Tech-support outsourcing is never the right thing to do

Tech-support outsourcing is never the right thing to do

Summary: San Francisco Chronicle reporter Mike McPhate recently spent time in Nodia, India, talking with some SBC call-center workers outside the office where they help North Americans with Web connection tech issues.Several workers McPhate talked with related horror stories of the name-calling and insults several North American callers had thrown their way after they heard an Indian accent.

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TOPICS: Outsourcing
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San Francisco Chronicle reporter Mike McPhate recently spent time in Nodia, India, talking with some SBC call-center workers outside the office where they help North Americans with Web connection tech issues.

Several workers McPhate talked with related horror stories of the name-calling and insults several North American callers had thrown their way after they heard an Indian accent. The worst sort of jingoistic, sexual, racial insults- even before the worker had a chance to respond.

First, a caveat. Prejudice is contemptible and inexcusable in all its forms. If you have the slightest bit of racial, ethnic, religious or social prejudice, I don't like you. 

But I have been sitting here trying to comprehend why a frustrated tech user in the U.S. would dump on someone with an accent even before they have a chance to try and help the caller solve their problem.

The fact that such rude behavior is always inexcusable doesn't mean it is not understandable.

People who call tech support are more often on edge than they are in touch with their better selves. They are paying $49.99 a month for this service, or have paid $1,500 for this box with circuits that aren't working. 

Can't blame them for wanting answers, and wanting them yesterday. Often, there are key applications that can't be performed.

But I am sorry. I hate tech-support outsourcing. To me, every time I read about a company closing down a North American call center and shipping those jobs overseas to India, the Philippines, Russia, Ireland, or even Canada, I think this to myself:

Here's a company whose product I have paid a considerable chunk of change for, but one whose Board cares more about their stock price than  their customers. And if they can boost the stock price a few extra points by offshoring their tech support to a country and third-party provider, they can't do this fast enough.

I do understand that for outsourcers, part of the issue here is the understandable urge to save on health-care costs. Yet it is a fact that few corporations, or their executives, frequently support the type of U.S. Presidential or Congressional candidate that would rein in health care costs by enacting price controls on big pharma. So when these same execs complain that they have to run offshore because of high health care costs, they need to look at who they have supported in recent elections.

Some may blame this high cost of U.S. labor on unions. While they are not totally without fault, many of their wage and benefit demands are simply necessary reactions to the runaway cost of health care.

There are other issues why I despise tech support outsourcing and offshoring. When tech support is just down the hall or across the office park away from the programmers or from r&d, and they sometimes run into each other in the employee cafeteria,those tech support workers can learn about solutions in development that once released, will address some of the issues those aggrieved callers are asking about.

You don't get that if your office is in Round Rock, Tex. (Dell), Mountain View, Cal. or Atlanta, and your tech support is in Nodia, or Bangalore, or Hyderabad. Or Winnipeg, for that matter (where much of Comcast's tech support is based).

There's also a business ethics case that is in play here. I've seen what happens to communities when tech support centers are closed and that work is shipped overseas. Hundreds are out of work. It is plain to me that tech-support outsourcing has terrorized more families than Al-Queda ever has. For these companies to screw Americans while displaying flag decals on their trucks is the height of hypocrisy for me.

So listen, you technology company CEOs. You are charged with unlocking shareholder value. But I, for one, don't give a spit if your stock trades at $61 a share rather than $58 a share because you have economized on your payroll due to tech-support outsourcing.  

 

 

Topic: Outsourcing

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  • SBC support not degraded by overseas

    SBC has always had a policy of refusing to give a full answer on tech support questions. Once, since they moved tech support overseas, they did actually answer a question for me, so I can say their tech support has improved slightly. We have had only one noticeable DSL outage this week, so the service has improved greatly over what it was 2 years ago.
    Maybe I could add one answer from over a year ago: at that time, I got an answer from their tech support that they do not support quality of service, unless your wiring to their central office is under 1100 feet. Apparently, the wiring here is 70% longer than the direct path. They did eventually raise their speed from 80kb/s typical to over 300kb/s consistent. That's not a large fraction of what they advertise, but it works.
    tprince@...
  • SBC support not degraded by overseas

