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Offshore and Offside

Offshore and Offside

The mantra of one offshore help desk is “Your call is not important to us”

"I believe that when you select a software supplier what you are really doing is choosing your poison." These were the words a senior IS executive used when we met for lunch the other day. Our third companion had asked his thoughts on a number of finance systems. In essence he thought there was little to differentiate between them: all were pretty abysmal when it came to service.

His words struck a chord with me. I had just wasted six hours of my life on the phone to the support centre of a major US software company. The level of service I received was so farcical it had all the makings of an episode from Fawlty Towers. It was an object lesson in how not to look after a customer. To make matters worse, when I reported my experience to the company locally, customer support reacted with complete indifference. He did not even bother to follow up my complaint.

The ICT consumer is not an idiot. Increasingly they are discerning buyers sceptical of vendor promises

I was having problems installing a software upgrade. Despite dire warnings that the product would not function in 15 days time unless the right product key was entered, it was impossible to enter the correct ID. It kept retaining the code for the earlier release. That was when I got on the phone to the support centre.

After battling through an IVR system whose sole aim seemed to be to prevent me from actually talking to someone, I ended up in India. Whatever the rights or wrongs of offshoring, I do take issue with the attitude of providing service as cheaply as possible. Why can't someone in Australia take the first call? Research by recruitment agencies shows that first line support people are the lowest paid workers in the IT department. They can usually handle simple matters on the spot and, if not, they should be able to divert you to the right person in India to help. Moreover, it actually took around half an hour for the phone to be answered in India. If an organization is going to make an argument that offshoring allows service to be done more cost-effectively then it should be able to demonstrate this by giving the customer more rapid response.

The next problem I had was with staff training. It was evident that the people I was dealing with had never been on an ITIL course. There seemed no structure to the questions. Different people repeatedly asked me the same questions. At one point I was transferred to the wrong section and had to start the process all over again. Even when I did get through to someone who seemed to understand my problem their advice did not work. It was apparent that no knowledge database was being built up from previous calls to the help desk. Every problem was reported as if the company was hearing it for the first time.

Throughout it all the level of English comprehension was poor. I was never really sure that the people on the phone even understood my problem. I would hate to think what people with broad Scots or strong European accents encounter. Throughout the exercise I felt I was being treated as an idiot and patronized.

Yet the ICT consumer is not an idiot. Increasingly they are discerning buyers sceptical of vendor promises. If vendors want to retain and attract customers then they should do an audit of their support operations to understand how bad they are. I do long for the day when a software supplier appears who will actually understand the importance of effective service. Perhaps that will herald the day when CIOs see their software suppliers as business partners they can recommend to others rather than as a toxin in their operations.

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