• United States

Offshore technical support: A really bad idea

Sep 15, 20044 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Where offshoring doesn't work

One of the most popular movements afoot in outsourcing is for technology vendors to outsource their first-level support, often to firms that are offshore (India is one of the most popular destinations, as well as China and even the Philippines). While I am a believer in outsourcing in many ways, I have to draw a line in the ground when it comes to technical support and state that I think this is a really, really bad idea that has to stop.

I got the idea for this column when calling the support line for a large network hardware vendor. I had purchased about 15 wireless network cards, none of which were working correctly, and I needed to speak to a knowledgeable technician very quickly. After calling the company’s toll-free support number (which, incidentally, wasn’t even printed in its manual) and waiting on hold for 15 minutes, I was connected to a person that obviously was not located in this country – and English was definitely not their first language (maybe not even their second language!).

Communicating technical issues is a difficult proposition at best, even when speaking with someone in their native tongue. In this case, I spent nearly an hour on the phone with a gentleman whose best advice, after all of that time, was to uninstall and reinstall the card (which, incidentally, I had done numerous times before and had communicated as much to him). Needless to say, I wasted countless hours on the problem and still have no resolution – the solution was to purchase a completely different brand of card that works flawlessly.

This type of experience should cause consumers to seek out companies that provide high levels of support using native-language personnel. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to figure this out until after you’ve purchased a product (perhaps someone should put up a Web site listing companies that do this so we can all be forewarned). This is a hard bill to fill, but I am resolute in my mission, as I firmly believe that purchasing products from companies that do not value their customers only serves to further exacerbate the problem by encouraging them to continue using those flawed services.

Another really interesting epiphany occurred last year when I attended an executive user conference for a large software company. During a roundtable meeting with company executives, one of the vendor’s largest customers complained vehemently about the supplier’s recently outsourced technical support. Interestingly, the vendor’s CEO was shocked at the news, stating that the company had outsourced its support to Scotland (which, theoretically, would have included English speaking technicians).

The customer indicated that even though the call center was physically located in Scotland, the people staffing the support line were actually imported from India (they had told them as much on the phone). I found it fascinating that the senior management of this software company had absolutely no idea that the outsourcer providing its first-level support had, for all intent and purposes, pulled the wool over their eyes (and no one at the company apparently had tried calling their own support line to verify the quality of their services). Either that or they were very good actors.

I think that subjecting customers to this type of shoddy service level is patently wrong. I can only hope that this trend will reverse itself once the executive managers of these companies realize just how poor their support has become, and the effect that trying to save a few bucks without thoroughly analyzing the effects on overall customer service levels has had on their business. Hopefully these companies will figure this out before it costs them their business altogether.

In the meantime, if you know of a technology vendor that is still providing high-quality support with English-speaking (native tongue) technicians, I would love to hear about them. Also feel free to send me your technical support horror stories – I am sure that we all would be interested in hearing those as well.

I plan to continue covering this topic in subsequent articles, and as always I welcome your ideas, suggestions and comments on the subject of outsourcing; my e-mail address is below. Thanks for reading!