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Friday, April 14, 2006

New world order

So you pull into the fast food drive-through and the voice comes squawking out of the box: "Welcome to McDonald's, may I take your order?"

You try to picture the person you're talking to. Maybe she sounds nice, or maybe grouchy. Maybe bright, maybe spacey. You figure you're soon going to see her in person when you get up to the pickup window.


At least, maybe wrong. As it turns out, some burger restaurants are now routing your conversation with the speaker box to call centers that are off-site from the restaurant -- sometimes way off site. So that while you're talking to a microphone in a strip mall in say, Portland, the person whose voice booms back out of the speaker is sitting in a call center in L.A. She takes your order, keys it into her computer, and it's sent over the 'net to the screen in front of the guy who's sweating over the grill in the Portland joint that you're sitting outside of.

And your order-taker may be handling "calls" from drive-throughs at a number of different restaurants all at once. That's the whole point -- the restaurant chain saves money because there's no down time for her between orders. While you're turning your radio back up, rolling up your window, getting your car back into gear, fiddling with your wallet to get your money out now that you know the total, and letting the next customer pull up behind you, the order-taker is busy doing her thing with a customer at the head of another line of autos far, far away. She doesn't get that 10 seconds to catch her breath any more.

She is not wearing a uniform. Indeed, she may not be wearing anything at all, because some of these "call centers" are in the workers' houses.

And it doesn't stop at Mickey D's. Pretty soon there will be a squawk box on your cart at Home Depot, and if you need to know where the caulking guns are, you're supposed to talk to the box. You'll get an answer from someone who's got the map of your store on their laptop screen. They're somewhere. Who knows where.

You can see where this is heading. Once these systems prove that they can squeeze an extra penny or two out of every customer interaction -- and I have no doubt that they will -- all the order-taker jobs will be outsourced to some place like India. Ordering a couple of cheeseburgers will be like trying to get tech support from Dell. Some guy in Rangoon will have to say "Would you like to supersize that?" five times before you understand what he's asking.

Eventually the same folks in Pakistan will be simultaneously taking both burger orders and calls about problems with Dell customers' laptops. There will inevitably be some confusion.

"I'll take a cheesebugrer happy meal, with milk, a quarter pounder with cheese, and a large Coke."

"First con I heb your name, oddriss, telphone nomber, and e-mail oddriss?"

When Jack in the Box tells you "You must exit first actually from all odder Windows progroms," you'll know the transition is complete.

I wonder how the religious authorities over there will handle the beef issue. I'm picturing some backlash. Hopefully no one will get hurt.

Then the day will come that we all dread: Al Qaeda takes over the call centers. Americans will be screaming at the kids in the pickup windows: "I didn't order three apple pies! And I said, a medium!" The nation will be paralyzed. The Jack in the Boxes will be laughing demonically. For all the violations of our civil liberties in the name of the war on terror, what is Bush doing to prevent that?

Comments (26)

Hate to disappoint you, but not all call centers are overseas. Vesta operates two large ones here in Portland for prepaid phone service employing about 600 people and growing fast. Decent wages and health insurance for what is not a real skilled work force. Yes, I worked there once after graduation. Thanks to the popular image that all call centers are in India, about every fifth caller would ask some form of "what country are you in" and I did get a handful of racial comments that assumed I was a native of the other side of the planet.

Hate to disappoint you, but not all call centers are overseas.

You're not disappointing me, because I never said they were.

I wish I had a quarter for every time a commenter corrected me for something I didn't say. I'd be a rich guy.

I think I'm going to bang a gong every time it happens.


There's the first one.

Drive-through restaurants are the reason God made teenagers. If any group of people can keep the New Dehli Call Centers on their toes, it is the 15 and 16 year olds of America. I'm not worried. We're in good hands.



I love this post, 'cause it is so true. But hey, don't knock the guy with the Indian accent. Some of those call center Poonan Ramamurthys speak better English than many educated here in the states. And what is wrong with being more efficient? Maybe you were the guy complaining about ATMs replacing bank tellers 20 yrs ago, eh?

And the best part about the whole post was how, at the very end, you wrap it all up by blaming Bush!!

Careful, Jack. The PC busybodies will call you a racist for pointing things like this out.

Drive-through restaurants are the reason God made teenagers. If any group of people can keep the New Dehli Call Centers on their toes, it is the 15 and 16 year olds of America. I'm not worried. We're in good hands.

