Azure Jane Lunatic (azurelunatic) wrote,
Azure Jane Lunatic

Unpopular opinions: nationalism, tech support, and the global economy

One of the common things to complain about in the computer industry is the fact that large chunks of phone-based tech support are getting outsourced to countries such as India. The usual complaint is, "Since workers over there will work for less money, it's cheaper and companies are wanting to do that, which takes jobs away from workers in the United States."

I am really not thrilled with the argument that takes the form, "Buying things that are made in other countries is not good because it supports the people who work in those countries, and not the people working in our own country," because I think that the premise supporting the argument, the nationalistic premise that it is better to support people in one's own country (usually, the unspoken commentary is that this good outweighs concerns about the quality of their work) rather than people living in a different country. I think that the United States is currently living unsustainably, and I furthermore have gathered the impression that many products made to be marketed at the States are made poorly, with little regard for long-term use, but with much attention paid to the appearance. My sense of fair play is annoyed that poverty-level existence in the United States is unimaginable riches to people in developing countries.

I feel that quality and desirable features of any product or service should be the main decision factor between any two given products. Only if the quality and features are closely comparable should nationalism come in to play. (But then, my nationalism-factor is tied to Alaska specifically, not the United States as a whole. I do tend to choose items made in Alaska over those not, when quality is equivalent.)

All that being said, I have problems with the quality of service of tech support when language barrier becomes a factor. Phone-based tech support, especially between a technical person on the tech support end of the line, and a non-technical person on the problem's end of the line, is an environment where nuance in language, and the ability to explain things in multiple and flexible ways, is extremely important. There are a lot of times when people who speak English as a second language have the understanding and vocabulary to operate perfectly normally in a day-to-day English-speaking environment, but simply do not have the vocabulary and bone-deep understanding of nuance to understand what the person on the other end of the line means, versus what they're saying. Tech support is a lot of "You should tell me about what I mean, not what I say," things, usually with a further communications barrier between people who speak the commonly accepted technical jargon and those who don't, and especially between those who speak the commonly accepted technical jargon and those who have created a whole new private language that they, and perhaps parts of their office, speak (but isn't the correct technical jargon).

When I spoke with Dell's new, outsourced, very articulate but still ESL tech support, we had about five minutes of dancing around trying to get the terminology straight and figuring out what the hell we were talking about -- and in this case, I was the trained professional, and I knew the names of the parts and generally how to diagnose what was wrong with the system; I was calling tech support as a formality to make sure that they knew that I knew what was wrong, and to see if they had any super-expert advice beyond "replace the faulty piece". The poor fellow on the other end used the wrong word for the part several times -- not something Joe End-User would notice, but something that I noticed. It's a nuance thing.

So while I feel that tech support is not a thing that should be outsourced, it's for different reasons than many of the people arguing that position.

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