Moving Offshore--Problems with Dell
A few months ago I reported on the annual survey of customer satisfaction with the leading computer companies in which Dell Computer Corporation came out on top again. As I have in years past, I strongly recommended Dell computers to all of you. Aside from the fact that Dell products are very well built, inexpensive and function very reliably, I focused upon the widely renowned technical support function of the Dell Computer Corporation. Since that time several events have caused me to make inquiry into the quality of the Dell customer service unit. The most recent polls certainly do not reflect a rising dissatisfaction with the rapidly growing trend to outsource such functions offshore. In many cases, American companies are locating entire divisions of their business in countries where labor is cheap. Dell has for years had keyboards built in China and many other parts of Dell computers come from low wage countries. Those products are less expensive and of equal quality to those available from US built parts. That is, of course, one of the reasons that Dell is the 900 pound gorilla in the Computer business. Recently, however, Dell has joined a trend to move call centers offshore. That has raised a lot of hackles from American buyers because unlike building keyboards and power supplies call centers require human communication.
I have had several contacts with those offshore entities in recent months. The first matter of concern came with a call to Dell customer service during evening hours in the United States. The time of day appeared to be significant because the telephone was answered by some one in India who spoke English in a form and with an accent quite different from mine. Since the telephone connection was bad to begin with, it was extremely difficult to talk to the tech support person and describe the problem that I was having. Indeed, it was not just on my end that understanding was lacking. My Midwestern accent was apparently something that was very difficult for my service technician to understand. With all the politeness I could muster I ended the phone call and tried again. This time I connected with a person with a faint but clearly understandable Texas accent. In short order he diagnosed the problem that I was having with the modem in my laptop and I was on my way. I chalked up the bad experience with the Indian call center as just a bad break in the otherwise sterling service that I have received over the years by very knowledgeable Dell employees.
A week or so later I was helping one of my clients with the purchase of a laptop computer. We went through the Dell web site and selected a series of components of that met all of the needs that he had and I called Dell to place an order. Lo and behold, I was connected with another person at the Indian call center. This time, however, the problem was not with mutual understanding, or the lack thereof, of the configuration of the computer that my client wanted. It seemed that special specifications were understood but this time it was a failure to carry through with a customer relationship that requires some attention to detail. Over the phone I told the sales Rep all of the features that my client wanted in his computer and ask her to put together a price quote and send it to me by fax. She said she would. I waited and waited for a fax that never came. The request for pricing of a special custom configuration is a standard part of my professional interaction with Dell. Over many years the faxed price arrived in my office within an hour of my request. And certainly, there was never a situation in which the price quote simply failed to arrive. I was concerned because I have consistently recommended Dell to my readers and my clients because of the high quality of their sales staff and tech support. I began to do some research on the problem and lo and behold I discovered that I had tripped over a not widely disclosed problem with Dell Computer Corporation. What I discovered is that the problems with the Indian call center have become a large issue at Dell and other computer manufacturers. Here is what I have drawn from the research I did.
Dell now operates a support center in Bangalore, India, and a few months
ago opened a new call center in Hyderabad, India. This appears to be part of
a very aggressive cost cutting effort by Dell led by none other than the big
guy himself, Michael Dell. Dell’s reputation for pinching pennies in
an effort to increase the bottom line is legendary. In the November 3, 2003
issue of Business Week, Michael Dell’s fanatical obsession with the bottom
line is described in detail and is obviously driving the effort to move facilities
offshore. Without getting into the debate about overseas outsourcing in general
it seems obvious that customer support requires people modestly skilled the
art of public relations and language. Indeed, for years Dell kept costs down
by employing students at the University of Texas just down the road from Roundrock
where Dell is based. Those young computer geeks did a bang-up job. They were
exceedingly cheerful and very helpful. They were the source of the continued
high ratings that Dell received for its technical support. But ever since,
the effort to outsource support to India began Dell has drawn criticism from
many sources. The Internet is full of complaints about the inability of support
staff to communicate with computer professionals. Whether that criticism will
effect changes in the Dell operation remains to be seen. It is clear, however,
that issue will not go away. http://www.technewsworld.com/perl/story/32248.html Dell is not alone in the rush to move operations offshore where money can be
saved. And, because of the recent developments in technology that moves plain
old telephone (POTS) conversations to the Internet (technically known as “voice
over IP”) the restraint imposed by US telephone tariffs is also removed.
The above article notes that Dell has responded in part to some of the criticism by announcing recently that technical support for Optiplex desktop and Latitude notebook computers (used mostly by business customers) has been moved back to this country and now will be handled from existing call centers in the United States. Dell said its call center in Bangalore, India would remain fully staffed, however, with many consumer calls regarding other products still being handled overseas. Whether that will still the complaints from consumers is doubtful. "There's only so much price competition that can happen” said Andrew Efstathiou recently told the E-Commerce Times. In the case of computer consumers "the customer is also looking for the overall value and if there's a sense that's being eroded by a lower level of service, that's a concern."
Moving telephone based operations offshore is exceedingly attractive in a recession ridden economy and many of our biggest companies have jumped at the chance to save a few pennies here and few pennies there, all at great cost to individual American workers and hapless consumers. With the widespread unemployment in the so-called “Tech Sector”, offshore moves such as these have fueled great controversy and will continue to do so. Whether that controversy has spawned a consumer revolt against sending such service oriented jobs overseas remains to be seen. If you have had experiences with offshore call centers I would like to know. Just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.