Except none of them can get the jobs, even if they want them. Seriously, when was the last time you saw an American teenager working at a fast-food joint?

Seriously, when was the last time you saw an American teenager working at a fast-food joint?

Why work when your parents will just buy you the X-Box and a Civic with tight 18" rims?

And don't get me started on the quadrophonic Blaupunkt.

Apologies for going back-to-back.

Shit, Jack. That's probably the most racist I've seen you. Plan on making a joke about Condaleeza and watermelons next? How about migrant workers, pickup trucks and E. Burnside?

I've got a really good one about upper middle class tax lawyers and affirmative action, want to hear it?

That's probably the most racist I've seen you. Plan on making a joke about Condaleeza and watermelons next? How about migrant workers, pickup trucks and E. Burnside?

And don't get me started on Swift and his horrible idea about eating Irish children. Really, that was just beyond the pale.

And the best part about the whole post was how, at the very end, you wrap it all up by blaming Bush!!

hyperbole (hīpűr'bəlē) : a figure of speech in which exceptional exaggeration is deliberately used for emphasis rather than deception.

"Seriously, when was the last time you saw an American teenager working at a fast-food joint?"

Well like maybe everytime I go there!

I'm with Tom, what fast food joints are you eating at? The ones I go to have a few older people working there, but the vast majority of of employees are clearly teenagers.

And Jack I don't think your scenario is the ultimate end here; think voice recognition SW:-)

it seems now days to get the job of drive thru order taker you have to only know 20 words of english. i now use hooked on phonix as a guide to ordering a big mac.. " kann eye pooleeeese git a beeeeg maacck fryez and a koock.. si senoir soooper seyeze that pooooleeeese." i remember the good ol days when everyone spoke english. viva amerika

That's probably the most racist I've seen you.

I love the people of Asia. But if I can't understand them, I don't want to deal with them when I'm doing business. And the miscommunication that takes place when I'm forced to, to me, is funny.

Having recently had to repeat my order twice for a Carl's original six dollar burger I'll be happy as long as the people on the other end can speak and understand English clearly. Given the PC times we live in I guess we shouldn't be surprised when someone who expresses a preference for communicating in what used to be this country's common language is termed a racist.

Until Jack comments to affirm the hyperbole, I'm going to pretend that I didn't just make a complete idiot of myself.

i hear a lot of people complain about having to speak with customer service people in India but I dont get it. They speak english a lot better than the customer service people in many parts of this country.


I agree, I have talked to several of them and never have any trouble with their English.

The biggest frustration I had was when dealing with a complex SW issue with a Rio Music server and quickly realizing that the guy had no training on the product and was just reading through stuff in a data base, would have been a lot faster if they just gave me access to the database. That of course has nothing to do with him being in India and is just a matter of the company spending no money on support; somebody making three or four times as much in Iowa with no training would have been just as useless.

I don't think it is hyperbole or calling you a racist to say that it can feel hurtful when people make fun of the accent of someone who has learned English as a second or third language, or to say that statements like I love the people of Asia. But if I can't understand them, I don't want to deal with them when I'm doing business. also feels insulting to one of the "people of Asia". Do you feel the same way about foreign students in your classes?

Even if you don't care about being insensitive to the feelings those who are different from you, my prediction is that in the long run you will have to become aware of the impact of your "humor" on others because the monoculture you seem nostalgic about it disappearing.

"the monoculture you seem nostalgic about it disappearing."

That's totally what I was going to comment about, but in a nice succint sentence. Heh.

I fail to see that hiring long-distance order-takers will significantly save the fast food chains time or money. It seems like a complicated answer to a problem - and is it really a problem to have a real person in store to take orders? I would think it would be more efficient and helpful to just stick with what's been done in the past in this instance. Technology is not the answer to everything.

I'm confused--what is the problem here? Americans in their cars, unwilling to park for even 5 minutes to get their burgers and fries, so the companies figure out a way to save a few bucks and get the burger and fries to you even faster?



It will. Small amounts of money, spread across tens of thousands of franchises translates into large numbers of money.

Ha! this cracked me up and it showed my age. Back in the day, in Colorado 1970's, self-service gas was a new fangaled thang. My friend Carol thought that "self-service" meant the gas pump would service the car all by itself. No human being needed. So, the first time she drove up to the pump, she sat in her car for a full five minutes talking to the pump, telling it she'd like $3.00 worth of regular, please. A woman before her time!


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