On outsourcers

Or don’t be an asshole just because the person on the other line is from a foreign country. 

It’s no secret a significant amount of the Information Technology industry is involved in outsourcing. I work for a multinational IT service provider since CEGEP*. I’ve experienced the transition from on shore support teams to offshore teams firsthand. I will not mince words. The morale in our team was abysmal. Besides the fear for our own job security, the future of the industry, departure of esteemed colleagues, it was the challenges of dealing with foreigners who did not share the same expertise, familiarity nor experience of those they were ultimately replacing which exacted some of the biggest tolls on our psyche.

It’s very easy to externalize our own concerns onto others. There was plenty of resentment misdirected towards individuals who were only culpable of wanting to find employment in hopes of improving their lot in life. One such instance involved an incident where the departing member neglected to instruct his offshore replacements on the proper re-initialization sequence for an application. After six difficult hours, we finally turned to the former disgruntled employee to secure his assistance. I took it upon myself to call the individual. After explaining the situation, he laughed at me and hung up. We finally resolved the incident after another hour of trial and error once we found a project team lead who once deployed a code fix to the server some four years prior. During the incident, the client asked me aloud: “How can you remain so calm in a situation like this?” To defuse the situation, my response was: “you can’t hear me when I mute my phone”. 🙂

As all transitions, there is a grace period. Perhaps my perception is skewed for I only entered the workforce in the late 90s. I sense North American culture has become very short-sighted in the last decade. Corporate success is not only measured in profitability but also requires constant and significant growth every quarter otherwise stock value suffers. The demands to be competitive in the current climate compel and force many companies to view outsourcing as one of the few avenues to cut costs in order to increase profits and thus stock value. Executive compensation often involve significant stock options which further exacerbates the issue.

Several developing countries made a conscious decision to modernize their economy to improve the welfare of their population. Their strategy involved legislation and policy changes to improve education, in this case in the field of computer science, to attract foreign jobs and investments. They adapted to the changing global economy and many are reaping the benefits. In turn, there has been some backlash from some “first world” countries against the trend where customers and clients pride themselves on remaining on home soil. Some countries offer tax credits to keep staff in-house. Another technique is to move call and data centers to less urban areas to reduce real estate related costs.

Whenever I hear friends or acquaintances complain about foreign customer service, I recommend taking a deep breath and remembering there’s another human being on the other end; a person with dreams, their own personal challenges and most importantly feelings. Be considerate and if they truly give you a hard time or poor service, just escalate to their manager or supervisor. It will do wonders for your blood pressure.

* For those of you who reside outside of Quebec, CEGEP replaces 12th grade and is a precursor to University studies.

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