HP seeks right balance on support staffing

Ann Livermore, executive vice president of Hewlett-Packard's technology solutions group, addresses concerns voiced by users and partners regarding the performance of a customer service operation that's increasingly being moved offshore.


When I last interviewed you in April 2005, you talked about what then was a new services model, with 20% of your group's 65,000 employees in India, China, Eastern Europe, Costa Rica and the Philippines. Where does that percentage stand now?

It's a little higher. One of the things we've found is that we need to get the right balance of work that we do on-site [or] close to the customer, and resources that the customer really doesn't care where they are as long as the expertise and quality are good. We're always trying to balance the geographic distribution and hire where there's good, ample availability of skilled resources.

Expertise and quality are a big issue. Last fall, I spoke with two high-profile HP partners who are OpenVMS consultants. They said the support technicians in places like China and India don't have the required expertise and aren't getting the training they need. What's your response?

My view is that customer satisfaction and loyalty are at the heart of everything that HP does and stands for, and that the long-term success of almost any services business, and more broadly [of] almost any corporation, has to do with how well they satisfy customers.

No matter where your resources are, at times you'll have an employee who, for some reason, may not meet the quality or performance standard. What we try to do is take the feedback and address it. We actually followed up on the feedback from those partners to see if we had a training issue specifically with some individuals, or if we had a turnover issue, or what the nature was. In particular for our OpenVMS customers, we are very focused on our installed base. We want our installed base to be happy, and if or when they ever want to migrate, we want them to migrate to another HP platform.

Did you find a systemic problem?

No. [But] some people believe you can just look at statistics when you think about customer satisfaction. I think you have to look at every single customer and every single instance. It's not good enough to get 999 right out of 1,000, because even then, you've got one person who wasn't happy.

Also last fall, an HP worker in Nashua, whose job was among some positions outsourced to Costa Rica complained to me that the replacements were unqualified. Did he have a legitimate gripe, or was it just the natural venting of a victim of offshore outsourcing?

One of the things I love about HP employees is that they care about and worry about customer satisfaction. You gave me a partner example before; with employee input, too, to try to make sure if there's anything we can learn from their comments, we follow up on it.

It's hard on any individual if your job ends up moving to another geography. We take very seriously the pain of some of our employees that comes with jobs [changing] locations. So, much like the partner comments, I take every single piece of feedback, [and I believe] that there's something in it you have to look at and act on and learn from.

You're no stranger to high-profile boards of directors, having served on the board at UPS since 1997. Given that experience, would you say it's easy or difficult to understand how something like the mess surrounding HP's media leak probe could have happened?

I think the good news about the issue around the HP board was that it didn't have any impact on the operations of the company or how we interacted with our customers. Is it something we feel good about? Well, we certainly regret it; yet at the same time, it's behind us. And the good news is that most of our customers and our employees just stayed focused on the operations of the company, which were going pretty well.

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