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Michigan Newspaper Recounts 'Horrible Experience' of Offshore Outsourcing

November 28, 2012

While companies that outsource jobs to foreign countries often have a mixed bag of results and experiences with the venture, one company – a Michigan newspaper – found that the move turned out to be what it’s calling “a horrible experience.”

Two years ago, the Mount Pleasant (Michigan) Morning Sun decided to save some cash by sending a portion of its customer service operations to a call center in the Dominican Republic. The facility handled calls from newspaper subscribers with non-delivery complaints.

The process was recently recounted by media blogger Jim Romenesko.

“Language barrier was a huge problem,” editor Rick Mills told Romenesko. “From walk-in customers to phone calls, to calls to our Sound Off line, including letters and personal contacts with staffers talking to community members outside of the office, we heard complaints. They did not speak good English and it was obvious they were not in this country. Readers hated that.”

When the outsourcing contract was terminated, Mills announced it on the newspaper’s Facebook page.

“Some truly good news,” he wrote. “After a horrible experiment with offshore customer service for our Morning Sun circulation department, our top management has listened and responded. Customer service is moving back to our Mt. Pleasant office. Folks, this is big... and I feel extra proud to work for a company that tried something, saw it didn't work, and went back to the old way.”

Reader response on the Facebook (News - Alert) page was congratulatory but with an underlying note of disbelief that the newspaper believed the process would work for them, and tinged with indignation that it would have even embarked on the experience to begin with.

In other words, readers’ opinions were generally aligned with those of most Americans, who dislike offshore outsourcing for a number of reasons: poor quality, language barriers, culture barriers and simply out of anger that U.S. jobs are being outsourced during a time of high unemployment.

While many companies outsource simply to save money, they fail to take into account that customers can be crafty in getting what they want. With the case of Morning Sun callers, many kept pushing buttons on the company’s interactive voice response (IVR) until they reached the paper’s newsroom to express their displeasure. A few of these calls each week likely erased any monetary benefit the paper was gaining from the outsourcing decision. Lost customer good will – which likely led to lost subscriptions – was also a factor.

A lesson here might be that while Americans may be willing to put up with some offshore call centers in the case of technical support or on the weekends, in a more personal case – a small business or a very locally focused business – the decision to outsource may cause more damage than benefit.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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