It’s 2003 and the IT industry is at the height of the outsourcing boom. With Fortune 500 companies such as Intel, IBM, HP and Microsoft leading the way, the cost-benefits of streamlining core activities and outsourcing the rest are writ large on the wall. The DELL jobs recall of 2004, in which the company was famously forced to move all of its customer support roles back to the US due to a record number of customer complaints, is but a distant speck on the horizon.
Eager to capitalise on the new trend, senior management at Lexmark International decide to decommission their European Customer Service Department and outsource the work to a number of 3rd parties in Ireland and abroad. As part of the change, two of the largest teams in the technical support building are handed their notice immediately. The remaining teams are transferred into the care of a subcontractor, whose offices are located some 40 minutes further afield. The news comes as a complete surprise to floor staff, resulting in a record number of resignations and a significant drop in morale.
In the changes that follow, the Dutch team suffers severe losses and quickly becomes understaffed. Worst hit is the email queue, with two key members of staff leaving in short succession of one another. While there are no native speakers available to replace them, a staggering backlog in unanswered emails rapidly builds up. Eventually, I am taken off the phones to deal with the problem.
Fixing the email problem involved two key steps, the first was to trim the existing queue so that we would be caught up again, the second involved resuscitating the unfinished Dutch template library, and finishing it. In order for it to work as a long-term preventative measure, the template library had to “pre-empt” customer queries, i.e. answer the question before it’s been asked, be formulaic enough to be re-usable, and finally, be well-organised enough so that any agent (even non-native speakers) could find the relevant information quickly.
Together with another Dutch technical support agent, a non-native speaker, we clobbered a backlog of over 200 emails in just under 2 weeks. Furthermore, the versatility of the updated template library meant that the “Dutch email problem” is no longer exclusively Dutch, and can potentially be handled fairly well by any agent in the building - native speaker or not.