What to do when your ISP off-shores tech support

Joe Greco jgreco at ns.sol.net
Sat Dec 27 01:10:13 UTC 2008

> Martin Hannigan wrote:
> > Hi Jay:
> > 
> > Is there really anything wrong with sending first-level technical 
> > support offshore?
> > Macs are macs, Windows is windows and mail is mail whether you're in 
> > Mumbai or Memphis. As long as the language skills are good and the 
> > people are well trained, it should be mostly irrelevant, IMHO.
> In and of itself and setting aside patriotic/nationalistic issues, 
> probably not, assuming adequate technical and product knowledge and 
> language skills.  I suppose that it would be possible that if it were 
> done well enough one wouldn't be able to tell.

Sure.  Blaming off-shore tech support is pretty easy stuff, but the
reality is that the trouble is more along the line of appropriate

For example, we maintain a Road Runner connection at the house, which
has been generally flawless over the years, with some notable exceptions.

I'll skip the DHCP-server-allocating-an-IP-address-from-a-netblk-recently-
vanished-from-the-global-routing-table story.  Just *try* explaining that
to a tier 1...  apparently my UNIX box was one of only a very few boxes
that hadn't re-DHCP'd in a year or two :-)

At one point, Road Runner introduced their "turbo" service here for a mere
$10/month more.  Since it's nice to be able to download the occasional ISO
at high speed, and because it included a greater upstream speed, it was a
no-brainer.  Worked great for maybe about a year.  Then, suddenly, one day,
I began to see the modem crash anytime a largish amount of data was being
pushed through it.  Spend time characterizing the problem.  Spend time on
the phone.  Get told the modem must be bad, get a replacement.  You know
the runaround, so I'll omit the gory details.  After a replacement modem 
and the same problem, having spent several hours over the period of two 
days on it, start raising enough noise through both the local and national
support services, talked to even the supposedly clueful people who were 
puzzled, and one finally suggested calling some direct line to "a network 

Well, that actually turned out to be TWC Business.  The guy was a bit
puzzled why I was calling *him*, but a brief explanation sufficed, and
within a minute or two he had the problem located ...  the modem had been
only marginally sufficient for Turbo, and they had changed <something> on
the local cable that had broken it.  Needed a *different* kind of modem. 
Told me what to demand from the local cableco store, provided a ticket 
number and everything. 

Some discussion suggested that the RR people were highly script-oriented
and not necessarily capable of complicated problem solving.  It appears
that the TWC Business tier 1 people actually have a fair amount of
technical training and clue, and resources to tap if that's not good
enough.  Further, he was bright enough to let me know that they had a
"better than turbo" package available with a higher upstream speed, for
only a little more, that'd make me a business customer, so I'd never have
to deal with Road Runner again.  Based on this one experience, we were
more than happy to sign an annual contract and pay just $10/mo more, and
have direct access to people who know what words like "DHCP" and "route"
actually mean.

I did ask, and all the local people are, in fact, local.  It's a matter 
of training and technical knowledge.  None of them was really putting 
together the fact that the modem was sketchy for the service class we

My point is that you not only need the language skills and a good phone
connection, but also a reasonable process to deal with knowledgeable 
people.  I understand the need to provide scripted support, but there 
should also be a reasonable path to determine that someone has an 
exceptional problem and isn't being well-served by the script.

> However, there is something about dealing with a local company that adds 
> value.  People seem to care more about their community and neighbors 
> than a random, barely understandable voice on a G.729 8k codec at the 
> other end of a satellite link.
> I have generally found dealing with most offshore tech support to be 
> very frustrating.  The language issues are burdensome, some accents so 
> thick as to be barely understandable, and the lack of clue and scripted 
> menu-driven responses are obvious and usually of no value.  I wouldn't 
> be calling if the problem could be solved by reading the documentation 
> and some judicious web searching.  

That'll be the typical problem for this audience, yes.

> There are some exceptions, including 
> Cisco TAC which is very good.  I've talked to Cisco engineers in 
> Australia and Europe on occasion.  I've had mixed results with Linksys 
> support, which I believe is in the Philippines.
> Dealing with one offshore AT&T billing representative who was clearly a 
> non-English speaker was extremely painful.  The latency and nonsense of 
> the person's responses suggested either some type of auto-translator or 
> satellite link, or both.  The person wasn't capable of getting the hint 
> when I asked after several minutes of frustration what the "A" in "AT&T" 
> stood for, and in fact claimed to have no idea.  I suspect that this 
> level of disservice may be deliberate so that people will pay bogus 
> charges on bills because the frustration level of disputing them is 
> intentionally high.

Yeah, ahaha.  Like the "let's charge a late fee because we didn't promptly
process your payment" thing (another fun story).

Reminds me of the good old days of trying to contact somebody clueful at
some random network's NOC.  Many of the same problems.  However, the
operator community seems to have made good progress towards solving this
problem.  So now I'm wondering why we're discussing this.  :-)

... JG
Joe Greco - sol.net Network Services - Milwaukee, WI - http://www.sol.net
"We call it the 'one bite at the apple' rule. Give me one chance [and] then I
won't contact you again." - Direct Marketing Ass'n position on e-mail spam(CNN)
With 24 million small businesses in the US alone, that's way too many apples.

More information about the NANOG mailing list