Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Language Soapbox

Please forgive me for using my blog to get on a soapbox today, but if I do not I am going to explode with frustration.

The forth coming comments having nothing to do with the current immigration debate or any racial or cultural bias. It has everything to do with common sense, business sense, and putting your customer first.

If you are going to develop and sell a complicated software product, and you are going to market that product almost exclusively to an English speaking nation, and your business is incorporated in that same English speaking nation, I firmly believe you should ensure that your customer support network strictly adhere to the following policy:

1. Personnel must be able to speak and understand English fluently.
2. Personnel must be able to read and write in the English language at least at a high school level.
3. Personnel must not assume they understand the customer's problem or a have solution before the customer is finished with a sentence.

Furthermore, I do not believe that I am being an arrogant American when I say that I should not have to be fluent in Indian or any other accent or language when buying a complicated software product developed and sold by an American company.

I don't want to be rude to other cultures that I enjoy and appreciate, but when I cannot communicate with anyone over a period of days involving online chat, emails, and telephone calls, who has even the most rudimentary ability to communicate in English, I get very frustrated and angry.

Say what you will, but I feel reasonable in my expectations of the products I purchased. If I were in India and bought an Indian product, I would not expect the company support staff to handle English well. I would assume that I have to find a way to converse with them in their language.

Excuse me now as I must go and dispose of all the hair I have pulled out.


JMG said...

My dad complains about the very same thing. Unfortunately, it is cheaper for American companies to outsource their call centers to places like India, Singapore, and the Philappines. I did hear a news story a few days ago, however, that said that several companies are bringing their call centers back to the United States because so many people have complained.

Justin said...

The thing is, tech support for most of these companies is free. The reason its free is because its outsourced to india, the phillipines, thailand, etc. There are plenty of computer repair shops in nashville that can help you for a small fare.

Macs, while more expensive, have better customer service. Its market economics at its simplest. If you wanna buy a cheaper computer, you can't demand the best free tech service. They cut out much of the cost of tech service that would normally be included in the price of your computer because the tech service sucks.

Not being mean, just saying. Nothing is free.

Tony Arnold said...

Justin, I understand and appreciate your points but they do not apply in this case.

The problem was with a software product, not computer repair. The product is not something just for fun, but a professional tool. The problem is a bug in the software, not a use issue. The problem was extremely complex which required expert knowledge of the product and the code itself. The problem was with the upgrade I just purchased and thus under warranty. Shame on the business professionals who did not factor in all their costs when pricing their product.

I doubt there is a 3rd party in Nashville who knows the actual code and algorithms of this particular software (I don't know of one as a life-long resident). This software was proprietary and involves many patents of algorithms.

This last statement is a large part of the problem of outsourcing support to 3rd party vendors, especially to another country. For complicated, intellectual property protected products, the companies are never going to provide enough information to the outsource vendor to truly understand the product to the level of acceptable support. The outsource vendors can typically only handle the surface, easy, and operator error problems (which tend to be the most numerous in their defense). Once the problem evolves past that point, the support system breaks down. This breakdown is widely known and complained about among professionals in the engineering, technical, and IT community.

It is so widely complained about that JMG is correct, many companies are bringing support back in-house. There is no greater cost to a business than lost business.

Just for everyone's clarification, my comments were made in the context of being a 20 year electrical engineering and software development professional and also a business manager with an MBA. I was not just complaining about a problem I was having with my PC or with a bug in the new computer game I just bought.

I hope that didn't read as a harsh response Justin, just trying to clarify the context of my rant.

Jenni said...


Justin said...

gotcha... I was just making sure it wasn't a protectionist rant tony.

I can't stand people that don't like outsourcing just because the people that are helping them aren't americans. Outsourcing, despite popular protectionist belief, actually helps american businesses in many ways. If for no other reason, the cheaper labor over seas helps make our products competitive globally. Besides that, it allows people who otherwise would have no job work for wages that will help them get out of poverty.

I do apologize though Tony. I just hear so much from the uneducated on the subject, so I jumped to conclusions. I understand your frustration though, I've had my share of tech problems, and at that point, I would have been fully willing to pay money for someone to fix my computer. But it wasn't cost effective to do that, so I saved and bought a Mac.

Tony Arnold said...

No problem Justin. I am not against outsourcing. As a former engineering manager, I managed several outsource vendors (none overseas however).

I don't care where a company outsources their support as long as the vendor has enough information and qualifications to service the customers effectively, and language of your customer base is a huge part of that service. If you fail to meet the customer's need they will move to a competitor even if the price is higher.