    SBC has always had a policy of refusing to give a full answer on tech support questions. Once, since they moved tech support overseas, they did actually answer a question for me, so I can say their tech support has improved slightly. We have had only one noticeable DSL outage this week, so the service has improved greatly over what it was 2 years ago.
    Maybe I could add one answer from over a year ago: at that time, I got an answer from their tech support that they do not support quality of service, unless your wiring to their central office is under 1100 feet. Apparently, the wiring here is 70% longer than the direct path. They did eventually raise their speed from 80kb/s typical to over 300kb/s consistent. That's not a large fraction of what they advertise, but it works.
    tprince@...
  • Outsourcing

    Outsourcing is fundamentally wrong. Short term, it may benefit the 'bottom line' of the corporation.

    Long term, we will continue to see an indirect effect on the erosion of our US economy and the availability of good paying jobs.

    The laws need to change to provide incentives that will foster an environment conducive to creation of new jobs in the US and provide strong disincentives to taking the course to outsourcing.
    D T Schmitz
  • My biggest rant about outsourcing

    The only English words they know: "Reinstall. That not work? Format and reinstall."

    MY biggest problem is that they're never really trained to actually fix anything. When I contact Tech Support, it's because I've tried everything I know - and there's nothing more irritating than talking to somebody who barely knows their way around a computer pretending to be able to fix my problem. If I know my way around their software better than they do, I've just wasted my time - and whatever money it just costed for that call.

    Honestly, I'm starting to think that tech support on forums - much as people hate to admit it - is actually better than tech support via phone.
    CobraA1
    • It'd cost 'em money to hire somebody who knows how to fix things

      They can hire these guys who only know a few words of English & speak those so briskly you can barely understand what few words they've been taught cheap compared to providing serious tech support. I'd sooner they just made the necessary product information available for download if they can't do any better than that with their tech support. Sometimes someone on a forum will have the answer to a problem when outsourced tech support is clueless.
      lisacate@...
      • Are you really serious?

        Lady, check your grammar! My daughter speaks and writes better than you. All in all in a land where freedom and equality and all other other anti racist laws are passed are taught in High school or taken up as units/ subjects in college, guess you were absent or did not even pass college to be taught that. By the way, did you ever stop and think that the very people you are accussing of being stupid / incompetent are the very ones that helped you while you were suffering the effects of 9/11, Katrina and all other disasters, man made or not.
        All in all, let's just see how accomodating your own people are when it comes to helping a grandmother of 5 while she wants to connect to the internet wirelessly. How you could better handle people who are very irate because you did something other than fix the computer. How you could better handle a frustrated customer that is either prejudiced or outright degrading.
        This is not something that we like being done to us but we love trying our best to help people out.
        Tell me, how courteous could you honestly be, say after getting 2 1-hour calls?
        Do something that we do..
        Emphatize and feel what we are feeling..
        After all we're all humans..
        chillanolin
  • I respectfully disagree Mr. Shaw

    Outsourcing carries with it a stigma that is direct and seemingly easy to understand. - "Loss of American Jobs". This simple way to view it flies in direct contradiction with the rules of "Free Markets".

    While it seems like 'evil' CEO's are trying to to just increase their stock price, well they are.. and that's a good thing if you believe in Capitalism over Socialism. A "Business" is in the business to make money...period. What some deem unethical, is nothing more than competition running its coarse. In a free economy, competition is the rule of the game. When you zoom into this macroeconomical phenomenon, you'll find people who have lost their jobs to outsourcing or whatever, but what's important is to not to dwell on why they lost their job (In a free market, the only reason was they weren't competitive enough) but rather what they need to do to get their next job. (Or what they need to do to become more competitive.) It's in this struggle for efficiency through specialization, that the economy as a whole is bettered. Which brings me back to my first point, "Outsourcing" and "Job Loss" are a contradiction. And outsourcing when done in the effort to be more competitive is ALWAYS the right thing to do. If you feel it's in an Americans best interest to guarantee them a job in one fashion or another, then you're condemning them to being uncompetitive. And if you're a believer in evolution/Darwinism/natural selection/etc you're condemning them to extinction.

