Thursday, October 30, 2008

Do You Outsource Your Call Centre?

Everybody does it. Outsource call centre services in order to keep business costs down. Countries like India and, according to a recent report from Info-Tech Research Group, the Philippines, are popular countries to look to. But in the grand scheme of things, is this really good for business?

Reduced costs is the obvious advantage: it costs less to pay a team of call centre reps in an outsourced country than it would locally in Canada, or even the U.S. But what are the potential drawbacks? The risk of poor customer service is certainly one of them. Another concern that shouldn't be taken lightly, though, is the loss of jobs in one's own country. Sure, outsourcing a call centre can result in significantly cheaper operating costs, but if a large portion of your target customer segment can't afford to buy your products or services because they are finding it difficult to hold a job, what good has outsourcing accomplished?

In addition to adding jobs to the economy, keeping a call centre local also has many other advantages. For one, agents can work directly with the sales, marketing, and even research and development departments in order to create a holistic solution that serves the customer's best interests. The lines of communication both ways can be much more open; and internal staff can more easily monitor who's talking to the customers, and how customer service issues are being handled. Plus, from a consumer perspective, let's face it: knowing that you're speaking to someone who lives in the same country that you do, regardless of what that country might be, is always reassuring. Someone anywhere outside of Canada might not understand how critical a situation it is that you have all your buddies over to watch the hockey play-offs and your flat-panel isn't working!

Nevertheless, many companies continues to outsource their call centres, and reap the benefits. Some end up with reputations for horrible customer service, while others are applauded for their efforts, no matter where the cell centre might be located. Info-Tech claims that the Philippines is now the second-largest call centre outsourcing player (behind India), and is known for offering a high level of service due to "educated English-speaking agents with accents similar to their North American callers."

The primary focus, of course, is that the customer's issues or questions are always answered adequately, and in a timely manner; no matter who ends up on the other end of the line or where they're located.

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Charles Farley said...

I was directed to your blog by a friend, the lovely and talented Lee Distad. He told me that someone was posting a topic near and dear to my heart.

An open letter to the vendor from me, the customer:

First and foremost, we are all God's children and each and everyone of us is special in our own unique and endearing way. Having said that, I am what you would call a misanthrope. I don't care where you come from, who or what you pray to, your nationality or the color of your eyes, hair and skin -- I don't like you (2nd person plural - not you the blog master). Once I get to know you on a personal level, that may change...but at a live your life and I will live mine.

Having said all that. I am the customer. I purchased your product in a given location and paid for it with the currency of the relm. If I need service and support, I rightfully have an expectation to have that service conducted in the language in which the initial commerce took place. You the vendor have an obligation to provide to me, either as a part of the warranty offered with the purchase or by our mutual entering into a supplimental contract, service and support in the language in which the original commerce took place.

Just because you can speak the language or read transliterated text hoping to catch a key work or phrase from my lips doesn't mean in anyway you can effectively communicate with me, the customer. Effective communication is fluid and often jargon laden, especially when you are talking about CE. When I refer to the AC adaptor of my laptop as a "brick", I expect the Dell representative at the other end of the IP phone in Bangalore to know excatly what that is. You can be a native English speaker and be a far cry from being able to effectively communicate...hell just look at President Bush.

A poor service experience creates a long lasting negative that takes a long time to over come. Why? Because at that point, I am out the cash and have been led to believe you the vendor would be there for me. Once I am out the cash, I am pretty much helpless in that I have little to no leverage. Assigning someone who may be perfectly intelligent but fully incapable of communicating with the customer in the language in which the initial commerce took place does nothing for a vendor. You saved a buck, but at what cost? At that point all I can do is bitch. And bitch I will.

My favorite tactic with Dell is to call the sales line until they assign me someone at a US call center. They sales rep says over and over again, they can't help me...they just sell. I tell them, when you are talking to me you aren't making sales. Get me to where I need to be and you can contiune taking orders. I can, at no monitary cost call as much as I want. You, Dell can do nothing about it.

It is the only way I can create a sense of power (as artifical and limited as it may be) and feel good I am sticking it to Dell for making me deal with people who can not effectively communicate with me, the customer.

I will gladly pay more (imputed in the product price - not the gold and silver level contract tiers that Dell offers) to have quality service.

Service gets repeat business. Service builds loyalty. Service represents commitment.

Offer that service in the language in which the initial commerce took place. (the reason I keep hitting that is if I went to Japan to buy some cool CE and called the tech support line from my home in the US, I would have no expectation for English speaking support...nor should I.)


Richard said...

I have had dreadful experiences with Microsoft and Bell recently for this exact reason. They seemed like very nice people who tried very hard to help me, but the communication was torturous.