Perfect example, you moving to MAC. I truly understand that choice.


JMG said...

I am a firm believer that effective communication is key to getting along in this world. When one party in a conversation cannot communicate an idea effectively to his or her listeners, chaos ensues and nothing is accomplished.

The problem you describe, Tony, is one that is becoming more and more unavoidable. Even when companies staff their call centers with English speakers for English speaking clients, the strong possibility exists that you'll be connected to an ineffective communicator.

It's really sad to say, but some of the college students I teach should never have passed sixth grade English. I do what I can with them in the thirteen weeks I have them, but I fear that the American business environment is becoming innundated with English-speaking Americans who can't put together a complete sentence.

Tony Arnold said...

Amen JMG, Amen!!!

I have been dismayed for a long time of the trend in our school systems to spend more and more time on social issues, teaching tolerance, trying to teach how to relate to each other, etc. while spending less and less time on the basics of reading and writing effectively.

How ludicrious to stress to young people the need to relate and understand each other, but consistently deprive them of the tools necessary to do so.

I firmly believe that much of the anger and frustration--the angst-- of young people expressed in words, song, expression and clothing is really their frustration boiling over of not knowing how to effectively convey their viewpoint or their emotions to others.

Child psychologists clearly understand that many times a babies crying or a child's tantrum is not about emotion or anger, but the inability to communicate their need at their young age.

This is not different for adolescents or adults. It is just that the frustration is expressed in ways that have greater negative consequences.

Malia said...

You really should stop pulling your hair out. You'll need what you have left for when you get "older" and you don't have as much left as you do now. ;)

Oh, and I totally agree with you.

JMG said...

Tony, it's funny that you mentioned small children's frustration. My cousin started taking her baby girl to sign language classes when she was just a few months old, and it really made it easier for the baby to let her parents know what she needed/wanted. Now she's about 2 1/2 and she speaks in complete sentences.

Tony Arnold said...

Ha Ha Malia. Actually my hair is not one of the things I am losing. Baldness is on neither side of my family.

Patience and my marbles, those I tend to be losing.


Tony Arnold said...

JMG, the sign language for babies is have tremendous postive results from what I have read.

Anything that helps people communicate more effectively earlier in life has to be a positive.

Purgatory Penman said...

The Mother of Purgatory Penman says:

Tony, you are onto one of my favorite rants. It is only okay to outsource jobs when there are no U.S. citizens who have the skills to do those jobs, or there are none who want the jobs. Although our work force is very short on technical skills, with appropriate incentive, they would improve.

I believe that most of us would be willing to pay a bit more for our computers and equipment in order to get tech support that could truly help us. I once spent 6 hours on the phone (over an eight hour stretch) trying to correct a problem. It took twice as long as it should have because the assistant's proficiency at English was rudimentary at best. Additionally, his accent was so bad that the English he knew was not understandable.

No, our students don't know how to speak or write English correctly. However, I do not believe it is the fault of teachers or the public school systems. The families (and society in general, I suppose)are failing to teach their young children the importance of English mastery. Few young people today want to learn anything that is difficult and requires them to give time and effort to the process. Learning correct English is hard-- especially if one has not picked it up at home during the first 6 years of life and has no encouragement from parents to work for it at school.

Hopefully, our complaints will convince more major companies to bring their support facilities back home.

Thank you all for educating me on the validity of teaching babies sign language. I did not understand when my son and daughter-in-law enrolled their baby in a sign language class.

On another vein, many of you wrote in your posts a few weeks ago that you were going to write to Purgatory Penman. Since he has not received any correspondence from anyone, he has begun to suspect that the Florida DOC is keeping his mail from him.

Tony Arnold said...

I did mail him a letter and it has not been returned by the prison, yet.

jettybetty said...

This is one of my current rants--for so many reasons.

I recently called a customer service center for student loans and never got an explanation of what was going on. I could not understand the *english* they were speaking (accent was horrible) and they could not understand me. I had the call escalated 3 times--and finally asked where they were. They were in Jamaica. When I asked to be transferred to headquarters in the US (after about 1:45 hours on the phone)--the person in Utica, NY took care of my problem in less than 5 minutes! Is is good customer service to get your customers so frustrated?

Then, my REAL issue with all of this is my own office--we are under scope--and I suppose will all loose our jobs so that someone in the Phillipines can do our jobs. Is it really cheaper when the people you are trying to help are totally frustrated??

I hope my company reads the reports JMG mentions!