December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Cyber Pass

(Page 3 of 3)

That raises the question of whether cultural and accent differences between Indian call center agents and U.S. consumers could hinder web shopping. Hanover Direct has tackled this head-on by implementing a five-week program of accent neutralization and American culture classes for new agents. The class, designed by a British linguist experienced in training stage actors, focuses on breathing and visualization exercises to reduce the unfamiliar-to-Western-ears cadence of Hindi speech that can penetrate spoken English as well. The company recently added another training module that provides continued coaching for agents.

Hanover Direct tells the story of a U.S. shopper, chatting about the weather with the 800-number agent with whom she was placing a phone order, who was startled and then delighted to discover that she was speaking with a New Delhi suburb halfway around the world. With the demand for web-enabled customer support growing and Indian companies positioning themselves to fill it, a day may come when such global connections may not even raise a shopper’s eyebrow. If so, it won’t be the first time in recent history that the U.S. has looked offshore to help source and support a fast-growing technology-based business.

“I’m reminded of what happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the Far East provided a substantial percentage of the manufacture of electronic products,” Tyler says. “That same kind of available resource at a reduced cost is going to be viable here. I think there’s a bright future for these kinds of relationships.”

James Ferrato, vice president of information technology at Stream, sums up what’s on the mind of every customer service supplier looking offshore to India and beyond: “As our clients look to reduce their support costs and as the U.S. economy chugs along at virtually zero unemployment, it’s really our only option.”

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