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Russell Shaw Headshot

Mr. Outsourcing CEO, You're Evil

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I originally posted this a few days ago on tech site ZDNet, where I write a blog about converging technology.

But this is more than about technology. It is about the publicly traded millinery that has choked the life out of a Massachusetts or South Carolina town by shipping jobs to Mexico or south Asia, an automotive plant that is closing because parts can be made cheaper overseas. It is about CEOs and their Board of Directors who care more about what portfolio managers at 10 investment trusts - full of excess money pumped in by developers and rich doctors -care about rather than what 100, 1,000, 10,000 families do.

"Benedict Arnold CEos," John Kerry called them. "Exporting America," is the term the heroic Lou Dobbs uses.

Now, let me pick up with my ZDNet post, which I've slightly altered here for more general topic relevance as well as a bit of added thinking since I first wrote it.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Mike McPhate recently spent time in Nodia, India, talking with some SBC call-center workers outside the office where they help North Americans with Web connection tech issues.

Several workers McPhate talked with related horror stories of the name-calling and insults several North American callers had thrown their way after they heard an Indian accent. The worst sort of jingoistic, sexual, racial insults- even before the worker had a chance to respond.

First, a caveat. Prejudice is contemptible and inexcusable in all its forms. If you have the slightest bit of racial, ethnic, religious or social prejudice, I don't like you.

But I have been sitting here trying to comprehend why a frustrated tech user in the U.S. would dump on someone with an accent even before they have a chance to try and help the caller solve their problem.

The fact that such rude behavior is always inexcusable doesn't mean it is not understandable.

People who call tech support are more often on edge than they are in touch with their better selves. They are paying $49.99 a month for this service, or have paid $1,500 for this box with circuits that aren't working.

Can't blame them for wanting answers, and wanting them yesterday. Often, there are key applications that can't be performed.

But I am sorry. I hate tech-support outsourcing. To me, every time I read about a company closing down a North American call center and shipping those jobs overseas to India, the Philippines, Russia, Ireland, or even Canada, I think this to myself:

Here's a company whose product I have paid a considerable chunk of change for, but one whose Board cares more about their stock price than their customers. And if they can boost the stock price a few extra points by offshoring their tech support to a country and third-party provider, they can't do this fast enough.

I do understand that for outsourcers, part of the issue here is the understandable urge to save on health-care costs. Yet it is a fact that few corporations, or their executives, frequently support the type of U.S. Presidential or Congressional candidate that would rein in health care costs by enacting price controls on big pharma. So when these same execs complain that they have to run offshore because of high health care costs, they need to look at who they have supported in recent elections.

Some may blame this high cost of U.S. labor on unions. While they are not totally without fault, many of their wage and benefit demands are simply necessary reactions to the runaway cost of health care.

And what of the customers that outsourced tech support is supposed to help? "I resent the decision to out-source my problems. The company which sold me a product has decided to follow a policy of lowering costs when the subject is my getting the intended use of the product I bought," one ZdNet reader wrote in reaction to my post. "Customer satisfaction has obviously been devalued."

There are other issues why I despise tech support outsourcing and offshoring. When tech support is just down the hall or across the office park away from the programmers or from r&d, and they sometimes run into each other in the employee cafeteria,those tech support workers can learn about solutions in development that once released, will address some of the issues those aggrieved callers are asking about.

You don't get that if your office is in Round Rock, Tex. (Dell), Mountain View, Cal. or Atlanta, and your tech support is in Nodia, or Bangalore, or Hyderabad. Or Winnipeg, for that matter (where much of Comcast's tech support is based).

There's also a business ethics case that is in play here. I've seen what happens to communities when tech support centers are closed and that work is shipped overseas. Hundreds are out of work. It is plain to me that tech-support outsourcing has terrorized more families than Al-Queda ever has. For these companies to screw Americans while displaying flag decals on their trucks is the height of hypocrisy for me.

So listen, you technology company CEOs. You are charged with unlocking shareholder value. But I, for one, don't give a shittake mushroom if your stock trades at $61 a share rather than $58 a share because you have economized on your payroll due to tech-support outsourcing.

Yes, you might be carrying out your fiduciary duty, Mr. or Ms. CEO, but you are hurting America and Americans. If I were a Congressperson, I would introduce a bill that would - barring the most extraordinary circumstances,debar ALL outsourcing and offshoring American companies from Federal contracts.

To hell with your stock price, Mr. Outsourcing CEO. When your actions cause Americans to go hungry, you err on the side of evil.