Gartner Warns about Problems in Outsourcing Help Desk
As any IT analyst will tell you, help desk outsourcing has been one of the
biggest areas of growth in a red-hot offshore outsourcing segment. But not so
fast, Gartner warns: Several help desk outsourcers may be rushing things.
Before outsourcing their help desks -- much less sending them offshore -- organizations
need to consider a number of intangibles (or only partial tangibles) that could
adversely affect the outcome of outsourcing.
"Although offshoring an IT help desk may produce significant cost savings,
IT management needs to determine whether that decision is right for the enterprise,"
said Richard Matlus, research vice president for Gartner, in a statement. For
example, Matlus said, organizations should consider that the help desk, for
better or worse, has an indisputable customer service function.
"For most IT organizations, the help desk is the primary end user-facing
organization, so if end users are not satisfied with it, then it will have a
negative effect on the IT organization," he said.
For this and other reasons, Gartner noted, offshore help desk efforts frequently
encounter problems. One significant problem they found boils down to the issue
of client knowledge. Company employees charged with supporting a help desk typically
have a better understanding of their idiosyncratic business environments. They
also have access to internal communications that help guide or shape their understandings
of end user requirements, according to Gartner.
"When the help desk is outsourced, the service provider tries to capture
the information into a knowledge database, but the information is not always
kept up-to-date or easily understood," Gartner said.
A bigger problem is turnover. According to a recent Gartner outsourcing survey,
the worldwide attrition rate for all IT services is about 14.7 percent. The
offshore attrition rate, on the other hand, was nearly half-again as big, at
22.1 percent. The reason, Gartner said, is that help desk support jobs are prevalent
in India and other offshore locales, resulting in a high turnover rate as technologists
leave a help desk position at one outsourcing services provider to take another
position, at another company, for an incremental increase in salary.
Not surprisingly, cultural differences can pose significant difficulties in
any outsourcing arrangement. According to Gartner's survey, for example, help
desks do not always properly interpret customer (i.e., end user) complaints.
"[A] client employee may have a problem on a PC and want to know how to
fix it. Instead of explaining how to fix the problem, the offshore agent may
take control of the employee's PC and change the image without explaining how
this was accomplished because the agent doesn't want to insult the client,"
Gartner explained. "[T]he client employee may be dissatisfied because he
or she doesn't learn what was wrong or how to fix the problem, resulting in
a need to call the help desk again in the future."
There can be language and dialect difficulties, too. India-based support agents
are typically conversant in U.K.-flavored English, which can result in confusion
when they're interacting with end users in the U.S. Support agents might use
British expressions (or simply speak more formally), which can confuse, intimidate
or put off users.
"[W]hen a help desk problem is sent via e-mail or on a Web chat site,
this language problem is not a factor, and customer satisfaction is positive,"
the report said.
Gartner said organizations should view help desk outsourcing as a kind of work-in-progress.
"Although quality in the first year of offshoring is likely to be poorer
than domestic help desk solutions, if an enterprise can be patient, quality
and customer satisfaction can reach acceptable levels that are on par with domestic
service," said Maltus. "This occurs more rapidly with global clients
that have a multinational presence. If a client has perseverance and end users
are tolerant, then an offshore help desk can be successful."
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.