Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Apple Nixes Overseas Call Center

I just saw a news report on CNET that Apple has nixed the call center it was planning in India (Apple hangs up on India call center) . It just shows that Apple knows what they are doing. For them brand is everything and you can't protect that overseas. There is so much dissatisfaction amongst consumers with overseas call centers that they would have to be nuts to send calls to India. Mind you, this is nothing against India. It's houses one of the great cultures of the world.

The reasons not to put a call center overseas are twofold. One, there are cultural differences and these differences are amplified when there is stress. Few things are more stressful for anyone then customer service or technical support issues. You start out on the wrong foot and in fight mode. If you run up against a cultural misunderstanding or lack of integration with other functions (see my post on below) you go from frustrated to downright angry in less time then it takes an Indy car to get to 60 MPH.

More important, the key reason for sending calls overseas is cost. I've heard (and made) the argument that it is about better round the clock service, faster response times, yada yada. Bull! It's to drive the cost per call from dollars to pennies. Understandable from a company perspective. Save a few pennies while performing the same function. However, once you start down that road, once you treat customer service as a function to be done as cheaply as possible, the whole operation starts to act that way. Soon enough, it's all about the costs and not the customer. Customers are treated as an inconvenience that has to be tolerated not embraced. Very short term thinking.

I've got to wonder why they were trying this in the first place. Perhaps Apple was setting this up to handle calls from India. Possible but not probable. Even if that is the case, it would have been inevitable that some otherwise bright person would have thought to send American calls to India. That would have been a disaster.

Now, if you're Apple, and your whole business is based on cool factor, you can't afford to look like any other schlocky consumer electronics company. People pay more for Apple products than for comparable ones because they get treated well. This drives tremendous loyalty in their customer base. I can't count how many people would rather choke on a chicken bone rather than give up their Mac.

Sending calls to a cheap overseas call center jeopardizes the ability to connect to customers and keep them part of the big loyal Apple family. Otherwise, who would pay extra for iPods and iTunes songs, or Macs for that matter. You buy Apple because you feel they connect with you, the average (yet hip) person. If you have a problem and you find yourself talking to someone overseas who doesn't get you as a person then all that goes away and Apple dies. Steve Jobs knows this from Apple's previous near death experience. Everyone at Apple knows this.

Apple consistently comes out on top for customer satisfaction. Why mess with that when it's so important to sales and high margins? They probably felt they had to do it to stay competitive. Thank goodness someone inside realized that not doing it was how they would stay competitive.

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