Microsoft May Look To 'Smart Shoring'

The software giant is considering an “onshore-only” support option for new products, including its upcoming Office 2007, sources said.

If the vendor goes this route, it will join the likes of Dell and other tech companies burned by over-reliance on offshore support.

Currently, customers and partners calling support are routed to whatever call center is available. There are exceptions. Some government agencies now mandate onshore support from vendors. But as with all high-tech vendors, many of those seeking service balk at dealing with offshore personnel, citing language issues.

“The first thing I do when I get India [on a Microsoft call] is ask to be transferred to the United States,” said a longtime Microsoft Gold partner on the East Coast.

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Rick Devenuti, senior vice president for Microsoft Services and IT, told CRN recently that Microsoft&'s intent is to ensure high satisfaction across all geographies no matter where the call goes, and there is no procedure now to push calls to certain regions based on a fee structure.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said enterprises can buy “premier” support, which guarantees access to a certain type of support engineer. A larger concentration of senior engineers tend to work in the United States, but there is no guarantee that a call will go to them, she said.

Microsoft likely will charge a premium for an onshore support option, sources said.

Solution providers say they use vendor support as backup.

Toni Portmann, CEO of Stream International, a Richardson, Texas-based provider of outsourced support services, knows a little something about “smart shoring,” a term she may have coined. “The whole idea is putting the right support for the right product in the right place for the right reason,” Portmann said.

“People got all excited about offshoring. They saw a high level of technical aptitude and skill at one-half the cost or less. What&'s not to like?” Portmann said.

But, what many vendors failed to take into account was that technical aptitude does not overcome language difficulties. Common software or even hardware problems can be handled via a script, but glitches in new-fangled products without a big support database can be problematic.

“Some products supported onshore should move off, and some supported offshore should be move on,” she said.

The trend is to route calls on complex products—those without highly developed knowledge bases and FAQs—to highly trained local resources, sending support of more mature, better documented products elsewhere, she and others said.

Ann Moser, vice president of printing solutions at Ricoh, West Caldwell, N.J. evaluated many options and concluded that all printing products sold locally were to be supported onshore.

Of course, while Ricoh tries to address most queries via phone or Web, some percentage of them will result in a service call and for that, local talent is key.

This is hardly a vendor-only issue.

Solution providers must consider their own path. “We want our customers to buy our support and come to us first. What Microsoft now adds is 24 by 7, but that&'s something we&'ll have in a year or so, and then we&'ll have the same challenge determining how to parse support,” said Bill Kinahan, head of the CRM Practice at Tectura, a global Microsoft Gold Certified and MBS partner in Redwood City, Calif.