The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"...US Corporations are finding that it is difficult to receive high quality work with flexibility and cost effectiveness through outsourcing!"....  ....Subhra Kar, India Daily, September 20, 2004.

Commentary of the Day - August 1, 2007: LONG Distance Tutoring.  Guest Commentary by Susanne Shaphren.

The article promised eminently qualified teachers for a fraction of what major United States tutoring firms charged.  No longer did a child have to go without the help needed to attain good grades and a promising future.  Even parents on tight budgets could afford to pay a quarter to a half of the standard rate.

You can't glance at the business pages of the newspaper without discovering some new task being sent abroad.  Billing and accounting, law firm support staff duties ... even reading/interpreting x-rays and MRIs ... are all being done by professionals overseas while most of us are sleeping.

Just like the other formerly domestic functions, long distance tutoring promises to provide high value services while saving a fortune in salaries, overtime pay, and employee benefits.

What could possibly go wrong with such a well though out and carefully crafted business plan?  Halfway around the world, dedicated teachers in India set their alarms in plenty of time to arrive at their computer stations by 4:30 in the morning so they can answer calls from American students during "prime time" after dinner homework hours.

I hesitate to oppose anything that might keep students from being left behind their classmates on the all important road to knowledge and enlightenment, but my less than stellar experiences with outsourced technical support and customer service suggests this concept is doomed to fail.

How stupid must Americans seem to the rest of the world?  Even though their Indian accents were thick enough to cut with the proverbial knife, every representative cheerfully identified himself/herself with names it was abundantly clear their mothers never used to call them to the dinner table.

"Hi, I'm Mike (Dave, Sam, John, Jim ;) how may I be of service?  This is Jane (Mary, Rhonda, Jessica, Sue ;) it will be my pleasure to provide assistance."

Most of us wouldn't need technical support if we were completely computer literate technical pros.  We need somebody on the other end of the line who can understand our less than engineer level explanation of the problem and require assistance from somebody who can effectively communicate in simple terms what needs to be done.

Time after time, I struggled to explain my situation to somebody who spoke English but invariably failed to understand what I needed and was unable to help.  My experiences in terms of less technical customer service were equally dismal.  With very few exceptions, I hung up the phone before managing to effectively communicate my problem much less obtaining a satisfactory solution.

I imagine an American student's encounter with an Indian tutor might unfold something like this: "Good evening, my name is Dave.  It will be my honor to assist you with your educational pursuit.  Please begin by providing your name, address, and telephone number."

"I'm Johnny.  I live at 310 E. Hayward.  That's in Phoenix, Arizona.  My phone number is area code 602 ..."

"Thank you.  May I place you on hold for a few minutes while I search my database to be sure your parents' credit card information is on file with us?"

"Wait.  I've never called before.  My mom ...  Hello?  HELLO!"  Johnny gives up as he realizes the silence at the other end of the line has been replaced by elevator music.

"Thank you ever so much for your patience.  I'm so sorry to have delayed you.  I have encountered a difficulty with my computer system.  It appears there is no pertinent personal information available for you in the data base.  May I place you on hold again while I attempt to research this issue more thoroughly?"

"No!  I'm trying to tell you that I need to give you my mom's credit card number.  Hello?  HELLO!"  Still more elevator music as poor Johnny shifts uncomfortably and wishes he'd gone to the bathroom before initiating the call.

"I so appreciate your patience and apologize for delaying you while I am trying very hard to find additional information.  I am still unable to locate your data so please to forgive me while I put you on hold for a few minutes while I speak to my supervisor."

Having learned the hard way that being polite just gets him more delays and more elevator music, Johnny interrupts Dave as soon as the Indian tutor finally comes back on the line.

Our ever so eager American student is just about to provide that all important credit card information when Dave admonishes him.

"Young Master John, please to understand it is not wise to disrespect and interrupt your elders if you wish to benefit from their knowledge and wisdom.  I am doing my very best to assist you and now need to place you on hold for just a few more minutes ..."

"Never mind.  It's time for me to go to bed now."

"I'm so pleased I was able to provide assistance to you this fine evening.  Please call again soon."

2007 Susanne Shaphren.
Susanne Shaphren is a freelance writer from Arizona who publishes both fiction and non-fiction.  She is the daughter of a teacher.

The IP comments:  The IP knows all too well the frustrations encountered when attempting to obtain help from outsourced "customer service" operations.  While outsourced tutors may be cheap, the IP recommends that anyone seeking an academic tutor first look for a local person who can provide good references.  Don't hesitate to interview prospective tutors before hiring the one you are most comfortable with.

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