Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Dangers of Outsourcing

Lend me your eyes for a few moments and let me spin you a tale of woes. Let’s set the stage. It’s the 1960s and movies like Rollerball entertain us and scare us by painting a picture of global corporations rewriting morality and controlling the masses through unseen power. But the oppressed masses raise a champion (as the always do) and he proves once again that a person can raise above the limitation artificially placed on them and become incredibly good at something, no matter how stupid and pointless it is. (in that case, a sport combining the pointlessness of rollerderby with the attraction of a demoltion derby.)

I wish this tale was so black and white. No, in this tale, I am Harry Tuttle (Brazil) who due to an innocent clerical error (in this case of his own doing), exposes the inefficiencies caused by poorly run efficiency efforts.

In this case it started innocent enough. I ran out of checks. I had three bills left to pay and was going on a trip. I decided to pay them via electronic online bill pay. Now I have always embraced the new ways. I used online banking for SEVEN years now. Far longer than the average person. And in all that time, I never made a mistake. As a gambler would say, “I was due”. And on that fateful day, I did the unthinkable and unforgivable. I made a human error. I transposed a digit.
Well, imaging my surprise when the statement came and it showed I made no payment. Yet, when I pulled up the bank records, I had made a payment. Hmmm. Ok, this should be simple to sort out…

Except there are layers of bureaucracy, caused not just by outsourcing, but by the layers upon layers of distance between business functions and the customer being "served".

First off, in this day and age, good luck trying to reach a human being before your tolerance for technology reaches a new low as you navigate the "call avoidence" systems of the world. And if you do eventually reach a human, who in turn will ask you to REPEAT all information submitted to the automated system, they in turn will then transfer you to a call queue anyway.

Now that being said...
My bank has gone through some mergers and has emerged with a new name. In their efforts to either control costs, unify platforms or simply not being competent enough to do it themselves (who is the CIO?), they outsourced the online bill pay process. This company, generically branded Bill Pay, sent my payment to for some computer equipment I bought on credit using “6 months same as cash”. That is not run through, who is really just and over glorified shipping warehouse and web site, but through a third party generically branded Bill Me Later.

None of this seems far fetched. But here is where it starts to get nasty. Newegg absolves themselves of responsibility for the actions of Bill Me Later and apparently their agreement states that they never allow customers to contact Bill Me Later directly. (note: I assume this based on trying multiple avenues to attempt to gather contact information.) After MONTHS of trying to resolve this with Bill Me Later (via their advanced communication method known as FAX), and them insisting on a specific piece of paper that I can not possible have, I contacted my bank. Now the bank wants to help me, but seems unable. They don’t release the paper that Bill Me Later wants outside of the bank, and can not allow the customer to talk with their Online Bill Pay department directly. So a phone representative, who is polite and powerless, continue to “translate” customer speak to “bureaucracy speak” ™ as I listen to inoffensive hold music.

At one point, I am on the most pointless conference call in the history of conference calls, with the powerless rep and the bank and the pointless rep at Bill Me Later (a company, the believes that by not allowing you to talk to anyone but a rep, that you will believe they are based somewhere in the civilized world, which I highly doubt). I am trying to convey that I simple need the digit fixed and the payment applied, but it was as if I was talking to two animatrons at the Disneyworld Hall of Presidents.

It’s at this point that I see the problem. The bank outsourced not just their costs, but their control. They no longer control the vendors, much less the situation, and thus become unable to service a customer need (even when the customer is them). on the other hand, outsourced their ability to resolve a customer issue in regards to billing and thus has created a permanent liability. i.e., each time a customer deals with and their outsourced credit bank, they risk losing that customer for life.

So does this tale have a happy ending? I ask you, “How could it?” Even if this gets corrected and the bank manages to cajole the vendor into fixing the errant digit, did they really create a happy ending or are they simple just addressing their own shortcomings at my expense?

Sigh. Welcome to the 21st century.


Anonymous said...

Did you fill out a 27B stroke 6?

You're lucky they didn't repossess the tiki bar.

Heather said...

Came across your comment regarding Bill Me Later. I work for Bill Me Later and would be happy to work with you on your situation. Please feel free to contact me at

Heather Fields
Marketing, Bill Me Later

columbo (at eifco dot org) said...

I just may do that. The latest was that my own bank was "trying" to call me, but could not. The reason? well, no matter how many times I TOLD them my number, they still insisted on calling the number I set up the account with TWELVE YEARS ago. A number that no longer exists.

After getting past that, we had yet another 3 way call with the bank and Bill Me Later.

I was assured (mostly by the bank) that this was no resolved.

But my favorite part was this comment from the nice Bill Me Later rep. "Give us up to 30 days to make the correction." to which my response was " do I get credit for the 60 days I ALREADY waited?". She puts me on hold for a long time and says (snicker), "I escalated this to management, you only need to wait 15 days". I still cry with laugher when I remember it.