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Does outsourced technical support work?

By enterfornone in Op-Ed
Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 08:42:49 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)
Technology

I received the following link, The Toxic Call Centre from an ex-employee of my former place of work. According to the article "A Toxic Call Centre is a place you work to make enough money, so you can leave." Examples of Toxic Call Centres are Telco Directory Services, Credit Card customer service, Airline reservations and Help Desks.

The example given for the latter is Microsoft's Help Desk, however the description is much like my former employer, a provider of outsourced customer service on behalf of an ISP.


While they generally won't admit it, often when you call for technical support you are not calling the company you purchase your product from. An increasing number of businesses are farming out customer and technical support to outsourcing companies.

Outsourced call centres generally charge their clients (the client being the ISP etc. that the call centre acts on behalf of, as opposed to the customer who is the person calling up) in two ways. The first is a per seat basis, where the client will estimate the staff required and pay a certain amount per head. Or a per call basis, where the call centre is paid per call taken. They will also receive a bonus (or not receive a penalty) based on whether they meet a service level (determined by the percentage of customers left waiting in the queue for a certain period).

Regardless of how the call centre is paid, they will usually be able to make more money if customers are dealt with as quickly as possible. As such, the emphasis is placed on getting the customer off the phone rather than providing good customer service. Bonuses are paid to agents who can maintain low call times while meeting a minimal standard of quality (mainly based on following the correct scripts). And since the call centre doesn't get paid based on the customers opinion of the client (or whether the customer will continue to purchase their clients products) they have little incentive to enforce good service.

In regards to the Toxic Call Centre problem, technical support has another problem that sets them apart from the rest. You have no doubt heard of the IT labour shortage. Particularly in higher level IT work there are a lot more jobs than there are people to fill them. However there are also a lot of people trying to get their foot in the door at the bottom. And many choose call centre work as their first step.

Rather than working until they have enough money to leave, technical call centre workers will work until they have enough experience and qualifications to move on to something else. As such, you will always be losing your most experienced and qualified agents.

While this may not be unique to outsourced companies, given similar pay and conditions ISPs who run their own call centre will be able to attract a better quality of staff, as there is more chance of being promoted to a higher level technical position. In the outsourced call centre, you either move to a less technical management position, or you leave.

So why do ISPs and other companies outsource call centres to companies with less experience and less motive to provide good customer service. It simply comes down to money. Since outsourced call centres focus on a single service, they are able to run call centres much cheaper than companies who do it as a sideline to their primary business (such as providing net connectivity, flying planes etc).

But are they really saving money this way? Or are they losing money as their customers leave to companies who provide their own customer service. And in a world where companies are replacing personal service with self serve web pages, does outsourcing customer service give your customers further proof you would rather not deal with them yourself?

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Related Links
o The Toxic Call Centre
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o Also by enterfornone


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Does outsourced technical support work? | 6 comments (6 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Don't Blame Technical Support Redux (3.66 / 3) (#1)
by gblues on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 07:11:10 PM EST

The quality of service depends largely on the client and how the contract is written. If the client says "you don't get paid if the call goes past X minutes" then the outsourced callcenter will do its best to get its calls under X minutes.

Not every client makes those stipulations, however. In other words, the quality of the outsourced support is as much dependant on the client as it would be if the client provided their own support. However, the advantage of outsourcing is that the client doesn't have to worry about training support techs, and can focus on engineering or whatever it is they do.

The reason you aren't getting quality support is because the clients often don't let the call centers give quality support, not because the callcenters don't want to. This includes everything from access to customer databases to training materials to call guidelines.

I can't go into specifics since I work at an outsourced call center, and discussing contract specifics is a gross violation of NDA. But the situation you describe is only because the contract is written that way.
... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
from a former help desk person (3.00 / 2) (#2)
by maketo on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 07:15:13 PM EST

You are right - it is a job you work until you want to run out as fast as you can. But, there is one thing - everyone in the company / department looks down upon the help desk people. They are considered to be lame and just there. Heh. I happened to work with someone who was a very good and serious developer before they came to the help desk. Nevermind the reasons (I never asked), this guy was a programmer / engineer par exellance. But, in such environment, the role of the force of abrasion shows its impact very quickly.
agents, bugs, nanites....see the connection?
Foot in the door is not the right analogy (3.00 / 2) (#3)
by balls001 on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 10:37:01 AM EST

More like shoot yourself in the foot. If you plan on moving up in a big company, tech support is possibly worse than being the co-op/intern that fetches donuts for meetings. You will be typecasted as a lowly support peon, and it's tough to go up.

Granted, I've helped a few friends move from tech support in a call center to much more prolific jobs at my place of employ, and I even have a friend who is working his way up from a billing agent in a large call center, but this person is a people person first, computer person second, and there are VERY few computer people as dynamic as he.

Even at the last company I was at, with a total of about 20 people when I left, the 3 support people are _NEVER_ going to move up in that company because the upper management and everyone between them and the support guys think that they have no use other than answering support calls and e-mails. It's very unfortunate because they are 3 of the brightest guys I have ever known, but there is no chance of them moving up within that organization which they have been a part of for quite some time so they will practically have to start from scratch should they leave the company.



Not where I am now. (none / 0) (#4)
by enterfornone on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 08:04:28 PM EST

In my current company no one has been in tech support more than a year, they quickly move up to other areas of the company (none have moved externally to my knowledge). That's the main reason I took the job.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Inverted reality (none / 0) (#6)
by aphrael on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 10:46:13 PM EST

If you plan on moving up in a big company, tech support is possibly worse than being the co-op/intern that fetches donuts for meetings. You will be typecasted as a lowly support peon, and it's tough to go up.

Eh? My experience is the opposite --- I started out in support and now am in development; about a quarter of development followed this path, and close to half of QA.



[ Parent ]
Outsourced call centers. (none / 0) (#5)
by landon021 on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 12:33:56 AM EST

I work for an outsourcing company as well, we (the company) support somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 different companies the names of which I can't say to due to contract obligations. The team I'm on works very hard at providing GOOD information and getting the problem(s) solved quickly but still providing quality service while at the same time treating the customer like a person and not some blithering idiot who doesn't know squat. It is common knowedge here that one of our various supervisors is ALWAYS listening on on someone's call and the next one could be you, while this weirds techs out at first you get used to it and don't even think of it after a while. Everyone who starts on this team is on probation for the first 90 days some make it some don't. People that are hostile, constantly give bad advise, blow people off just to get them off the phone, or that just aren't a "people person" are quickly shown to front door. Anyway, that's my comment on the other side of the coin.

Does outsourced technical support work? | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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