Sept. 23, 2014 - We understand there are approximately 3,000 outsourced call centers in the United States. It’s not news if one of the other 2,999+/- states something that we disagree with. But those statements are food for thought, so we thought we’d take one of our competitors on.
The competitor need not be named. Last year, they published a Q&A interview with one of their managers regarding call center services trends for this year, and at least two of them are completely and utterly wrong, in our humble opinion.
First, the manager identified the use of virtual customer service representatives as the major development for the industry. To us, while this may be a growing trend it is not necessarily a good one. Agents who work at home tend to be less accountable, less productive, have lower morale and cannot avail themselves of the knowledge sharing, work performance oversight and teamwork of premises-based agents.
While it’s true that remote agents translates to lower outsourcing costs (the service provider spends less on office space), those lower fees come at a cost - the cost of lower quality customer service.
Second, the manager cited growing off-shore outsourcing to the Philippines and Central America, noting low labor costs and cultural commonalities with the United States and European countries.
The former is indeed true: you can hire customer service agents in Asia and Latin America and pay them a fraction of the salary of American workers. But the rub is the latter point: it's the lack of cultural commonalities between off shore countries and the U.S./Europe.
American customers have certain customer service standards and expectations that are unique to this country, standards that people from other parts of the world are unfamiliar with. More important is the language barrier of customer service agents for whom English is a second language. These are major problems that stand in the way of top-quality call center customer service.
So until further notice, my company will not utilize a virtual or off-shore agent staffing model. To our way of thinking, those are two elements of customer service for companies who tend to have low price / high volume / low margin business models. Their products are inexpensive and, as a result, their customers have lower quality expectations. If, while talking to a home-based customer service agent, they hear a dog barking in the background, noise from a TV, or if the agent can’t understand or be understood – well, what can you expect from a low-end vendor? Buy cheap get cheap.
It may well be that the senior manager who shared his insights is conflating the actions of his own company for major industry trends driving the call center business in general. But from our own possibly narrow perspective, we see the opposite trends taking hold: more companies are seeking high quality, domestic outsourced call center services delivered by on-site customer service representatives who understand how to provide Americans a high quality customer experience. At least, that's why our clients hired us.