• United States

Mailbag: Readers angry about outsourced first-level support

Sep 29, 20044 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Your feedback regarding vendors that offshore their support centers

Two weeks ago, I wrote what turned out to be an incendiary article about technology companies that outsource their first-level support to offshore companies. Not surprisingly, I received an avalanche of replies, most of which are from disgruntled consumers who experienced the poor level of support I described in the newsletter. Incidentally, the one company that received the most “poor support” replies by a landslide was EarthLink.

A number of readers mentioned that, besides the language barrier, there exists a problem that is even more central to the issue. Oftentimes, it seems that first-level support outsourcers are simply not investing enough in training their technicians on the products they’re supporting. In many cases, the frustration lies in the fact that, once people get past the language issues, the tech they are speaking with obviously doesn’t know the first thing about the product they are supporting, and that they are just reading from a script and/or using a knowledge base to parrot FAQs to the customer – in other words, these organizations are really just glorified call centers designed to insulate the customer from second- and third-level support for a period of time. In many cases, customers just give up on support and either return the product or figure out the problem themselves.

One reader, an IT specialist with a U.S. government agency, pointed out:

“Suppose that a company took the initiative to actually have a back-end lab with the supported equipment and testing facilities. They actually built up their own knowledge base in conjunction with the factory, and used this back-end lab to verify/fix issues and had the ability to OK refunds and [return merchandise authorizations]. With their much lower per hour costs, they could make this scenario work and still save clients money. Something to think about.”

Indeed. Another problem, which was pointed out to me during a discussion with a vendor this week, is that information obtained from the customer by first-level personnel that is placed in a trouble-ticket system and then forwarded to second- and third-level support is incomplete (and often suffers from language-related problems). This causes subsequent support people to have to start over “from scratch” with a customer, which is a tremendous waste of time (not to mention incredibly annoying to the consumer). There are technologies out there that can automatically capture much of the user’s environment and application issues, which can then be attached to the trouble ticket and forwarded along the support chain.

One technology that I am familiar with that can accomplish this is AppSight Black Box from Identify Software ( The company’s product can be quickly deployed by support personnel over the Web or via e-mail, and once invoked on the customer’s system (it doesn’t have to be permanently installed), it captures many dimensions of the user’s environment, including the actual application problem as it occurs. This makes the process of problem determination much simpler for support personnel, and Black Box data can be forwarded along the support chain, decreasing the amount of redundant questions that need to be asked. This is especially critical in an outsourced environment, where development, testing, deployment and support tasks may be tossed across the globe many times during a typical day.

In conclusion, another reader summed up the situation nicely:

“As long as our CEOs are rewarded for bottom line revenue, the push for outsourcing will continue. Shame on your wireless card vendor for doing business on the cheap, and for showing you what they think of you by poorly training their help desk – wherever it happens to be. Give THEM your feedback, and continue to vote with your wallet for the vendors who stand behind good products with great service.”

I couldn’t agree more!

I welcome your ideas, suggestions and comments on the subject of outsourcing; my e-mail address is below. Thanks for reading.