IT Policies

Offshoring the help desk

If you think it is hard to understand people on off-shored support lines, spare a thought for those of us who get to do house calls in the more rural parts of Merry England. Blogger Jeff Dray illustrates how a common language can divide a nation.

It is so common as to be the norm these days for help desks to be centralised in a single location which, thanks to the technology we support, can be just about anywhere in the world. This can lead to great cash savings for the company, but to some interesting communication misses.

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A communication miss is a situation where something is said but cannot or is not understood by the person it is said to.

Help desks are increasingly being either centralised or outsourced to third-world countries, where labour costs are much lower and employment law is more lax. This can mean that, when you have a problem, it can be hard to speak to someone who really understands the problem and, more importantly, someone who, quite literally, speaks your language.

It is common to find that your support line has been outsourced to India, where English is a common language but not the same as the English we speak here in England. You only have to think about the differences between "English" English and American or Australian English.

Because language is a constantly evolving thing, it is not surprising that, over the course of a couple of centuries, the way that the language is used in different parts of the world has changed. For example, dumb, in England, is a word meaning mute, whereas in the USA it connotes stupid, probably taken from German immigrants for whom the word dumm means just that. The meaning came from German and the spelling from English.

Indian help desks and call centres often hold training and briefing sessions where they watch English soap operas and current news stories, so that they get to know what is being talked about and how it is talked about in the areas that they provide support for.

Even with these efforts, it comes as no surprise that misunderstandings are rife. Our help desk phone number routes through to an office in the USA where it can sometimes be difficult to make yourself understood. For some odd reason, they have trouble understanding my accent! I have been mistaken for German, Australian, and South African, yet I always imagined that I had a pretty standard English accent. I don’t sound like Hugh Grant, but for that matter, nor do many other English people.

Something happened today that brought the language divide home to me. I was less than thirty miles from home, in a village in West Dorset, when I met an old chap whose language was straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel. I stopped and asked for directions, and the gentleman gave me his best advice, but it was nearly unintelligible to me.

I was looking for a house in the village, but like many villages in the area, nobody sees the necessity to have trivial things like street names, house numbers, or names, and you are expected to work things out for yourself.

I asked him where 'The Old Forge' was, and his reply was a classic.

He pointed to where a person was walking unsteadily along a path and said:

"Yer zee waare thicky dinlow is wambling along the grade there? Well, theer’s Old Forge."

For reference, thicky means that or there and the TH sound is pronounced softly as in rhythm, dinlow is an uncomplimentary term, and a wambling is the kind of uncoordinated way that people walk when they are drunk.

And we worry about two nations divided by a common language!

8 comments
stilwell_tom
stilwell_tom

Yes, I help my buddy who is disabled on his computer problems All of the time. He refuses to take a computer course and relys on me to fix his screw ups. I do not mind, it gets me out of the house. But there comes a time when people must upgrade and they do not understand what you are talking about. Frustrating. Tom

Kenone
Kenone

Try it in the 'States' mate. I was trying to find a call site at a small business in Virginia, I'm from NY. Asked at the gas station when filling up, showed the attendant the printed address, "Shure" he drawled "Keepa goin down thata way till ya see Burnett Road, hang a righty there an that roads about halfa mile in on your left" Sounds simple, drove almost an hour, never saw Burnett Road, stopped at another station and asked the attendent there, "Where's Burnett Road?" he sends us back the way we came with the same basic directions reversed. Drive all the way back, see the first gas (petrol) station again but across the way on our side of the road was a different station, pulled in, showed the guy the address and he says, with a "yankee" accent "Yeah shure, go back south here till you see BIRD'S NEST ROAD on the right" and yada yada

Senrats
Senrats

Companies give countries access to their technology and information. These foreign outsourcing companies can use this technology/information to their benefit. This is a huge vulnerability. Check out Ira Winklers "Spies Among Us" for more information. This book really opened my "Security" eyes. http://www.irawinkler.com/ P.S. No, I am not Ira. :)

brent.russell
brent.russell

he needs to be weaned off a bit .. for his own good. Don't always be 'available' so he has to start thinking for himself. What's he going to do if you take a vacation, go sick or move on ?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

ignored long term domestic economic downsides to offshoring and outsourcing. They aren't a commercial security concern as such. That's very simple, they are being done because big corp wants cheap. Cheap means low quality and it's endemic. Even if your model starts out with hiring best of breed from a cheaper labour force, (hey it could happen). In order for the next round of managers to show success, cheap is the driver, so they cut costs. Less and so overworked good people or more`cheaper crap people. Any low tech country that boosts it's economy and gains a trained and experienced tech base isn't doing anything wrong. Using a fool's greed to make a profit, is just good business.... You make a gun, sell it to someone for a tidy profit, don't start honking when they shoot you with it and take the profit back and everything else..... It's just business....

jkameleon
jkameleon

Such companies sacrificed their social capital, their employee morale and loyalty to their SVA and ROI a long time ago. Security dilemma they are facing is about whom to distrust more: - Disgruntled, alienated employees of their own - Maybe a bit less disgruntled offshore folks. For most of them outsourcing still means career advancement, and/or better living standard. Consequently, they are a bit less inclined to monkeywrenching.

LarryD4
LarryD4

Had a co-worker whos husband was the IT Manager for a retail chain. One day we were talking about how her husband wants to start his own consulting business and has a small firm setup back in India mostly for development jobs. A couple of weeks later she is all excited because her husbands consuting firm in India just landed a big contract with the retail company he works for, to provide phone support for their entire chain. When I asked isn't that a conflict of interest? She said that the retail company doesn't know her husband owns the consulting firm. So they leased a warehouse in India hired about 30 people and armed them with the trusty support book script and they started the contract. Six months in to the contract the retail company was receiving so many complaints that the owners flew to India to meet with the consulting company, un-announced. Not only were they shocked to see a dirty warehouse, with people literally in rags answering phones. No one their had a PC or even retail hardware to work with. Then they sat down with who they thought was the owner and discovered documents and information they should never had had from the companies IT office. Thats when they hired some lawyers and investigators and found out what was going on... Its still in litigation and my coworker and her family fled back to India..

DelphiniumEve
DelphiniumEve

My firm has done it. We now call it the "Help-less Desk." The vendor was vetted through our security processes (which are extensive), but firms still see it as saving $$$. It really does not when you add up all the unproductive time users spend on the phone with the twerps. They rarely use the knowledge base. From previous experience, I can also state that the turnover in these offshore locations still creates a security hole. Just as someone finally gets a clue, they leave for greener pastures. There are level 3 people on site, but it takes days for anything to get 'escalated' to local assistance. Ugh.

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