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Dude, you may or may not get routed to India

Recently, a Dell spokesman announced that in response to customer complaints, they would stop routing corporate support calls to India.

Tech support for Optiplex desktop and Latitude notebook computers will be handled from call centers in Texas, Idaho and Tennessee, Dell spokesman Jon Weisblatt told The Associated Press Monday.

“Customers weren’t satisfied with the level of support they were receiving, so we’re moving some calls around to make sure they don’t feel that way anymore,” Weisblatt said.

Now a Dell spokeswoman in India says that ain’t so.

“We did not send back any calls to the U.S.,” the Dell International Services’ spokeswoman in the high-tech hub of Bangalore, said on Tuesday. The spokeswoman said she did not want to be quoted by name.

“Customers weren’t satisfied with the level of support they were receiving, so we’re moving some calls around to make sure they don’t feel that way anymore,” Weisblatt said.

“Now, I don’t know why Jon said that,” the Dell spokeswoman in Bangalore said. “We are committed to India and we are growing.”

Well, those are the quirks of doing business globally. One hemisphere doesn’t always know what the other hemisphere is doing.

Though I’ve seen firsthand the effects of offshoring, I’m not as worked up about call center jobs in India as Byron is. As it happens, I’ve just spent time on the phone with Dell’s support techs thanks to a dead sound card in our new PC. Took awhile to get through, but they’ll be sending a tech out to replace the (thankfully under warranty) motherboard, and I didn’t have any problems communicating with the people on the other end. Of course, it also helps that I know my way around a computer, so I could anticipate what they were telling me.

I did tech support work in one form or another for ten years, and I’ll say this: The quality of the support you get is directly proportional to how much the company is willing to spend on it. In good economic times (remember those?), people are willing to pay a premium for better service, and companies act accordingly. A reputation for excellent service is a strong competitive advantage, but in leaner times it’s all about cost. You may eventually see some jobs like these come back in the next boom, but the long term trend is clear: tech support workers are the steelworkers of the 21st Century.

Hell, long term a lot of these jobs won’t be going to India any more, either. Some countries in Africa are already the next big thing for offshoring.

One thing about the original story really amused me.

Among Dell customers dissatisfied with the company’s use of overseas labor is Ronald Kronk, a Presbyterian minister in Rochester, Pa., who has spent the last four months trying to resolve a miscommunication that has resulted in his being billed for two computers.

The problem, he says, is that the Dell call center is in India.

“They’re extremely polite, but I call it sponge listening — they just soak it in and say ‘I can understand why you’re angry’ but nothing happens,” Kronk said.

Yeah, that’s a technique they teach in every single customer service class ever offered, along with repeating back what the customer says (“Okay, so what you’re telling me is that your hard drive is on fire and your monitor is oozing slime. Is that correct?”), both of which are touted as methods to defuse angry callers. I always thought it was a load of crap. Maybe I’m just not a Mars-and-Venus kind of guy, but the best way to mollify me when I’m screaming at you on the phone is to fix my damn problem. I can get validation from my dog, thankyouverymuch.

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  1. kodi says:

    Yeah, I found that whole “fix the problem” solution to work fairly well when confronted with angry callers. “I can understand why you’re angry…” is a useful tool for some customers, but it only works when the ellipsis is replacing “so let’s see what I can do for you.”

    I have never heard anyone encourage repeating back what the customer says as a “defusing” technique – I always thought it was what you did when you were starting to fall asleep. I would go directly from feisty to infuriated if someone started doing that to me after I became upset.

  2. Tim says:

    As I understand it (having recently completed a 4+ year tour-of-duty in tech support for enterprise-level software products), the primary reasons for restating the customer’s problem are twofold: first of all, to make sure you correctly understand the problem; secondly, to demonstrate that you are listening.

    That could help mollify some upset customers, and for the others who just want THE DAMN THING FIXED, as long as you don’t waste too much time on the “soft skills” and quickly get into problem resolution, then they are usually cool with it, too. If they waited until you were already getting fed up with them, they they probably waited too long to do it, and probably need better damage control tactics.

    To be honest, in the last couple of years our company has put a much greater emphasis on customer satisfaction…but mostly only focusing on areas that don’t cost much money. Where it costs money (i.e. better training and more suitable equipment), the initiatives are waiting for better times, apparently, no matter how much the techs themselves — and customers in satisfaction surveys — indicate that the techs need better training.

    Really, though, note that as originally stated, the return of call centers outside of India are for *corporate* customers. When a company buying millions of dollars in equipment a year wants something, they get it. When a poor schmuck paying $699 for a new system isn’t happy, often no one really listens or much cares whether or not the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.

  3. The repeat-back stuff was a way of demonstrating that you’d heard and understood what the person was saying to you. The only time I ever used it was when I was translating something a customer said into something that made technical sense, or when I was about to do something that couldn’t be undone and I wanted to make sure the customer knew what he/she was getting into.

  4. Michael says:

    My understanding was that the call-centers being onshored were specifically for corporate customers, and that consumers were being left with the offshore center. Given that Dell is trying to grow their consumer share, this may be killing two birds with one stone. The corps who pay for premium service can get to a US based call center, the consumers and future consumers talk to India.

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