Foreign Tech Support Follies

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It is an inevitable fact of modern economics that companies will do what they must to save money where they can. Increased profits are the name of the game as publicly traded technology companies struggle to keep the attention of their investors. While an in depth conversation about the financial side of foreign outsourcing is beyond the scope of this blog, we can address the overall dissatisfaction with tech support in general, and the role that outsourcing plays.

Tech Support’s Dark History

The public’s overall rating of tech support providers and customer support in general was unsatisfactory for years before outsourcing became the norm. Countless comic sketches have been based on the stereotypical customer service agent who hates their job and can’t stand customers who ask too many questions, as well as the computer nerd that gets a kick out of bestowing their godly knowledge of the universe with the lowly public all around them. While there are those generally interested in doing right by the customer as well as those who glorify the comic stereotype, the overall image of tech support in a customer’s eye has several reasons for faltering over the past decade.

IVR Hell-

Before a customer can can even tell what kind of experience a human agent will provide, they have a new nemesis whose general AIM seems to be to increase blood pressure and thwart any attempt to talk to anyone who may actually be able to help.

IVR:”Press or say 1 if you have reached the number you intended to dial, Press or say 2 if you need some assistance with your computer, Press or say 3 to hear more options.”
Customer: “2”
IVR: “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that. Did you say you were “through?”
Customer: “No. Two! Dos!”
IVR: “So you have a problem with your computer. Is that correct?”
Customer: “Yes!”
IVR: “Great. Before I can get you to an agent, tell me why you’re calling.”
Customer: “I just did! I need help!”
IVR: “I’m having trouble understanding you. Let me get you to an agent. Your approximate wait time is 2 minutes.”
***30 minutes later***
IVR: “I’m sorry. All of our agents are still busy helping other customers. Please leave a message and we will call you back Monday through Friday from 10am to 2pm Botswana time. Goodbye.”
Customer: @*^%@!

The IVR, while a huge success in terms of business efficiencies, is perhaps the single most frustrating part of any tech support or repair call. How can a customer be expected to be patient, understanding, polite and attentive when every part of the “gatekeeper” has attempted to convince them that they should not be calling in the first place?

Blame Game

While I was doing tech support for a large US software manufacturer before the dawn of Windows ME (remember that? ugh…), it was all the other vendors like HP, AOL, and Dell that were the companies shoving most of their tech issues onto us by blaming us for the issues regardless of reality. Whether it was our acute awareness of customer satisfaction or a heroic feeling of purpose, we usually proceeded to deal with the issue anyway and were quite successful. Still, the client was left with the feeling that techs and tech companies in general were either unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their satisfaction.

Keep It Simple Stupid!

Often there were situations in which a customer would need the advice of a specific person or department that specialized in a particular application or area of expertise. Because of the complication nature of technology it is virtually impossible to have a specific person or one singular department that can accommodate all of the desires of every customer, even inside a company that only services one piece of software! Since we live in the world of tech day in and day out, the fact remains that techs by nature do not explain complicated technical concepts to users on a level that they can understand. Once you combine the series of interdepartmental transfers with the nitty gritty of technical concepts and language, customers are left with feelings of disrespect and confusion.

How Foreign Outsourcing Broke the Customer’s Back

For years we asked, even expected those in need of our services to adapt to an ever changing, ever confusing landscape that is computer technology. Once we got them on board with subjecting themselves to the endless torture of re-education, we then got them used to having to pay and wait for our mystical answers. After that, we got them used to being herded through an IVR culture of “give me lots of information so I can have you repeat it all again” and more waiting. Despite it all, customers stuck through and fought to be recognized. Then, and without warning, something CHANGED.

Now instead of putting up with waiting, paying, waiting, and abuse from a tech that seemed all but bothered by their presence, they now had to deal with someone they could not even communicate with that seemed to care even less! I have personal stories of countless hang ups by techs that got tired of putting me on hold to find answers that they could not understand. There were also those that liked to bend the truth of an issue, transfer the issue to another tech in an unhelpful department, or just flat out lied.

This, of all straws is when customers had it! I would like to think that the use of local tech support firms increased because of foreign outsourcing, but I only have my own clients to substantiate that claim. What I DO know is that the outcry was huge! So much so that large firms with large business customer bases like Dell were all but forced to move part of their business and enterprise support back to the US at the threat of having several substantial clients find other vendors or other solutions altogether.

The Game Had Changed

While there will not likely be a day when we see the end of foreign outsourcing of technical and other vital services, each person must decide how much support they are willing to settle for and act accordingly. For many, this means an increase in calls and visits to those providers who are local and share a commitment to service excellence. Is a cheap computer really all that matters when it means a person must spend countless valuable hours and an equal amount of frustration when something inevitably goes wrong? Perhaps a careful answer to this question and the realization that there are better local tech alternatives will, at the very least, push those that deliver service in the broader industry to do so in a fashion that we can one day be proud of.


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