Last night, I called my local Pizza Hut to order a pie for carryout. I noticed immediately that they had a new system in place, because a recorded voice asked me to “Press 1” to start a new order or “Press 2” to edit an existing order. My first thought was that I would complete my entire order without talking to a person. In a split-second, I imagined having to press buttons to select the size and crust type, and to select toppings, and so on.
I remember feeling surprise and curiosity about how well that would work.
But it was actually something worse.
After I pressed the “1” button on my phone, I listened to a recorded advertisement for about 30 seconds, and then a man’s voice answered in an accent that’s very familiar — from talking to tech support for the AT&T DSL service I used in Oklahoma, and from talking to customer service from our previous electric company, TXU. Also, I knew the accent from the quickly-canceled (yet very funny and well-written) NBC show Outsourced.
“Maybe the local Pizza Hut has hired an Indian-American”, was my next thought. Killeen is, after all, a relatively cosmopolitan city considering its size (120,000) and location (Central Texas). Most, if not all, ethnic groups — and quite a few nationalities and language groups — are represented here.
He asked for my phone number, and then my name. At that point, I knew it wasn’t someone at the local store — because giving my phone number should have brought up my name on his screen. When he asked if the order was for carryout or delivery, I said “carryout” (it costs less and is quicker too). Then he asked at which store did I want to pick up the order.
I told him: “At the store that I called”, feeling that the question was unnecessary and a waste of time. I had, after all, dialed the local number of a specific restaurant.
He began naming locations in Killeen, including a bunch of words that I didn’t understand. But I did catch “Ranky-er” and “Sklyter”. Rancier is pronounced “Ranseer” and Schlueter is pronounced “Shlooter”, like “shooter” but with an “L”.
I finally asked him: “You’re not at the store I called?”
“No”, he said, honestly, and began to ask for the location again.
“I’ll order from a store that answers their own phones”, I said, and hung up.
This wasn’t just a knee-jerk reaction against outsourcing in general or a specific beef with call centers in India. I just wanted to order a pizza. I had two problems with it:
1) It’s hard enough getting orders correctly transmitted via phone between two people who grew up speaking the same language in the same town. I figured the chances of an incorrect order would rise when speaking to someone that I couldn’t understand.
2) Americans have a hard enough time finding work in our own cities, without local businesses transferring some of their work overseas.
I realize companies outsource for exactly one reason: to cut costs. They’ve (I assume) done the math and found that it’s less expensive to contract with an overseas call center than it would be to hire a couple more people locally to answer phones.
I wonder if they’ll actually save money in the long run if we quit dealing with companies who outsource.
➤ On The Other Hand
Switching gears from a complaining customer to a political commentator can be a big leap. I can see the Big Picture, just not when I’m a greedy and hungry American consumer with $10 to spend on a pizza.
The next day, hunger sated, here’s the bigger picture:
Eventually, the entire globe will have to become some sort of one nation, with various regional governments. It’s not only logical for the fair treatment of all humanity, but it’s probably inevitable. Anyone who actively resists this probably has some ulterior motive — usually profit or religion (also often involving profit) or pure selfishness (“just us and no one else!”). What little passive resistance there is probably arises from innocent ignorance.
Here’s the thing. We want our factories to pump less crap into the air and water so we pass laws that prohibit or heavily fine it. So those factories move to a country that don’t have the same ecologically-oriented laws. We still get our product (probably less expensive) and now we have cleaner air and water. We don’t see that we’ve only postponed the real problem — the whole world shares air and water. Those factories are still pumping into our only supply of either.
We want more T-shirts, iPhones, headphones, sunglasses, drinking glasses, dishes, carpet, shelves, totes, etc. than we used to have, but we don’t want to pay more for it. For a couple of generations, we’ve rewarded the big box stores that created the outsourcing trend in the first place by scooping up their ultracheap products. (How cheap? When my grandmother died in 2010, there was a telephone in her house that still worked. It had been there my entire life — 38 years at that point. Now we can’t get a phone to last longer than two years.)
But eventually, all this switching around from one country to the other will stop, because we’ll all be in the same boat. Clearly, the world isn’t ready for complete globalization just yet — there are too many imaginary and manufactured differences like race, religion, customs and mores. But despite efforts of some nations to stop or slow the osmosis, we’re all leaking into each other.
I’ll make this prediction safely (because it will or won’t come true after I’m dead): the Earth will all be under the same overriding government at some point, one way or another. It won’t be the United Nations, despite its own aspirations and the fears of the ultra-right, but it might be something similar. It may very well come about as a loose conglomeration of multinational corporations, which kind of run things anyway.
Regardless of whether globalization is a good thing or a bad thing, for now I’d just like to order a pizza from someone who can pronounce the names of the streets in our town.