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Service call answered on other side of world

April 11, 2001

Service call answered on other side of world



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

When Fay Shaffer called a customer service number about her Montgomery Wards credit card recently she never expected the phone to ring halfway around the world.

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Shaffer, of Hagerstown, said she called the toll-free number for the now-defunct department store in October to settle some confusion about a service charge and learned that the customer service center was in Bombay.

After Montgomery Wards closed, Shaffer was sent a Wal-Mart charge card as a replacement.

After dialing the number on the card and following several automated commands, Shaffer said she finally heard a human voice.

"I could hardly understand him so I asked him where he was. He said 'Bombay, India,'" Shaffer said.

Shaffer said she assumed that meant Bombay was the customer service operator's homeland.

"I said 'no where are you right now?'" said Shaffer.

The man told her the office in which he was working was in Bombay.

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"I thought I was in the twilight zone," said Shaffer.

Thinking she had dialed the wrong number, Shaffer tried it a few more times and each time got a customer service representative in Bombay.

Shaffer said she decided to call Wal-Mart's home office to try to make sense of the situation.

Wal-Mart employees told Shaffer that the company employs GE Capital of Stanford, Conn., to handle customer service for the company's credit card.

A GE Capital spokesman said the company has 12 to 15 customer service centers throughout the world including in the United States, Britain, Japan, France and India.

Working with the company, Shaffer said she got her credit card situation resolved, but was dismayed to hear that Wal-Mart relied on a customer service company that uses a heavy concentration of overseas labor.

"I'm not happy. Right now we have people out of work here," she said.

Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams said he didn't know where GE Capital's customer service centers were located.

"That's globalization," said Williams.

He said the decision to work with GE Capital was a financial one and noted that Wal-Mart stores employ a large number of Americans.

Shaffer said she had come to see Wal-Mart as a symbol of America because of the company's advertisements, which stressed it sold products "Made in the USA."

"I don't know what it means or whether a lot of other stores do the same thing but I'm disappointed in Wal-Mart," said Shaffer.

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