    Also, if you don't like a product (and its associated outsourced customer service) then buy something else. Be careful though, by doing so you've just done your part in molding a free economy.
    VoIPevo
    • Making Money

      Making money is a priority, but it is not the only priority. Corporations are composed of individuals. And these individuals want to make the world a better place. Half of them want to do that through helping their fellow citizens. The other half of them want to help the countries we outsource to. So, it's a toss up. Since outsourcing's cheaper, that's what they choose.
      Vicissidude
    • Assumptions

      VolPevo assumes that there are now and always will be a next job. He assumes that those people who weren't THAT well paid to start with have the resources in this time of rising tuition and cutbacks on grants to get training to try and get that next job.

      I know someone who did all the right things according to religious believers (First Church of the Inerrant Free Market, Inc.) such as VolPevo and after finishing the training in what is a relatively high demand field that can't be outsourced he still can't find a job.

      I'm not an atheist, mind you. I know that Free Market exists and can do some good things. But unlike VolPevo and so many other fundamentalists I recognize that it has flaws and is very far from being perfect. And frankly, it's a sociopathic god.
      JimSatterfieldW
      • RE: Assumptions

        Jim, I think you made some interesting points. But:

        -Underemployment is still employment while you try to gain full employment.

        -What your being paid today, has no relevance to your ability to find work tomorrow. No matter how much you make or how little you earn, you can still be irresponsible and not prepare yourself for the very real, yet commonly ignored possibility of being unemployed against your will.

        -If you feel you must rely on the government to help you be more competitive, you don't understand what it means to be competitive.

        -Stories that start off "I know someone.." are irrelevant. We all know someone who did something or had something happen to them or experienced something, etc.

        -Jim is correct, a free market is not perfect, a claim I never made. Something I'd love to discuss further but it's easier for the Jim-minded people to signal the end of their willingness to debate by asserting those who are in favor of a free market are simply sociopaths. An unfortunate ending to the beginning of what could have been a great discussion.

        ~VoIPevo
        Accused Fundamentalist & Sociopath
        VoIPevo
  • Support is concidered a liability to employers

    Support Departments have always been concidered a liability to IT corps. Their blindness towards the vitality of tech support/customer service is and will continue to be their determine.
    odd1
  • Devaluing the customer.

    I have received service from India which was professional, courteous, and successful at resolving the problem.
    I have also received service from India in which I spent a great deal of time on hold waiting for people to discuss what I'm asking, and then while the solution is sought.

    I don't know whether the India responses are more often worse than those from call centers operated in the US. Nor do I know whether the Indian centers will improve until they're better than the service they displaced.

    I'm willing to assume that the Indian call centers can and will be at least acceptable, for the sake of argument. I respect and don't underestimate people.

    But even so, I resent the decision to out-source my problems. The company which sold me a product has decided to follow a policy of lowering costs when the subject is my getting the intended use of the product I bought.

    Customer satisfaction has obviously been devalued.

    If Indian call center employees were paid the same amount as those in the US, if costs were not a factor, I would resent off-shoring less.

    I have to recognize with each call that being responsive to me is far less important than the size of the bonus the CEO receives because of some numbers. And the changes in numbers most welcome to Wall Street are reductions in the number of US citizens being paid.
    Reward for mean-spiritedness.
    Anton Philidor
    • Tech Support from Hell i.e. India

      [b]I don't know whether the India responses are more often worse than those from call centers operated in the US. [/b]

      For what it's worth, I've dealt with both. The BIGGEST problem I've seen with tech support from India is a language barrier. I had occasion to call support for a wireless network card a while back. The experience was frustrating and abysmal. First of all, the company's (a major ISP: Earthlink) support chain was utterly chaotic. I was transfered no less than 10 times from one department ot another trying to find the one responsible for the item in question. When I finally got transfered to the right party, she had a THICK Indian accent and could barely understand (what I'm assuming was) the plain english I was using to describe the issue.

      In a nutshell, the problem had to do with an intermittant connection. Sometimes it would work, sometimes not. The network card was correctly configured (per the instructions, anyway) and yet, the computer would sometimes see the network, be able to connect to it and sometimes not. Being a bit of a computer geek, I think I've got a decent command of the proper terms involved. I didn't use words like "thingy," "whatchamacallit," "doohicky," "wahoozit" or such tho I suspect I would have been probably better off if I did.

