Hate our service? Pay a little more and we'll make it up to you...maybe

Jason Cochran

Slumdog Millionaire is tipped to be memorialized as Best Picture at the Oscars this Sunday, but customers are hanging up on the world of Indian call centers that it depicts. But report after report show that customers are sick of contending with polite but robotic script-reading phone operators from India, the Philippines, and Mexico.

Companies originally moved their call centers offshore because the practice saved them money -- some 50% to 75% off the price of maintaining them in the United States. But now, they're finding a way to turn our collective distaste for overseas call centers into a new revenue stream. If you don't like Indian call centers, companies are saying, then you can pay more to be guaranteed an American one.

Americans' tolerance for companies' lousy service, and our increasing willingness to pay more to be treated the way we used to be, has not gone unnoticed. The Washington Post calls it the Bangalore Backlash, and its poster child is Dell, which has instituted an optional $12.95 monthly service fee for customers who want to talk to an American. One survey found that customer satisfaction with overseas calling centers was 23% less than satisfaction with American helplines.

Companies are doing it more and more. Take Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, which continues to "test" a $15 fee which gives passengers in the main dining room access to a certain kind of steak normally served in a surcharged dining room. With its own eye on the bottom line, Apple Computer is increasing its call-center presence in India, but then again, it already has a fee-based phone support plan in place for customers who have owned their products for more than three months. Even the TSA permits Clear, a version of security inspection that favors those who shell out extra cash.

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