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Is Outsourcing Tech Support Evil?

Incompetence knows no boundaries.

Cost-cutting by sending tech support overseas is often derided as a terrible move, but it's not the location that matters, it's the quality.
Technical support staff.

If you call tech support for many major companies these days, you may not know whether the person you’re talking to is a few miles away or on the other side of the planet.

We’ve all heard of technical support being outsourced to overseas companies to reduce costs. Technology allows us to communicate anywhere on the planet cheaply and instantaneously, so it makes a certain amount of sense. All else being equal, companies would be foolish not to consider it.

Is it evil? Many think so.

I don’t.

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Outsourcing tech support

Overseas tech support has a bad reputation primarily due to incompetence and/or incomprehensibility. Clear and effective tech support is what we’re looking for, and that can be located anywhere on the planet. The same can also be said for incompetent technical support.

It’s about competence

I believe people’s unhappiness isn’t due to where their tech support representatives are located1, but the quality of that tech support.

They may believe they’re seeing a lower level of expertise when they detect the call has been routed offshore, and it’s certainly possible. But it’s not the location that’s the problem; it’s the incompetence.

And incompetence knows no geographical boundaries.

Tech support representatives need to understand the products they’re supporting and be able to help the people who call.

It’s about understanding

The other factor is the representatives’ ability to:

  • Understand us.
  • Be understood themselves.

When tech support is moved offshore, there’s a high likelihood that English (or whatever your native language might be) isn’t their native language.

Language competency and proficiency vary dramatically.

If I can’t understand you or you can’t understand me — be it for language issues, accents, or even the quality of the phone line — it’s all just an exercise in frustration. It’s most certainly not technical support.

It’s not about location, really

I truly don’t care if the person I’m speaking to is in my neighborhood, my country, or halfway around the planet as long as they can help me. That can be summed up as:

  • Can we communicate? Do we understand each other?
  • Do they know what they’re talking about?

You don’t have to be overseas to blow it. I’ve nearly hung up on U.S.-based support reps because their regional accent was so thick, I could barely understand them. I left an ISP because their technical support staff was hopelessly incompetent and could only follow the script they had been given. If I could have understood them and they could have actually helped, I would have been quite happy even if they’d been overseas.

I’ve had good experiences as well. Once when traveling, I had to make emergency plans to return home. The US-based airline support representative I talked to was clearly in a different country — his accent gave this away. But he was clear, competent, and resolved my issue exactly as I had hoped.

Do this

Don’t blame overseas outsourcing per se; it’s part of what’s keeping your costs down. Do hold companies accountable for the quality of their service regardless of where it comes from.

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Footnotes & References

1: I’m explicitly NOT engaging with the more political issue of whether jobs should or should not be sent overseas. That’s a different can of worms and varies dramatically depending on which country you’re located in.

8 comments on “Is Outsourcing Tech Support Evil?”

  1. I do agree support needs to improve they need to be able to understand us we need to be able to understand them too like dell and hp fall short too sometimes chat is a better option too

  2. Leo, you wrote:

    “…Technology allows us to communicate anywhere on the planet cheaply and instantaneously, so it makes a certain amount of sense. All else being equal, companies would be foolish not to consider it.

    The key words here are All else being equal. Have to agree 100% with the rest of the article — a lot of the time, all else most definitely is not equal! I can’t even count the number of times I’ve found the speech (accent) of the representative incomprehensible… and the fact that I am hard of hearing decidedly does not help matters!

    • That depends on the quality of the tech support company. A client was approached by an Indian support company, and they offered to do phone support, also in the local regional dialect. The quality of Indian support ranges from poor to excellent as it is everywhere.

  3. As the owner of an IT support company, I have certainly seen the good, the bad and the ugly of offshore tech support. We have several hardware makers we have standardized on, and support a lot of hardware for our clients. We don’t get a vote when a manufacturer moves to offshore support, of course. For at least one of those vendors, we try to avoid their support at all costs because we cannot understand those well-meaning, very skilled workers.

    It’s a shame, but I’d rather have a root canal than spend 90 minutes slogging through a support call where I have to guess 2/3 of the words spoken and ask them to slowly repeat everything they say. In the end, I would have to imagine that this problem lowers the amount of tech support calls, which makes the manufacturer more profitable!

  4. I don’t care where support is located. The only things that matter to me are:
    1. Can I understand them AND can they understand me. If either side has to answer no, it doesn’t matter how knowledgeable the TSR/CSR may be. Service still fails.
    2. How knowledgeable is the TSR/CSR about the product I’m calling about? If they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re useless and service fails.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when I, the customer, knows more about the product or service I’m calling for help about than the TSR/CST, and this happens far too frequently. Even worse, I have to work my way through the Technical/Customer Service hierarchy to register a complaint. Since I have worked as a Technical Service Agent, anytime I encounter poor service, I ask for a supervisor. If the supervisor cannot help me, I ask for his/her superior, and I’m willing to go as far up the chain of authority as I must to get my issue resolved. I have never had to go above a supervisor, or a supervisor’s superior to get a good resolution to any problem I’ve encountered.


    Ernie (Oldster)

  5. It’s been a little over 20 years since it happened, but my job in tech support was outsourced to an Indian company. For a while, whenever there was a need for additional help the techs in India could call us in the US and ask for assistance. I often felt very sorry for our customers because more often than not, I couldn’t understand the person I was speaking with.

  6. All the gripes expressed about tech support are true. But the most frustrating is the scripted ritual you have to follow.
    “Hello, my name is Jefferson (really?). I hope you’re having a great day …”
    “Whom do I the pleasure of speaking with …..”
    “I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having problems …”
    “I’ll be very glad to assist you with that, but first tell me your broadband speed (or some irrelevant question) ….”
    “In case we get disconnected, tell me your name, phone, address, wife’s maiden name ….”
    “Reboot your computer …. ”
    “To solve your problem you have to upgrade to ….”
    “To solve your problem you have to reinstall ….”
    “To solve your problem you have to use the Chrome browser …”
    “To solve your problem you have to install Windows 11 ….”


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