Pop Goes The Apple!

Apple computers closes its shop in India. Indian outsourcing companies have been at the receiving end of criticism for quite some time now for over promising and under delivering. How wide is the quality chasm and how bright or bleak is the future for Indian outsourcing companies?

The business practice of outsourcing has been under fire for some time now. There was never any dearth of jingoistic and xenophobic people like Lou Dobbs who think that rise of any other country means fall of the United States, but lately, many mainstream business analysts have been giving a closer scrutiny to the benefits of outsourcing, and predictably, they have been finding that outsourcing is not a panacea to all your technology and logistics requirements, which is ironic because for a long time, these very same business analysts whispered the mantra that “nobody ever got fired for outsourcing” into the ears of CEOs and CTOs. For these analysts, it is time to move on to the next fad which they claim is disciplined multisourcing.

However, a bigger danger to the Indian off shoring operations emanates from another source – the apparent incompetence and subpar level of work being done at many places, which tends to stereotype the entire industry and has led to a backlash, with many US companies cutting back on their outsourcing. The latest company to join this bandwagon was Apple Computers. In the past, Dell computers was forced to do the same after repeated complaints of bad support from its call centers in India. Now, I have not worked with any of the off shoring companies so I cannot personally vouch for their quality or lack thereof. However, as a user, I have borne the brunt of the incompetence and “chalta-hai” attitude of many of the Indian businesses. Here are a couple of vignettes:

I have an account with Citibank NRI. Navigating their website to get anything done is a horrible ordeal of multiple pop-ups and non-intuitive menus. Well, that is only a website and I can still deal with it (so much for the IT powerhouse). The letters that they send me has my zip code labeled as “Pin” – which got my post office confused. Moreover, their letter size is not the standard A4 used for filing systems in the US – but an awkward size that is narrower and longer and does not fit nicely in my filing system. Now, if their customer service had done even a little bit of research, they could have easily avoided all these issues but now they have an irate customer (this is exactly the kind of thing that would put off someone like Steve Jobs, who is a stickler for getting this small stuff right).

Another one. I am a big fan of Indian Express – but every night, when I try to log on to their website to read their epaper – invariably I get the message “Database server overloaded”. Day after day after day. I have written to them, called them but things just don’t improve.

Equifax, Dell, AT&T, Rediff Shopping, Times Shopping – I could go on and on about horrible products and horrible customer service and pathetic websites. Does that make every Indian have a chalta hai attitude? Obviously not! But I simply fail to understand that despite all this talk about India being an IT powerhouse and hordes of software developers in Bangalore and myriad other places, why can’t I still read a damned newspaper reliably every single day or do e-shopping without having to plod through multiple “credit card authorization server busy” messages?

I am not sure if my experience is broad enough to be generalized to say that most Indian companies still do not excel at quality but these companies are some of the leading companies in their field in India and if the people working at these places provide such sub par service, can things be very different at other places?

The world is catching up real fast on the so called cost benefits of outsourcing and it is turning out that they have been saving money at the cost of quality. I think it is time for many of these off shoring operations to stop believing their own hype and start working on improving quality.

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