The FT Word – January 2003

By Technical Support

The FT Word

The FT Word is a free monthly newsletter with support management tips. To subscribe, send us email with your email address. The subscription list is absolutely confidential; we never sell, rent, or give information about our subscribers. Here’s a sample.


Welcome to the January 2003 issue of the FT Word. Happy New Year! Did you make New Year resolutions? Mine is to improve this newsletter. You can help me by

·         letting me know what topics you would like to be covered

·         sending me your ideas for making it more readable

·         passing it on to colleagues so they too can have a chance to keep up with the wonderful world of support

Thank you for your help. On to this month’s issue. We’ll talk about:

·         offshore outsourcing: should you try it and how to do it right? are you comfortable? a quick ergonomic survey

·         are you comfortable? a quick ergonomic survey

·         the latest FT Works booklet about outsourcing

Offshore Outsourcing

It used to be that outsourcing was for the easy stuff (customer service, tech support for simple products) and was done in large support centers located in low-cost areas of the country. With the advent of easier communications and the availability of highly technical staff at very affordable rates in far-away countries, outsourcing is expanding rapidly, fueled by the attraction of major savings.

Is offshore outsourcing something you should try? Maybe. The rules of outsourcing don’t change with the location so the availability of low-cost, high-tech outsourcing will not help you if

·      you consider support to be a strategic function

·      your support volume is very small

·      your processes for deploying new products are weak

·      you hope to find an outsourcing partner that will take over everything with no effort required on your part

If you’re a candidate for offshore outsourcing, what should you do differently from a local arrangement? Start by following all the general rules for successful outsourcing:

·      create a requirements list

·      make sure that the outsourcer has experience supporting products of similar complexity, with similar volume

·      check references thoroughly

·      include performance criteria in the contract and tie compensation to meeting the targets

·      assign a vendor manager both for implementation and the long-term

But offshore outsourcing does require more care in certain areas. In particular

·      Check and double-check the basic infrastructure including power supply and phone connections. What we take for granted in the US may not be reliably available overseas. Some offshore centers maintain their own generators as backups, for instance.

·      Think about time zone differences. India is a popular locale for support outsourcing but its daytime hours match nighttime hours for the West Coast of the US. Will the outsourcer be able to retain good-quality agents for your daytime needs? How will you communicate with the outsourcer in real time? Note that this is much less of an issue for the successful outsourcing of engineering projects.

·      Check the agents’ communication skills. Even in countries where people speak English as their primary language, heavy accents and different concepts of standard English can create problems for customers. Check with references or use a mystery shopper approach.

·      Bridge the cultural gap. Beyond accents, the ability to sustain small talk and to meet delivery expectations with US-based customers can be a challenge when the culture is different. A good soft skills training program is a must.

·      Consider political stability. While there are no guarantees that a particular country will never suffer internal unrest or  become closed off to foreign investment, be careful with countries that do not have a good track record.

·      Think through the communication challenge. Test the effectiveness of phone and electronic communications during the evaluation process since onsite visits will be very difficult to arrange on a regular or emergency basis.

Even if you are convinced that offshore outsourcing is the right solution for you, include at least one US-based candidate in the evaluation. It will help you decide whether the tradeoffs are worth it.

Will offshore outsourcing replace many US-based support centers in the coming years? Many support centers that handle a large volume of routine (known) issues are candidates for outsourcing, all the more so if they are not managed tightly so that large savings can be realized through outsourcing. So far, I can’t see mission-critical clients being successful outsourced overseas or at all, and even successful arrangements dictate that the more complex cases (about 10% in high-complexity settings) be handled at the ranch. So my prediction is that the high-end work will remain right here for the foreseeable future. What do you think?

Are you Comfortable?

Time for a quick ergonomic review. You might as well feel good while you’re working, and poor positioning of your computer and chair can cause serious long-term problems, especially if you type a lot. Make 5 quick checks.

·          Is your chair height such that both feet are flat on the ground, with your legs at a 90-degree angle? If you’re short, a foot rest can help you get your feet grounded while the chair is high enough to achieve points #2-4.

·          Is your keyboard level with your elbows? This means that the table or tray supporting the keyboard should be 1 inch (2.5 cm) lower than your elbows. If your hands have to reach up to your keyboard you’re pretty much guaranteed carpal pain after a few hours’ typing: scary, uncomfortable, and dangerous over the long run.

·          Is your mouse level with the keyboard? This is a problem if you use a keyboard tray that doesn’t have room for the mouse.

·          Is the top of your monitor level with your eyes? If you wear bifocals, aim for a bit lower since you read with the bottom part of the lenses. If you use a desktop system, you can prop up the monitor with a stand or a book. If you use a laptop, as I do, it’s pretty much impossible to get the keyboard and the monitor at the right heights. I’ve found that as long as the keyboard is at the right height I can pivot the screen to a good angle to type comfortably for hours even though it’s too low per this definition.

·          Finally, are you taking quick breaks throughout the day to stretch your fingers, hands, and arms? Support managers have it easier than they staff because they multitask more but if you find yourself typing for a long time stop for a couple minutes every hour. Pass this on to others around you. A lot of hard workers neglect ergonomics and they pay with a lot of unwarranted pain.

Successful Outsourcing – NEW

The latest FT Works booklet is Successful Outsourcing, everything you need to make a successful outsourcing decision and to manage the relationship once the decision is made. It includes checklists for what to look for during the selection process, when checking references, and to get to a smooth go-live date. 19 pages of solid recommendations for $40. See a description and order information here.

Best Practices for Quality Monitoring was released last month. It’s a simple, yet complete blueprint to implement a successful quality monitoring program Also $40.

FT Works in the News


SupportWeek published an article I wrote entitled 7 Truths About Outsourcing, a primer for outsourcing candidates (it’s outsourcing month at FT Works). You can read it at

I will be teaching a new class on selecting and implementing CRM systems on Tuesday, February 12th. The class is sponsored by San Jose State University and a description can be found at

My latest book, Just Enough CRM, will be published this month by Prentice Hall. Look for a complete description here very soon. If you’d like to reserve a copy, please send mail to The price will be $45 (add $10 shipping for overseas orders.).

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
650 559 9826

About FT Works

FT Works helps technology companies create and improve their support operations. Areas of expertise include designing support offerings, creating hiring plans to recruit the right people quickly, training support staff to deliver effective support, defining and implementing support processes, selecting support tools, designing effective metrics, and support center audits. See more details at

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