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Making It Work

How to avoid some common offshoring blunders -- and what to do when you can't.

Everdream provides computer desktop management for the likes of Federal Express, ADP, and car-sales giant Sonic Automotive Inc. Like IndyMac’s Adarkar, Everdream CEO Gary Griffiths was no stranger to outsourcing; he was involved in IBM’s successful outsourcing of Thinkpad development work to Bangalore, India, in the early 1990s. “I believe [offshoring] is a necessary part of our economy and world trade,” he says.

In late 2002, Griffiths wanted to bring greater scale to the business by supplementing the 100 employees at its California headquarters and in Charlotte, North Carolina. One candidate for assistance, he says, was Everdream’s 24/7 help desk for its 300 customers. “We viewed our core competency to be in technology development,” he says, not running the help-desk call center. “So we looked to a partner to help move the lion’s share of that business [offshore].”

Sykes Enterprises Inc., a Tampa-based outsourcing provider, offered Everdream call centers in India, Manila, and Costa Rica. “We were nervous enough about the whole offshore thing that we didn’t make the jump to India or Manila,” says Griffiths. Although it meant passing up some savings, he chose Costa Rica. “We figured we’d start near-shore and go the next step later,” he explains.

Before the offshore call center went live last June, Everdream trained 15 Costa Ricans from Sykes in the United States, intending to have those call-center representatives train more individuals back in Costa Rica. In the meantime, there would be a mix of U.S. and offshore operators, with callers sometimes getting the Latin American center and sometimes a U.S. center.

The results were disastrous. Some problems involved a poor reaction by customers to the Spanish accents of the Costa Rican operators. But the bigger problem was that the training the Costa Ricans received clearly had not brought them up to the skill level of their U.S. counterparts. “Any savings we saw in lower salary were outweighed by the loss of productivity,” says Griffiths.

The problem wasn’t just how long the calls took. “Our experience was dismal,” and went way beyond language barriers, says David Boatman, CIO of Charlotte-based Sonic. “We have 200 controllers in our dealerships around the country — basically junior CFOs. They’re running a major operation, and they don’t have a lot of time.” They certainly didn’t want questions like, “Is your computer plugged in?” or “Is there a floppy in the drive?” coming from a help-desk operator. Yet Boatman says it was that kind of “level-one” response the Costa Rican center gave, delaying the critical answer that Sonic people wanted: Is this problem caused by a user, or is it a warranty issue?

“It got so bad I couldn’t keep up with the complaints,” says Boatman. “My interest was in stopping the carnage. The last thing I want to do is worry about PCs. They’re his business,” says Boatman, referring to Griffiths, “but they’re the bane of my existence.” A devoted Everdream customer — then and now — Boatman quickly passed Sonic’s complaints on to Griffiths.

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