Q. I’ve been reading your stories on DIRECTV and AT&T and how they are losing subscribers. Thank you for writing them. I have found it interesting that many customers are complaining about DIRECTV’s customer service team being unable to speak English very well. I have found that to be the case, too. It seems like they are based in a country where English is not the first language. Why would DIRECTV do that? Most of their customers speak English, right? — Danny, Toledo, Ohio. 

Danny, that is right. The vast majority of DIRECTV’s U.S. subscribers consider English to be their first language, although a sizable number of Spanish-speaking U.S. residents get the satellite service as well.

And you are also right that many current and former DIRECTV customers have complained here and in other social media forums that they have difficulty understanding what the satcaster’s service reps are saying. For instance, comments from one of our stories:

“First thing AT&T HAS to DO is MOVE its Customer Service BACK to the USA.
It will NEVER get better with its HORRIBLE Overseas Service.”

“I totally agree with moving customer service back to the US. I live in the country.”

“The people that work for customer service and you couldn’t understand not just because you had a heavy deep voice on the other line is because they were from India-Pakistan wherever that the broken English came from but if you can’t understand it and you ask for a supervisor and that supervisor his English is just as bad as the last.”

“Let me echo the frustration with the poor customer service. I know offshoring looks good on paper but the service provided to the customer suffers.”

AT&T, which owns DIRECTV, does have some call centers in the U.S., but the telco has contracted with third party companies such as Convergys to run the majority of their lines in other countries, such as India and the Philippines. The telco is saving a significant amount of money doing this because wages are much lower outside the U.S. Labor laws are also more relaxed overseas, which allows AT&T to use people for longer shifts, creating another cost savings.

The company is not the only U.S. firm that uses overseas call centers. In fact, it’s become quite common. But AT&T’s greater reliance on non-U.S. workers has prompted severe criticism from American unions, and AT&T customers who say they have more difficulty communicating, particularly when discussing technical subjects such as satellite TV.

“I called customer service on my DIRECTV account today and was redirected to a customer agent in the Philippines. It was a horrible call in which she could not comprehend what I was saying even though I was repeating myself . I asked to speak to a supervisor and she refused to transfer me. I felt like I was talking to a 12-year-old . Correction, I think a 12-year-old would’ve probably understand what I was saying.
I’m fed up with Direct TV and I’m going to change my service now because of this experience,” one DIRECTV customer recently wrote on an AT&T customer forum.

It would be foolish (and crass) to suggest that no one outside this country is able to speak English. And I suspect that many of AT&T’s customer reps overseas are quite proficient in the language. The third party vendor wouldn’t hire just anyone off the street. (Or, at least, I don’t think they would.)

But the outpouring of critical comments from DIRECTV’s customers can’t be ignored. Clearly, there is a communication gap here, and it’s prompting some DIRECTV subscribers to either quit, or carefully consider doing so.

That’s a problem for AT&T, one that needs to be addressed immediately or DIRECTV will lose even more subscribers.

Last point: Most customer reps, based in the U.S. or elsewhere, try their best to solve your problem. It’s not their fault that you can’t understand them. They are just doing their jobs the best they can.

So, despite your frustration, be patient if you have trouble understanding them. You want an answer, and they want to provide you with one. It just might take a little longer.

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Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at swann@tvpredictions.com. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.

— Phillip Swann