The problem with overseas tech support

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It’s obvious that technology jobs have been outsourced to India and other developing nations. The U.S. technology community watched sadly as hundreds of thousands of technology projects, development hours and maintenance contracts moved to the other side of the world. But I’m not worried, even though many think I should be. Here’s why: I understand an American service model.

What’s it like to work with overseas technologists?

I love working with technologists in all countries. They’re brilliant, helpful, eager to work. I really can’t complain in any way about working with people who live overseas. But here’s where the business model falls apart: Service.

It’s not the workers’ fault, I promise you. The problem lies 100 percent with the corporations who are managing the outsource relationship’s profitability. These companies have made a dollar to dollar comparison between work done domestically and work done overseas in order to prove the revenue potential of outsourcing.

The outsourced tech support model

The beauty and failure of the outsourced service model is that it turns a service into a commodity, where “help” is sold on a per-second basis, like crates of oranges or tons of cotton. Instead of basing the price for these contracts on “questions answered and customer satisfaction” it’s measured on how many tickets were closed and how many seconds it took to close each ticket. Therefore, for each phone is a race to end the call as quickly as possible, simply to increase profitability.

For example if you call a service line to ask why your website is down, and on the phone you say, “Hey, by the way, my email keeps getting flagged as spam,” your help line overseas is required to open two tickets, because that’s actually two questions. Then you have the pleasure of tracking both tickets. And many times the tickets are closed without fully resolving the problem — they can close a ticket just by telling you the correct answer, even if you’re unable to do what they said. Again, it’s not their fault, it’s just the business model. They’re under incredible pressure to close a large volume of tickets very quickly.

So in the world of commodities, surely one crate of oranges is fairly similar to other crates of oranges, but commoditizing service and communication doesn’t seem to be working quite as well. This conundrum opens the door again for service-oriented American technologists to win the hearts and loyalty of our customers. We understand what the issues are and will take the time to fully resolve an issue, whether or not it gets a caller off the phone an average of 30 seconds faster.

Should you stay or should you go?

The moral of the story with outsourcing is to make sure you understand what you will receive for your business as part of your contract. You can get great or terrible support in any country, depending on how experienced the support staff is, how long they are allowed to talk with you, and how good their English is.

Stay away from support contracts that showcase how quickly they resolve issues as part of their sales pitch. That means your customers (or your staff) is headed for the Ticket and Dump system described above. Look for outsources or domestic sources that showcase user satisfaction ratings and a low number of “second calls” on an issue. This means that the support staff was able to completely resolve an issue on the first call, and didn’t require follow-up questions from the customer. Customer satisfaction is what makes you money, not short ticket resolution times. Just remember: satisfied customers are repeat customers.