch, had your account messed up, and phoned up the credit card number, would you accept an apology from somebody thousands of miles away? Would you believe they meant it?

The issue I really have with it is that it's not so much about nationality or race, but about location. You're talking to somebody who has probably never set foot inside a branch of your bank, who has never been in the same situation, and who is employed via a third party supplier. Can they apologise on behalf of your high street bank?

I'm not taking issue with the customer service that's provided - just the simple question: Can somebody in an outsourced call centre in this global economy take responsibility for something that happened very locally?

Or do you need somebody who can be perceived as a credible spokesperson for the bank? And how narrowly would you define that role?


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