      The bottom line - I had to explain the situation over and over and over again to the tech who had NO grasp of what I was talking about. What could have been a 10 minute call turned into a 3 hour nightmare.

      What's worse is that the call got cut off at least three times, forcing me to call back, wade through the maze of incorrect connections and be transfered into the proper queue. And then, horror of horrors, have to start explaining the problem from scratch because the first person didn't make ANY notes of the issue in whatever tech support software they were using (IF any) to keep track of calls.

      And, of course, the other guys were NOT any better at understanding the situation or coming up with a solution.

      After the third disconnected call, I wound up having to give up on it for the day as I had another appointment to get to. What should have taken 30 minutes tops took over three hours, made me look bad in the client's eyes and consequently, I lost that client.

      What went wrong: confusing and incorrectly set up menu options on the phone system, extremely incompetent support staff when you finally got to the proper department, horrible tracking of issues and accents as thicker than a shag pile rug. You'd think I might have been better off talking to them in Klingon.

      As for call centers in the US...

      I have experience on both sides of the phone receiver. I've done tech support and have gotten it for various products. The most important distiction between the two is there's an instant connection - at least as far as language goes. You generally don't have to repeat yourself 15 times to get something understood.

      [b] have to recognize with each call that being responsive to me is far less important than the size of the bonus the CEO receives because of some numbers. And the changes in numbers most welcome to Wall Street are reductions in the number of US citizens being paid.
      Reward for mean-spiritedness. [/b]

      For what it's worth, those of us who used to work in the tech support field, if you know your stuff, you can find another job. It's NOT a "zero-sum game." My departure from the tech support arena was to go into the field of consulting - first for a company specializing in the product I was supporting, and eventually on my own. The bottom line - if there's a market for service, there's an opportunity to be had.

      It's a hideous fact of life that companies want to save a ton of money by offshoring things they can - like support. The bottom line of the financial page is what investors care about. It's not entirely the CxO's fault.

      Unfortunately, the cost of living in most places in the US has risen to the stratosphere. Ever price a rental for a crackerbox apartment in a big city lately? A small 1 bedroom apartment goes for close to a thousand a month - if not more in some places. Companies have to pay a reasonable wage that covers the employee's basic expenses to put a roof over his head, food in his fridge and the means to get to work (on time, preferably) and maybe a little extra. The cost of living in India, China, Pakistan and other places that host offshored workers is MUCH cheaper. That makes the whole topic so attractive.

      Which leads me to my final point: One consideration that most people don't consider when discussing offshoring. While the amount of money being paid these workers may seem like chump change compared to what workers in the US get, the money they're getting paid over there is BIG bucks to them. Consider if you will, if the average worker there gets paid $50 bucks a month and these tech support workers are being paid $70 or $100 (USD) per month, they're doing quite well compared to the rest of the folks around them. Of course, demand for workers will inevitiably raise the standard of living there and prices will go up and this will level the playing field and eventually make the whole offshoring thing look less attractive.
      Wolfie2K3
      • Are the Five Fingures same?

        All i want to say on this discussion is, not all the five fingures are same.Price always pays you quality, If you go for the right one you will never face such problems.On other hand every company providing support should work on two aspects i.e quality support and assigning technically skilled staff.Have come accross many big whales in this field who themself prefer the Tier 1 staff to use canned responses and then escalate the issue to Tier 2 or Tier 3 staff.The reason for same is huge number of requests on the live chats and helpdesk support, the other reason is some major issues of hardware failure or hacks or the time span needed to fix the issues.These are the main reasons where canned responses are used to let their customers know that the techs are working on things and will be back to normal soon.Rest if you pay a good price to a company for support i am sure no company would like to loose such a client :)
        Hostechs
  • Outsourcing two storys

    Bacground: I tried to switch from Vontage to Earthlink for my VOIP I was promised my number would port over.

