It was the fifth call. I didn’t get it – what was it “they” didn’t get? The question burned in my mind after an unusually unpleasant interaction with yet another outsourced call center – this one for my Quicken Business software.

But it was a Sunday, I had some free time, and I was up to the challenge. I was determined to find their Achilles heal and by God actually get some Help out of Intuit’s Help Desk.

Before going there it would help to understand why I am such a masochist. Half my family of origin became psychologist, the other half engineers. As such, at an early age I knew you could neither think a feeling nor feel a thought. A psychopath could no more understand love than a blind person understand blue. Yet time and time again companies go cerebral and ignore the obvious cultural/emotional ramifications. On paper outsourcing support makes sense, but experience tells us that such a move is about as anti-Web 2.0 as you can get. Sure you get the viral marketing – of the worse kind. Plus the communication barriers prevent any consciousness despite ticket stats and customer surveys. The result is a oblivious company that thinks the world of itself that is systematically alienating its clientele.

Anyway I thought about the interaction and in short order figured out that Intuit has placed a call center in a culture that had no ability to:
1) Take ownership of “the” root issue
2) Admit: Gee, I don’t know.
3) Say: Let me get some help

Further the more you beat them up, the more courteous they became. When I threatened to copy the chat session to my blog, “Bob” the foreign counterpart cheerfully gave me the commands to do so. It was clear that “Bob” thought respect was compliance. Hell would freeze over before he did anything meaningful, much less fix my problem.

After some trial and error calls I found the magic protocol. By simply performing the following steps 40 times, I could force the Help Desk to Help, despite themselves:
1) Open an online chat session with the Quicken Help Desk
2) Ask the same question 3 times and wait for their cookie cutter answers. (I had gotten the three page whitepaper they were using to answer all questions on the error I had. As far as I could tell Level 1 ran me through the white paper top to bottom.)
3) After the third step failed, I would ask to escalate the issue.
4) They will either answer the original question a 4th time or plead with you not to escalate. That is when you state clearly: “So you are refusing to escalate the issue?”
5) Since culturally the only thing that scares them more than authority is to actually own a problem for the customer. You will be immediately transferred to another Outsourced Call center. Since they are second level, though they have the same sheet of answers, they will be cocky. Via email they will randomly pick one answer, assume their answer is correct, and promptly close the ticket. They will with very warm regards (ew) ask you to reopen the ticket if they are wrong, but of course there is no reference or link to any sort of ticket number.
6) Now this is the key step. When you receive the customer survey, score all “1s” and cut and paste some large rant from a web site. Doesn’t have to do anything with Quicken as whatever you write will never be read.

I performed this protocol 40 times on a Sunday. Monday morning bright and early I got a call from the head of support based somewhere in California. The conversation went something like this –
“You tanked my stats for the week! What the &^%$ do you want?” said Mr. X
“Did you know the remote procedure calls are not running? According to AT&T, your data center is unreachable. So pretty much no one in Texas can use Quicken to synchronize with their bank. I thought you may want to fix that. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
After a bit of time… “OMG. You’re right!” Much gnashing of teeth and screaming on the other end of the line to some poor underlings just entering the workplace to start their week.
Not being able to prevent myself from beating a dead horse, I have to ask – “One question for you. Why would you place a support center in a culture that cannot say 1) ‘I don’t know’ or 2) ‘let me get some help’? Isn’t that the point of level 1 support for the 20% of problems that they cannot answer?”
“I ask myself that every day,” Mr. X admits.
“Oh … so you didn’t decide …”
“Of course I didn’t make the decision… but we are in a recession. So here I am.”
“Wow. I don’t know what to say … happy Monday?”
“Anything else?”
“I actually set up monitoring for fortune 500 companies, maybe I …”
Dial tone.

I guess shielding yourself with an outsourced Help Desk was an easier and cheaper than doing the right thing. Still, despite Intuits best efforts to distance itself from its customers, I was able to crack the outsourced call center barrier and force their Help Desk to actually Help.

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