International call centers and holidays…

Earlier today I called the United 1K desk and asked them to connect me to the refunds department. Without explanation, the agent explained that the refunds department only opens at 11AM eastern today, as opposed to the usual 9AM eastern. Odd, I thought.

I called back shortly after 11AM. This time the agent transferred me, though instead of being connected to a human, I got an automated voice system saying that the refunds department is closed “due to the holiday today.” Hmm, Wednesday, January 26, not sure what holiday that is. I must be going crazy. Nope, after consulting my calendar, I wasn’t. So then I did what any rational United customer would do, and consulted the Indian and Philippines public holidays calendar.

Well, based on the Indian public holidays calendar, it appears that today is India Republic Day. I guess that answers some questions!

I certainly respect that it’s a holiday for them, but at the same time it’s frustrating as a consumer, since they seem to close for both US and Indian holidays.

So happy India Republic Day to those of you out there that celebrate, and not-so-happy India Republic Day to me!


  1. The NBC comedy “Outsourced” had an episode about this. The workers in India all wanted the holiday off. Finally the manager sent them all home and answered all the calls himself.

  2. Have you seen t he episode of “Outsourced” where the employees in the call center want to take of the day off for “Dwali Day,” a celebratory Indian holiday? Originally the American call center manager says no, but later lets everyone go.

    Happy India Republic Day!

  3. I find it surprising they would get both (their local ones and the US ones) holidays off. I do know that US Government employees that work overseas get both holidays off.

    Personally it seems like on those non-US holidays the calls should be routed to an US based employee to take the call. I guess that isn’t possible.

    Craig Ferguson once went crazy on outsourcing customer service. It was pretty funny. Apparently he flew back to Scotland but his luggage ended up in some country (one that I had never heard of) that was thousands of miles away.

    His point was that when a company outsources customer service, they just no longer care about the customer.

  4. @Rich: I haven’t reached a US call center (1K) in years when I request the refund department. IME, it’s all India. Who knows if there are any US-agents trained to handle this anymore…

  5. Wow.
    This is a new low, even for United.
    Here’s to hope things will get better now that Continental management is in charge there.

  6. As someone who has a call center in my organization, I dont agree with the comment when a company outsources customer service, they just no longer care about the customer. Ofcourse we care about our customer, but specifically for us, the call center gets a very low volume of calls. Its not justifiable to keep an entire staff on hand 24/7 for a low volume of calls. So its cheaper and easier to outsource the call center to India – this way, at least my customers are getting SOME service, rather than NO service. Of course – there is something to be said for good vs. poor service.

    As to why India gets both US and India holidays off – the US has very few holidays, in comparison to what is legally required to be given to employees abroad. Those of you working in the UK – I am sure you know that you can potentially get upto 20 holidays. India too has a required number of days off that employees must get – so why not put those over Indian holidays and US holidays (again, where the call volume will be historically lower than most other days).

    Keep in mind that this is the refunds department – how many calls a day do you think they get?

    I am a consumer, frequent flyer and I expect the best customer service there is. But as a customer service rep myself, I see something that most others dont – we get treated like shit by the customer. We are expected to work weekends, and nights, and holidays. Don’t forget that the people on the other end are human too, and they deserve to have some time off.

    Again, not arguing the point that United should have routed the call back to the US on Indian holidays – but thats probably a large cost for a small volume of calls. I know that I would not be able to justify keeping a call center open for maybe 2-3 calls a day – my CEO would not be happy, my Board would not be happy, and my shareholders would not be happy.

  7. @AJ

    Thanks for the info. My only issue with your comments is that you are assuming United has your call volumes (2-3 a day). If that is true, ok I agree with you. If it is significantly more, then I wouldn’t agree with you.

    A number of businesses need close to 24/7 coverage, that is why they have shifts and hire people who prefer to work differing hours to cover the different shifts (i.e., one spouse might prefer nights to allow the other to watch the kids).

    Also I don’t think most of the airline call centers are open 24/7. Maybe 16 hrs if you are lucky.

  8. @Rich

    They are usually open 24/7 as a collective. In the DL system, the call would bounce around until it found an agent with that skill in their bucket. It’s weird that refunds (which are almost identical from an agt POV to reissues) would have such limited hours. That skill shouldn’t be centralized in one location or they should have people working the holiday. As a rookie agent, I routinely worked US Federal holidays.

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