Outsourced Customer Support Must Be Understandable & Competent

Yesterday, I called AT&T Wireless to get the unlock code for my Blackberry. I have fulfilled my two-year contract obligations, and was eligible to have my phone unlocked. Unfortunately, (i) the customer support person spoke very poor English (I am especially sensitive to things like this, because English is not my own native language, but I do not expect them to understand my Russian, and do speak English), and (ii) when they have finally figured out that I am indeed eligible to receive my unlock code, and gave it to me, they were absolutely incompetent in helping me understand what exactly I should do with the code (how, and where to enter it to unlock the Blackberry).

Immediately after hanging up the phone, I posted this Facebook (and Twitter):

AT&T Wireless customer support problem

Karen’s tweet that I’ve referred to was this one:

Tweet about customer service

While I really do not care whether they are American or not, what I do care about (and I believe every customer does too) is that customer support (a) understands questions/problems, and speaks understandable language back, and (b) is competent in the area they are providing the support in. Nothing undermines a business’ reputation more than a lack of competence and professionalism.

While there are great reasons for outsourcing your customer support, is it really worth in situations where their English is not proficient enough to provide the support?

I also couldn’t help but remember one particular area I’ve researched for my Online Shopping Through Consumers’ Eyes book. Question #44 in the book asked (note the component of satisfactory outcome, which wasn’t present in my above-quoted case):

If it is obvious that the phone support operator’s first language is not English, do you view it as a disadvantage (provided you receive replies to your questions)? (p 66)

Here was how the donut chart looked based on the votes by the survey respondents:

Non-native language customer support

…and I concluded:

The above also applies to non native-speaking call center personnel located within North America. I cannot help but recall phone calls I have received in the past from companies and banks with world-known names, not understanding half of the English words the other party was saying. It brings your company’s reputation down. It makes me want to drop that line! If you care about your business, hire English-speaking personnel to speak with English-speaking clients, Russian-speaking operators to speak with Russian-speaking clients, and so on…

It’s all about professionalism and respect, isn’t it?

If you do decide to outsource your customer support, and care about the reputation of your business, make sure they speak the language, and receive adequate training to provide real support.

2 thoughts on “Outsourced Customer Support Must Be Understandable & Competent”

  1. This is a very touchy topic, and I agree with you 100%, Geno.

    I remember calling in for support to a very well known computer supplier and I was going around in verbal circles with their support.

    I could not understand them, they could not understand me … it was a nightmare.

    Fortunately, we would not think of outsourcing our support, and we have many thankful customers who are elated that they can talk to someone who they can understand perfectly.

    A company should not shoot itself in the foot in this manner, and I am very glad we do not.

    And as you know, when someone signs up for in account, they get a direct call from one of our solutions members as well as something via *postal* mail.

    I think is something that really goes a very long way with your customers.

    It’s all about respect!

  2. That’s the way to do it, Ron. AWeber is certainly an exemplary company in this respect.

    Just to be clear I want to point out that I believe there are ways of outsourcing a company’s support without compromising the quality of the support provided. It’s all about careful selection of who you partner with, and, of course, training.

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