Search This Blog

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Re: Call Centers and Racism

Below is an insightful reaction to my article "Call Centers and Racism" by manang Mary Ann Foy-os Apopot, a nurse who has been working in the US for over a decade now. Over the last two months or so, I have been corresponding with her and her husband, manong Martin, after they stumbled upon my blogsite last March. I and my family had the privilege of meeting manang Mary Ann in person when she visited Baguio early this month.

What she has to say surely helps us understand the issue of racism and ethnocentrism from her side of the world. Having been briefly one of those fidgety, sweaty, and stammering Level 1 Customer Service Representatives (CSR), I realize now -- especially when I have had to be put on hold several times and for a long time by a CSR when calling for intermittent connection and other issues with my broadband connection -- how calling Technical Support can be such a pain in the neck. And a pain in the ear, I might add, for sometimes having to bear Beethoven's "Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major" being played over and over again for 10 minutes or more.

I have always tried to be civil to the responding CSR, though, even after a long wait. For I'd keep reminding myself that the guy at the other end of the line might be just like what I was when I first took on calls on the floor -- too scared to even press the inbound call button of my Avaya, too rattled to mind my pronunciation and grammar, too confused to follow the simplest instructions and screenshots in my BOSS or other similar troubleshooting tools.

Ok, let me now release you from my ramblings. Here's manang Mary Ann (email posted with permission):

Reading the article on Call Centers and Racism amuses me.

Having been an IRATE customer myself several times, I didn't realize that I could be one of the so-called racists. Let me also share my side as an IRATE customer, if you will.

I've had to call 1-800 several times for problems with my computer/internet connection, credit card, etc. Nine out of ten of the time, I get a customer service representative (CSR) who is either Indian, Filipino, Hispanic or some other nationality. When you tell what your problem is , you are either put on hold for a LONG time or passed to different people before you get the right person to answer your question or troubleshoot your issue. Or you are asked MANY times to repeat what you SAID because they can not understand you well or the caller doesn't understand the customer representative.

Now that is VERY IRRITATING, much more than the very reason you called them in the first place. So at times, I coudn't help appearing rude. I am a Filipino too and yet i get irritated maybe because I am IMPATIENT ( because I don't have the luxury of time to spend waiting) or I feel that the customer representative is INCOMPETENT & is wasting my time.

Don't get me wrong. I am not a jerk, asshole or a bitch!:>

Actually, when I call 1-800 and a Filipino happens to answer the phone, I am the first one to say "KUMUSTA" to let them know that I am Filipina too. If I am satisfied with the service I get, I compliment her/him sincerely for the job well done. If I am not satisfied with the service I get, I gently give suggestions on how she/he can improve his/her customer service.

I think one reason why CSRs get irate American callers is that some Americans are upset that a lot of businesses and jobs have gone to China, India, Philippines, Mexico & other countries where labor is cheaper and overhead expenses for the company are lesser. This, of course, resulted in a lot of Americans losing their jobs. Creating more jobs that are lost to the Third World has always been an issue during Presidential campaigns here.

Some other Americans complain against the invasion by Third World countries of American technology,industry and workforce. Most of the commodities we buy here in America are made from other countries. Seldom do you see commodities being "Made in the U.S." Most of our electronics are from China and Japan, and most of our clothings are either made in China, Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico, or ther countries. When I share these realities to some American colleagues and friends, they are not happy about it.

I remember that one time when I was working in a hospital one doctor, noting all five of us Filipinos in the nurses' station, jokingly said, : "What is this -- a Filipino invasion?" I gamely replied, "Invasion indeed! Why, you are from Holland, we are from the Philippines, and we are the majority!" By the way, our secretary was Hispanic.

I agree with you that we cannot generalize Americans as condescending. I guess I can be very condescending too if I don't get a quality service that I deserve regardless of the CSR's race.

I am so glad that in my more than 15 years of working here in the U.S. as a nurse, I have not experienced becoming a victim of racism. I had always been treated as equal regardless of my skin color. I do also attribute it to my being assertive and able to speak English fluently (thanks to my academic upbringing in the Cordilleras) as well as my being a highly competent nurse.

My patients and colleagues admire my skin's natural tan, it being considered as "the perfect skin color." While many -- if not most -- filipinos are not proud of their brown skin, White people here go sun tanning at the beach or in their backyard.

Regarding the American who said that "Filipinos think of nothing but money and how they can take advantage of him," I think he probably based it on his personal experience with some Filipinos. I have had some Americans married to Filipino who relate to me their horrible experiences with their Filipino wives and relatives. Some of their laments were: " My wife's relatives think I am an ATM spitting money for them; "These Filipinos see you as if you are a walking money"; "My wife and her relatives are very opportunistic"; "My wife's relatives call or write ONLY when they need money but do not call or write to say 'Thank you.'"

On the other hand, there are also Americans that sing PRAISES about their Filipino spouses and relatives...

It is also VERY TRUE that we Asians can be more impatient and racist than some Americans. I realized this when I visited my relatives in Singapore. Whew! Talk about being IMPATIENT... Talk about every Singaporean demanding TOP QUALITY SERVICE. I felt racism in Singapore in just 48 hours of staying there, while I had not experienced racism in all my more than 15 years in the U.S.

Ethnocentrism/Regionalism is so far the one that I still encounter now and then even here in the U.S. I am so proud to be an Igorot. I had my first exposure of prejudice against Igorots when I went to college in Baguio City. Every time some acquaintances make nasty comments about Igorots (i.e., head hunters, have tails, filthy, poor, uncivilized, uneducated, etc.), I tell them I am an Igorot, and then ask them if I fit any of their descriptions. I then take the pleasure of seeing their faces and ears turn red with embarrassment. I also took those incidents as an opportunity to educate them about what Igorot really means. Until now, I encounter this "kissing cousin" of racism among fellow filipinos in the U.S. who, more often than not, would not easily believe me when I tell them I am a PURE IGOROT.

Last but not least, you can not experience racial discrimination without your permission or consent. How? As you mentioned in your articleI by "being the BEST [you] can be in whatever (legitimate) career or profession [you] have chosen". I personally can attest to this. I had been treated an equal by my colleagues and also gained respect from my superiors, colleagues and clients by being the BEST person I can be, being assertive, and being an EXCELLENT, COMPETENT, and EFFICIENT nurse.

I had witnessed other foreign nurses who were hollered and cussed at by patients, doctors and superiors. Some were fired or treated unjustly by superiors, colleagues and others. I have observed that some of the common traits they share are the following: they are not as competent as they should be, they are not assertive, and they are not fluent in English and thus are unable to quickly retort to defend themselves...


yang-ew said...

Wow Scott!!! I found this site great. A few days ago, I was browsing the net trying to surf to some SVS, Bontoc alumni achievers. I tried punching the name of mng. Mary Ann Foy-os and right there it linked me to this very informative site. As I read her posting above, I can´t deny admiring her more.

I believe you have a contact with her? Would it be alright to do us a favor, please... We would appreciate it much if you inform about her alumni school website:

Thank you Scott and carry on your impressive works.

scott saboy said...

hi! i already emailed manang Mary Ann and manong Martin about the SVS website! will link your site to mine. thanks! :)

yang-ew said...

Thank you for the prompt reply. You´re doing a great help to the Vincentians. In this case we will link your site to ours.
Muchas gracias por todos Scott!

scott saboy said...

muchas gracias tambien Yang-ew. nalagsak ay agew mo! :)