As one who has covered and worked in the contact center industry for the past 15 years I admit I had my reservations about NBC's new show Outsourced
I was surprised--as were many others--that a major network would take on a topic: offshore outsourcing, that have caused a lot of American individuals and their families hardship. Yet it is an industry that while publicly visible--we all deal with contact centers including those in other countries--that is insular with its own unique practices and technologies. Even the executives of firms with in-house contact centers would be hard pressed to outline and explain them.
Yet NBC to its credit balanced these issues that touch on the edge i.e. the bricks being thrown into and collected in the now-vacant Kansas City contact center for Mid America Novelties. It did so by focusing on the cultural clashes in both directions: accents, food, ways of life, interactions and yes humor. Think there is awkwardness in the casual chats with Indian contact center agents on the phones? The show rightly points out they are exacerbated in person. The show capitalizes on a growing awareness of the amazingly rich and diverse Indian culture thanks in large part to movies such as the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (which has scenes in a contact center) and the dance shows that have introduced the "Bollywood" style.
The NBC program also targets the human stories that are the real interest: fish-in-a-new pond, struggling to survive and be successful--or else, the "Bad News Bears" of seeming losers but deep down winners as Todd Dempsy put it against the slick A team (one of my favorite scenes was the introduction of the A team with the Southern accents), and potential and yes cross-cultural (Australian and Indian) love interests.
For us contact center types there are operational and technical inaccuracies, like the long idle times, the casual chit-chats and the open-plan i.e. no cube layouts, plus the daytime settings (most offshore calls are received at night on account of the time-zone differences). And yes most order entry interactions are done nowadays online as opposed to over-the-phone. To NBC's credit the agents use professional-quality Plantronics headsets.
(The Outsourced web site does offer some items for sale, and a smart-alecky take on the infamous 1 milllionth visitor scamware on websites)
Yet to tell the story with cube rows, minimal idle and break periods and without funny products would have been far more challenging. Maybe not for an AMC or HBO audience perhaps, but most definitely for those that are tuning into NBC for a balance of thought-provoking and lighthearted fare.
Even so I would love to see upcoming episodes that introduce readerboards i.e. electronic displays that pit team against team, agent against agent and outbound calling campaigns using predictive dialers that make them unintelligible on the phones because they have to speak so fast to clear them before the next calls are connected...while getting cursed at for obscene calls and for violating the do not call regulations. There would have to be one on employing speech-rec-enabled IVR: in the form of Jane, a blowup doll (of course), a play on Amtrak's Julie that they would have to outperform /and or sabotage to keep their jobs.
I can even see how the series would end: with the electronic display showing Todd's grandma on the porch of her farmhouse in Kansas, in her rocking chair, and a Plantronics headset taking calls, with Jane in a gingham dress alongside of course, making the announcement that Mid America is going to bring the calls back home but not to worry she has a job for Todd, looking after the cows...
(Outsourced is on Thursdays at 9:30pm, 8:30pm Central. Yes that's Kansas City time)