The true cost of offshore tech support

Tales from the trenches: Why offshore tech support may be costing practitioners more than it saves

In "HP's big bet on better tech support," I pressed HP's Jodi Schilling, vice president of America's customer support operations at HP, to talk about offshore support. While I couldn't get many particulars on that, I did learn that HP is intent on becoming a leader in customer support.

Thus, I asked Gripe Line readers if they thought HP's support initiatives are working. Among the responses I got were from-the-trenches accounts of how offshore support has been a game-changer for technical support for HP -- and the industry in general. These accounts were so fascinating that I'm staying on that topic a bit longer.

[ Beware the perils of offshore tech support and get the inside scoop on why offshore tech support has become so frustrating | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

So far in the discussion of offshore outsourcing of support, we've heard from disappointed customers and from HP decision makers on the challenges of providing that support. Today, we hear from the technicians who provided support here in the United States and exactly how sending that support offshore changed their job. From these frontline accounts, sending support offshore does not look like a money saver for the company providing the support. It doesn't appear to have improved the support experience for customers, either. It certainly hasn't made these support engineer's jobs any easier.

Offshore tech support: End of the "HP Way"
In fact, as Gripe Line reader Susan sees it, moving support operations offshore has cost some dedicated support engineers their jobs, all while angering the customers they served.

"I worked for 18 years in the HP enterprise support center that many customers knew as the Response Center," writes Susan. "So I read 'HP's big bet on better tech support' with a different eye than most. The Response Center was staffed by hundreds of enthusiastic and energetic, U.S.-based engineers who loved their work and put heart and soul into making every customer interaction as positive and productive as possible.

"We watched our jobs disappear when HP opened its Costa Rica Solution Center, which caused a huge spike in the complaints and angry feedback from customers who had grown to trust HP support. There is no 'HP Way' culture in the new center because there is no one there to pass on that legacy. I am proud to have worked for a company that empowered me to give the best possible support to customers. It has been sad to watch HP slowly disintegrate and become just like any other company, concerned more with the bottom line than with being a company that sets the standard for support," Susan continues.

The hidden cost of offshore tech support
Gripe Line reader Ronald offered a story that demonstrates the circuitous route a support call can take on its way to being resolved, as well as the numerous bumps -- not just technical -- it can hit along the way.

Ronald writes, "In 2005, I was a PC Support Technician for Siemens Business Services, which was awarded a multi-million-dollar support contract from consulting firm Bearing Point nationwide (BE). Siemens turned around and outsourced Tier 1 support to an HP Call Center in India. If the HP technicians could not resolve a problem, they were instructed to escalate it to my division, Tier 2. We were physically located at BE branches in the U.S. The support techs in India were polite but had heavy accents, which often made it hard to understand their instructions. And their technical skills were sub-standard. Rumor had it that despite this lack of know-how, BE turned a blind eye because HP was an important consulting client."

Putting politics and geography between a question and its answer had one notable result for the customer: wasted time.

"I remember a couple of times where the offshored HP support tech wasted hours on the phone with a consultant before sending the call to us here at Tier 2," Ronald says. Once Ronald's Tier 2 support team got these callers, their problems were often easy to solve. Ronald clocked the resolution for one issue he received frequently at less than five minutes.

So why not teach the Tier 1 support in India to better solve these problems or quickly escalate them? "This was impossible," says Ronald. Not only was Tier 1 support on another continent and in another time zone and culture, it was in another company. "As far as we were concerned, India was on another planet."

If it is the low cost of sending support offshore -- combined with advances in telephony that make these overseas calls easy and cheap -- Ronald suggests that companies take a harder look at the real costs, factoring in the wasted time, customer frustration, and the lack of productivity of the U.S company in need of support. "If BE's goal was to outsource to save money," says Ronald, "they failed miserably." In fact, BE filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2009.

"Corporate bean counters should look beyond the rock-bottom cost of outsourcing," suggests Ronald, "and instead audit the quality of support they plan to get this way."

Got gripes? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "The true cost of offshore tech support," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at InfoWorld.com.

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