Offshore This! (Outsourcing Tech Support Overseas)

So I call my telephone company and someone picks up 15,000 miles away. I asked the rep where she's from. She said, "I am from Mary-Land sir. How may I give you excellent service today?" The accent was? American... in a high society 19th century ultra-polite sort of way.

"Mary Land?" My brain's editing booth could not screen the snickers in time.

"Yes sir? this is correct sir." She pushed to the next level. "Yes, Mary Land, sir, on thee eastern seaboard. How may I give you excellent service?"

"The eastern seaboard?" Now laughing out loud.

"Yes sir, on thee eastern seaboard of thee United States. May I give you excellent service today?"

The 'broken record' assertiveness technique broke my resolve and she proceeded to give me excellent service, in a deceptive kind of way, though the experience left me queasy thinking about the whole new class of jobs being shipped overseas.

When manufacturing left the United States, the tech sector was supposed to be the new frontier. Americans rushed out to be retrained. Students set their sites on computer engineering. Our tech sector was so good, it created the very systems that made it possible to replace itself. Corporations discovered that an Indian college graduate will work at a call center for 10,000 rupees a month, or just under $60.00 a week. I have no malice for our Indian friends, they only want to work. But our kids are going to have to become proficient at more than playing video games and watching movies to compete with this highly educated and driven mass of hungry labor! Math anyone?

I remember hearing that the receptionist was the "face and voice" of the company and the public would get their first and most lasting impression based on her attitude. (With that much on her shoulders, they should have raised her pay.) Now the whole customer interface has been tossed to foreign nationals. Perhaps there will be a backlash in advertising. "Our tech support is Made in the USA! If the anecdotal evidence on Internet posting boards is any measure, many customers would rather be pierced with punji sticks rather than be taught one foreign language, (the computer) by someone with another foreign language! Written scripts are repeated ad nauseum with no ability to converse off-road and actually make the customer feel understood. Below is a sample, your results may vary.

Reactions to Foreign Customer Service

"I called HP Cares. They didn't. I spoke with three or four representatives. They all had limited English and spoke with an accent. They all asked me the same set of questions. Many asked the same questions over and over and over again. They all refused to believe that the sticker was not there. They all treated me like I was simply too stupid to find it or maybe I was just blind. And, they all put me on hold?"

"We could not understand each other. Even the simplest English terms were incomprehensible to her. I said goodbye and went through the tedious re-calling process, waiting another 20 minutes or so on hold. The second technician could also not understand English, and the connection broke after a few minutes, so I called a third time, going through the whole waiting drill?"

"I will never purchase another Dell product, ever again. And everyone I know will not purchase their products either?"

It appears that companies may also be outsourcing the trust they've built in their brand, along with customer loyalty and retention. I think I'm on to something here. Let's go American business! Advertise your "Onshore" Calling Center!!!

The call centers are not only in India, they are coming online anywhere a building can put up some computers, chairs and get broadband. A Costa Rican tech support rep working for Toshiba complained in a posting that his job was outsourced to Turkey. Kencall of Kenya, provides its own generators and satellite uplink. I bet they don't have an employee snack room though.

Foreign Outsourcing vs. Offshoring

"Foreign Outsourcing" is the hiring of a foreign company to do some of your work, while "Offshoring" is the creation of a wholly owned foreign subsidiary which gives the company greater control. According to the financial consulting firm Deloitte and Touche, there was a 38% increase in the number of financial institutions with offshore operations in 2003, with an estimated 500% increase in offshore jobs. See "The Titans Take Hold" (PDF)

Call center work is only the tip of the iceberg. There is an ever expanding list of higher level technical positions being exported from a variety of industries. Engineering positions, architectural design work, computer programmers, computer-generated animation, financial and legal research, insurance claim processing, software coding, AutoCAD, technical drawings and billions of dollars worth of back office services are now being moved from the first world to the third world by mostly the larger companies. This is making it difficult for medium sized businesses to compete.

India is well positioned to receive much of this work because it has a large English speaking population from its colonial history with Great Britain, and a growing pool of Internet-wise graduates ready to work at low Indian wages.

Concerns over data privacy and data theft loom large. Three employees of Msource in India allegedly siphoned off $350,000 from Citibank customers recently, using information obtained over the phone, according to Callcentres.net. The plaintiffs who will go through a living hell trying to gain back their financial identities will not be outsourced, nor will the local judges and jury who will hear the case. A couple other factors that come to mind when considering foreign outsourcing or off-shoring, are Islamic terrorists hostile to western interests, civil unrest, security costs, infrastructure concerns and the global war on terrorism...just off the top of my head.

Growing up we were told to eat all of our food because people were starving in other countries. I remember being chastised for suggesting that we should ship out my left over peas and carrots. Today we should tell our kids to study hard and think outside the box because people in other countries are hungry for their jobs!

Let's Laugh and Have Faith

On a lighter note, my wife called our credit card company and was transferred to "Mumbai". (Bombay) In one minute she was squaring off with the mores of a patriarchal society. She was told that she would have to "consult with her husband and obtain his permission and consent, and gain his approval."

The policy was no doubt born in America, but something in the tone and wording communicated female inferiority and wifely subservience. The idea of being "granted approval" was not going down easy. There may have been some gagging.

"BUT...IF, my husband doesn't pay his bill, THEN you'll want to talk to me! Will I need his "approval" and "consent" and "permission" for MY credit to be hammered?"

I was handed the phone at a certain mid-point in the intercontinental shoving match. Something about "your husband will have to make that decision".

I got on the phone and had a lovely conversation. We marveled at how all of this can be taking place over thousands of miles. Actually I rather enjoyed the experience. Perhaps I can outsource our marriage counselor.

Rick David writes for a Merchant Newsletter @ Merchant America. He also writes a humor column called, "Don't Laugh It Could Happen To You" for http://sandiego.merchantamerica.com.

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