Thursday, July 19

Is offshoring worth it?

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Locating your contact centres offshore means being very clear about what they’re good at – but doesn’t mean ignoring soft skills

Right in the middle of a day of technical stress caused by a delinquent version of Windows 10, I get a phonecall from BT, purveyor of a broadband service with a habit of dropping out at key moments. My normal empathy for anyone making a cold call from a contact centre vanished for a moment, and when the caller announced he was from BT I told him I’d been waiting for them to call, so I could complain about the quality of my broadband. Undeterred, the sales agent told me that what he was calling about could solve the problem. I did not believe him so I put him off to the following day on the assumption that I would be unlikely to hear from him again.

Somewhat to my surprise I got a call the next day, and BT’s offer of an upgrade to my broadband capacity for a small extra cost, which I accepted. It does seem to have reduced to zero the cries of “****ing broadband” echoing around the house on a regular basis.

But there was a bigger so what to the story.

As Kelvin from BT was running through his sales script for the upgrade, he mentioned that from now on I would be dealing only with UK-based contact centres. I was aware of this and so it wasn’t a surprise, but it did make me ask a more basic question…

Why do we have a problem with offshore contact centres?

I’d spent the best part of a day in contact with various centres which, although it wasn’t stated at any time, were most likely to have been non-UK operations. I’m deducing this from the names of the advisors I dealt with and the trace accents that came across. However, none of this affected the most good quality of service I received. Although a day is a long time to spend dealing with a contact centre, rebuilding a faulty Windows installation is a time-consuming process so that would have been an issue whoever I had been talking to.

In the end I had a great service from the second Microsoft person I dealt with, via a text chat and remote control of my laptop which fixed the problem, so I’m left wondering why BT would feel it was so important to stress UK-only operation when it’s possible to provide a good service – presumably at lower cost – independent of geography.

Prejudice or preference?

There’s a fine line between customers having a preference for certain types of voices on the end of the phone and a prejudice against “foreigners” (it’s something that, sadly, seems to be more prevalent in the UK these days, but that’s a different topic for a different publication). And maybe BT took a view that customer feedback told them that publicising the UK-centricity of their call centres might have positive benefits – I’m only guessing at the details.

There are circumstances when a friendly voice is what you need – for example I had a great experience from Admiral recently, talking to a Swansea-based advisor who was doing his utmost to get me the best price on renewing my car insurance. His manner throughout was both friendly and professional. We had established a rapport and, since that’s a common factor in my dealings with both Admiral and their sister company Bell, I put my business with them.

But it’s also true that I had a sufficient rapport with the Microsoft adviser via text chat. The problem here was more technical and detailed than car insurance but his choice of words helped build confidence that my problem would eventually be sorted – and it was.

What sort of chat?

The simplistic view might be that you have your voice calls handled in the UK and text interactions by an offshore centre (maybe with an intelligent bot at the front end) but I think that’s missing an opportunity to handle calls offshore with the same degree of empathy that a well-run contact centre in the UK can have. The only problem with my offshore help-desk conversation when I first called Microsoft was that they were having technical difficulties with the remote control of my laptop and the advisor clearly had too much on his plate to get back to me in time.

My sense is that when offshoring decisions are made, cost has been, by far too much, the deciding factor. Performance in the essential soft skills has been neglected – it’s an old cliché that the “soft stuff is the hard stuff” – but allowing the bean-counters to dictate performance of offshore centres versus onshore means, ultimately, that you end up spending more on your operations than you might need to and find yourself pandering to the prejudices of your customers.

It’s a grey area though, so what are your views?

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About Author

Business strategist, consultant and change manager who helps companies become genuinely customer-centric. Nick delivers customer-driven business transformation projects and has worked across many industries including banking and finance, insurance, telecommunications, industrial and public sector. Has held senior roles with variety of blue chip names including BT, Royal Bank of Scotland, CSC and Sema Group. Currently Head of Delivery at NextTen Innovation Solutions

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