This post was originally going to be a comment in reply to a Livejournal post from an old friend, but it started to grow, so I moved it here.
Today is the two year anniversary of my last day working at Convergys. Yes, the call-center borg from hell. I worked there from June of 1999 to August of 2004. I’m not supposed to reveal the name of the client whose networking products I was supporting. Let’s just say that it is the last five letters of the city with the Golden Gate bridge.
When I had been there for about two years, they placed me in a technical lead position. This job was created in order to improve the efficiency of all agents and decrease the number of cases escalated up to the nameless networking company’s own internal staff.
Those of you familiar with how a technical support call center works will know that certain people immerse themselves into the technology and become, on some level, subject matter experts. Everyone else on the team will take their tough cases to that person and ask for their help, and will usually get the answers they need. What Convergys did was to hand-pick one or two of those people for each team and dedicate them to teaching the rest of the team and handling nasty escalations in-house. They were making a gamble – take the best people off the phones, pay them ten percent more, and hopefully the overall productivity of the call center will increase. The gamble worked.
Like most of the other technical leads, I was the top case closer on my team, and near the top for the entire call floor before the promotion. Afterwards, my case load dropped to near zero, but I was almost as busy with my new job.
In 2003, the company sent me to the post office to get a passport. They then mailed my passport off to get a business visa. In October of that year, I got on a series of airplanes. I was armed with my passport, prescriptions for Malarone and Cipro, my laptop, a whole lot of mosquito repellent. Earlier in the year, Convergys had decided to outsource most of the case load to India. I spent two weeks there acting as a local technical lead during and immediately after their training.
Here is a picture of me with the entire team. I’m the third head from the left in the picture below. The head immediately to my left was the manager at the nameless company in charge of all Convergys outsourcing for technical support. From our point of view, a serious bigwig. The guy in the middle with the white shirt was the trainer flown in by the nameless company to train the team. He was my counterpart on the escalation team. You can see the nameless company’s logo on his shirt, especially if you click on the picture and then the link for the full size image.
Everyone else in the picture was a local Convergys employee. The guy on the very left was the team manager, and the guy on the very right is Luv Mason, who lends his name to the post title. I never did find out whether that was his actual name, or whether he adopted that because his real name was far too difficult to pronounce.
The guys on the team were polite, intelligent, and worked very hard. They are very well educated, and thanks to a length British influence in Indian history, very fluent in their own brand of English. The thing is, they weren’t effective at solving cases. They use idioms that make no sense to Americans. Despite weeks of “Accent Training” most of them as hard to understand as an untrained person.
Beyond the language barrier, there are also problems with their understanding of the technology and their ability to troubleshoot. I’ve been told that the Indian mind is excellent at following complex and precise instructions over and over. It can be as complex and intricate as you like, as long as you can break it down into an extremely well-defined script, they have no problem with it. I was also told that whenever gut instinct, leaps of logic, or intuition are required, their minds just aren’t up to it. What I’ve seen supports this theory.
Unfortunately, troubleshooting network problems can’t really be broken down into precise steps. Every situation is different, especially when you are dealing with a product that can be configured in thousands of different ways. Even when there are no problems, finding the correct configuration can’t be scripted, as it depends on so many other factors.
Shortly after I left Convergys for greener pastures, they started hiring back most of the people they had laid off during the push to India. Apparently the teams in India are still there, but can only handle the easiest cases, so they are re-hiring the expertise here in Utah. In my opinion, offshoring to places where the people cannot be understood by the average American is a bad idea.
For the record, I enjoyed my time in India. I got to see the Taj Mahal and a few other interesting things while I was there. I would like to go back sometime with my wife, in addition to a thousand other places all over the world that I have never seen.
This post turned out a lot more disjointed than I had hoped … but I think I’ve done the best I can tonight.