If you thought outsourcing was just for purchasing geeks, now appearing in your living room….

I couldn’t resist making a few comments about the new show on NBC, “Outsourced” which aired last week. For those of you who haven’t heard of it or seen it, the show is about a call center in the U.S. being outsourced to India. If you think about it, do you know of any Americans who are neutral about jobs being outsourced? Do you know of anyone who is not emotional about the subject?  Outsourcing of American jobs is a sore point. And many of us have had first-hand experience calling customer service and realizing that the rep at the other end was on the other side of the globe. The thought enrages many people, who have been known to get so angry about an outsourced call center that someone wrote an article, “I made an Indian girl cry, and you can do it too.” It provides instructions on how to be so rude to call center employees that they quit. The idea is that if enough of them quit, the jobs will come back to the U.S.

So when I saw that there’s an actual show on NBC about an outsourced call center, I wondered whether it will be a hit or cause anger, outrage, and be quickly canceled.  (The show’s staying power remains to be seen).  The premise is that a manager comes back from management training to find his office empty and workers gone. He is told that the call center had been outsourced to India and that if he wants to keep his own job, he’ll have to move to India to train the new call center manager over there. If outsourcing had a bad name to most Americans before, this show won’t help its image, even with its many funny moments and disturbingly realistic details which are more “funny peculiar” than “funny ha-ha”.

While I was driving I heard the NPR show “Here and Now” where journalist Emily Yellin, author of the book, “Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us: Customer Service and What It Reveals About Our World and Our Lives” was being interviewed.

According to Yellin, we make 43 billion customer service calls a year. Despite outsourcing and a prolonged a lapse where we seem to have been from taken from “the customer is always right” mantra back to the era of Lily Tomlin as belligerent customer service rep, customer service is a growing industry in the U.S. Businesses are realizing again, that companies need to get customer service right. In addition to rising labor costs in India and other low-cost countries which have made them less advantageous financially, companies are finding that good customer service is a competitive weapon. Poorly considered and poorly done outsourcing to save on labor costs in the end may not save, besides enraging and alienating customers. Apparently some customers have been angry enough to produce videos against the offending company, like the 5 Stages of Comcast , a public relations nightmare. And there are websites for many major companies that have the company’s name followed by “sucks”, which provide outlets for angry customers.

So while outsourcing is done to save labor costs – and not just in the area of call centers – it needs be carefully considered and well-executed. Or it will produce short-term cost savings and longer term loss of business through the exodus of valuable customers.

Sherry R. Gordon

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