Why bad service may seem even worse to international customers


For reasons too complex to explain here, I needed to purchase an item from a UK-based website. However, when we tried to place the order, the website said they couldn’t ship the specific item to the US. Confused, I called them up to ask for an explanation. I spent a good 15 minutes on the phone with an inept customer service rep, who basically told me they have no information about why certain products have ship-to restrictions.

I found this interaction even more frustrating than the same conversation with a US website. Why? Because the UK website makes their phone number easy to find, and greets you with the very proper and competent British accent that you rarely hear in the US. For better or worse, the novelty of hearing that accent (or really, any foreign accent) has the ability to alter the caller’s expectations.

From what I can tell, the company is outsourcing their support to a call center in a low-wage country like India. So as an international caller, you start off by hearing a novel and competent-sounding voice in the menus, and then suffer the letdown of the same crappy support that you would normally expect from a domestic company. I’m not sure what the solution is here. Perhaps companies should look at routing first-time foreign callers to their best call centers, to help match those customers’ higher expectations with the companies’ most competent staff.