The Value of Culture to Customer Satisfaction

In a curious turn of events, deported Hispanics are providing call centers in Mexico with just the employees they need. Having grown up in the U.S., they are well versed in American culture and slang, unlike their outsourced counterparts in India or Pakistan, for example. Essentially Americans without the legal documentation required to remain in the U.S., their customers are unaware that they are transacting with someone in another country.

Major U.S. companies such as Time Warner, Dish Satellite and Best Buy have moved their call centers South of the border and by the end of the year, Mexico’s outsourced call centers will have more than 85,000 workstations. In comparison, there are almost 490,000 in India and 250,000 in the Philippines.

While the economics of outsourcing to countries such as India and Pakistan are compelling, Americans are generally uncomfortable dealing with someone whose native language is not English. “Honestly, outsourcing your customer call center to India must seem like a great idea until you realize your customers hate it,” Betsy Lowther, a New York fashion blogger, wrote recently on Twitter.

Although non-English speakers can relate accurate and helpful information, they may lack the cultural skills to put their customers at ease. The ability to chat about the NFL or the latest meme in the U.S. contributes significantly to the success of a call and should not be underestimated.

Cultural differences matter and can exacerbate a tense situation if a customer is already frustrated. The friendliness of a recent conversation between a deported call center representative and a customer of U.S. Auto Parts Network serves to illustrate:

“How ya doin’ today?” one worker says to a customer in Crescent, Okla., who wants suspension plugs for a 1986 Jaguar. “Not too good on gas, right?”

As we’ve noted in previous posts, it’s possible to hear a smile over the phone and a friendly demeanor can go a long way with customers at a time when most people are expecting a faceless drone half the world away.

It is ironic that, in one of Tijuana’s tallest buildings, managers regularly bring meals from Taco Bell in nearby San Diego to reward exiled call center employees who, like many Americans, are more used to fast-food than the real thing. Paradoxically, workers are off for the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving but are expected to work on Mexican holidays.

The pay is good by Mexican standards but it still comes as a shock to many call center employees. The weekly pay of less than $300 hardly compares to wages earned back in the states. Moreover, the deportees are often shunned for their poor Spanish by the community.

“It can’t get any worse for them,” said Jorge Oros, co-founder and chief operating officer of Call Center Services International. “They were deported from a country where they were for so many years, and now they’re stuck here in a country where they’ve never been before. When you’re offering them a job and an opportunity, they become the most loyal employees you can have.”

One call center worker, Juan Guzman, explains that he doesn’t really think much about whether he’s being exploited. He’s thankful just to have a job. And the call center pays well and has better benefits compared with many other Mexican jobs.

“I feel lucky my parents gave me this skill to speak English,” he said.

More Than a Wordsmith