    I got my new equipment and found that I had a different number. I called Earthlink Tech Support and got a US Earthlink Tech Support person eventually several they were totally worthless, eventually I was transferred to a tech sopport person in India she was helpful and knew what she was doing.

    Background Billing Error from AOL. I called AOL Tech Support (Billing) the individual I spoke to told me that he was in India, immediately, he knew what he was doing and fixed it gorrectly and quickly then we spent 10 minutes talking about the weather in India and here in Michigan the results of the earthquake (he had been in the area) I had been down on AOL and India based tech support but now I realize you have to take it on an individual and company basis
    zchief
    • Partially correct

      I've had to make more than a few calls to Indian tech support for several companies. The majority of these calls have not been pleasant experiences. I've had to tell one of our employees to not call SBC DSL support because if he follows what they suggest and they read off their script to him it will completely screw up settings so badly that I have to drive two hours to that location to fix it.
      JimSatterfieldW
  • Outsourcing Tech Support jobs

    I fully agree with everything you said, as a matter of fact I am a victim of oursourcing, and because of my age have not been able to asquire another position in the field because everyone else is doing it now. There is one other area that hasn't been discussed, and that is the companies still expect americans to buy their products even when they've been displaced so many jobs. I might also add that I've experienced the language barrier with tech support in India or wherever and most of the time they do not understand what the problem is or cannot resolve the problem. With my background, I'll build my own system rather than buy from a company that has outsourced so many domestic jobs and show little concern for the american family as a whole.
    fefrench@...
  • Unsatisfied with most tech support

    Whether it is American-based or foreign-based, my experiences with tech support have majorly been disappointing.

    I must admit, I decide whether a support person is American or foreign just by the accent, so my conclusions could be faulty. But I would say that I have been satisfied only 30% of the time with tech support, and very angry, frustrated, and/or aghast with the rest.

    I don't see it as an American-versus-foreign problem. I see it as a company's inability or unwillingness to adequately train their representatives. To say that outsourcing tech support indicates that a company doesn't care about its cutomers is not always the case. I think the first lack of a company's caring concerns its products which don't work - at all or as advertised.
    cgraham_z
  • Is your computer American-made? Your car?

    The protectionist arguments for buying only American-made cars and computers grew hollow long ago. It took US car manufacturers 20 years to catch up to Japan (and now South Korea) in terms of quality, and the jury is still out.

    How about the monitor you're staring at now? Made in Gary Indiana? Elkhorn Wisconson? I know, the motherboard! Little Rock Arkansas, right?

    I have been given the task finding a company to provide a level-1 helpdesk for the startup I work for. I'm looking seriously at an outfit in the next province over from where my Canadian company is headquartered. Why outsource? Because we can pay by the call, or the minute, or the amount of customers we have. This company is in the business of providing the very service we need. They can hire people and pay their healthcare and worry about managing their own growth as we manage ours.

    So the developers and sysadmins listen to the in-house tech support? Does anyone wear ruby slippers in this wonderful company of yours? In reality, the helpdesk has to escalate unsolved issues to ops anyway. An unsatisfied customer just calls their account rep anyway, and a professional help desk knows to solve issues as quickly as possible.

    If you want patriotism, join the military. A company that wastes resources will fail just as fast as one which cuts costs in the sort term to show better numbers in press releases. And those who do run their own help desks NEVER do so in the interest of supporting the community.
    JetJaguar
    • RE: Is your computer American-made? Your car? by jetjaguar

      Hey, jet, if you are so dayammed smart did you ever stop to think of WHERE these places you named off GOT their technology in the FIRST place????

      ANSWER IS: UNINTED STATES' corporations OUTSOURCING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      In the case of cars: Have you ever noticed that Honda is 'affiliated with GM or Mazda with FORD, etc, etc, the list goes on and on.

      jet, that jaguar you boast in your screen name here is even owned by an American company now!!! I'll leave it up to you to find out which one;)

      As for electronics: THAT is a no brainer! Have you [jet] ever heard of a place called Silicon Valley located in California????

      OUTSOURCING IS EVIL in one of it's PUREST forms!!!!!!!!! All it does is rob US citizens of good paying jobs that will support them and their families and pad$ the pocket$ of Big Bu$ne$$!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Betelgeuse58