Posts Tagged ‘CCT’

by Oliver Schmid


A very large collections call centre in Lakela...

Image via Wikipedia

Over the last 15 years I have participated and managed various different outsourcing initiatives. With the first undertaking, in 1995, I was involved in was the onshore or domestic outsourcing of a technical support group to a “local” call center. Eventually the whole project failed after approximately 18 month. This failure was not due to a lack of training, but rather due to churn at the outsourcing provider. They had such a high turnover of call center staff that the outsourcer was not able keeping up with training and retaining the know-how at the call center.

Subsequent studies and interviews with other organizations and 3rd party outsourcing providers I conducted, eventually uncovered that this was a common issue within the US call center industry. Being a call center agent that works in a support role can be a very demanding and stressful profession and there are not many people that can or want to be the ones dealing with other peoples problems, frustrations and complaints. It takes a special person to do that and still be able to remain calm but assertive.

Eventually the call center was pulled back in-house and we built a complete call center from scratch. Meaning we put the technology behind to support the call center agents, like a telephone system (AVAYA DEFINITY) that supported important call center functions, like:

  • call center monitoring application (BCMSVU) through wall boards and computer integrated telephony (CIT) as well as call center statistics.
  • Integrated Voice Recognition (IVR) application (PROLOGIX)

We implemented technology that provided call center agents the ability to log and research tickets, escalate calls to a higher level as well as recording calls for training purposes.

But the most important aspect has been that we hired people that fit the profile of a successful call center agent. People that did not mind dealing with other peoples problems. People that did not get upset about being yelled at or >on occasion<  being cursed at for no obvious reason, except the callers frustration that may or may not have been caused by the call center agent. It was important to support the call center agents in their task and function. The agents were given the ability to take frequent unscheduled breaks, especially after a extremely stressful call. All agents had the ability to conference in a supervisor if required, either through caller demand or if the agent thought it would be wise for conflict resolution. Call Center Agents were encouraged to talk to their supervisors and managers at any time if they needed to vent after a call or were in need of advise how to handle certain situations.

The call center eventually became very successful and was in operation for over 4 years with almost no turnover.

Eventually the organization increased its sales volume, which within a period of 2 years more than tripled, that the current call center setting just could not handle the onslaught of support calls anymore without increasing call hours and the number of agents. The budget in place did not support this.  Agents started to get burned out and leave, which in the long run led to not only a loss (call abandoned rate) of over 70% of all support calls but also tarnished the brand reputation.

Once more we looked into outsourcing opportunities. Briefly we evaluated nearshore call centers but came to the conclusion that this would not have been feasible since there would have been no cost savings and careful evaluation of these domestic call centers eventually revealed that they still had a fairly high turnover, which would have meant frequent loss of know-how and retraining (added cost).

We started to look into offshore outsourcing and what is the first country everybody thinks when talking about offshore outsourcing. Correct – India. We talked to call centers in India, talked to their clients and evaluated the supporting infrastructure (national telephone infrastructure in particular) in India. We also talked to some of our customers and their opinion if they would have to talk to a person in India and we discovered a resentment from our customers. This resentment mainly originated from the fact that they had to talk to a person with, as they perceived, limited language skills. Often these perception was based on a heavy Indian accent, even if the person had adequate verbal and grammatical language skills.

The fact is that most Indian people grow up speaking Hindi (or any dialect of it), while English is the secondary language and even with the most advanced training it is almost impossible for most of the population not to have an accent.

We then started to look into the Philippines as possible call center location. We performed the Philippine call center evaluation with the same scrutiny as we did with the Indian call centers and we learned that the English language co-exists with Tagalog or Filipino as official language and that English was already taught in kinder-garden. Filipino is an official language of education, but less important than English. It is the major language of the broadcast media and cinema, but less important than English as a language of publication (except in some domains, like comic books, which are meant to speak directly to the Filipino psyche) and less important for academic-scientific-technological discourse. (1).

Eventually, it was decided to outsource the call center to the Philippines. The corporate head quarter of this call center was  in the US (NJ). In a matter of fact this call center organization even operated its own LEC (LEBBSI a FCC 214 licensed carrier)(2), with its own fiber optics lines from the US (CA) to the Philippines. It allowed for 24/7 call center coverage while the call abandoned rate almost overnight dropped from 70% to less than 1%. Startup cost for the Philippine call center was higher than with an onshore call center, since we had to fly equipment and trainers to the Philippines for the initial training.

Many organizations make the mistake to walk away from their responsibilities once the initial outsourcing process has been completed and leave their outsourcing provider up to themselves. This often can have catastrophic results and may lead to a complete failure of the outsourcing initiative.

During my time of researching various outsourcing organizations and talking to not only their management boards but also to their floor supervisor and even some agents, I had learned how important an open line between the organization that is outsourcing  and its provider can be. After the initial phase we had a structured approach on dealing with the call center and issues that did arise. We had established frequent scheduled conference calls to deal with issues while still providing floor supervisors to call our internal resources direct if required. We established an escalation procedures which all agents and in-house staff was aware of. We provided frequent product training via video conferencing for new employees or if existing agents were not completely familiar with the product and its functionality. We had a complete line of our most sold products on the floor at the call center. This way agents could actually follow the customer and explain more accurate and provide better support.

Over time, as we learned and became familiar with the call center and as they became more familiar with our product the call center became more autonome  and more efficient. Over time we introduced more of our more complex products to the call center.

We provided the call center agents with incentives, like t-shirts, marketing gadgets like pens, note pads, etc. and we even provided for the occasional lunch or other social gathering, which became a huge success. We even learned that call center agents from other groups were eager to join our groups.

In a matter of fact we worked with 2 support groups. The first group was a group that provided very basic trouble shooting support based on a Top 10 trouble shooting list as well as up an cross selling, where the second group handled more complex problems that were escalated by the first group. When the second group was unable to help the call eventually came back to us for follow-up support.

This call center has been in place now since fall of 2003 and has been and continues to be very successful. Initially we were able to provide the increased (24/7 and almost no lost calls) support at the same cost as when we operated an in-house 25 agent call center.

This story demonstrates that outsourcing can be successful if done right.


Oliver Schmid  led and participated in other successful outsourcing initiatives, like:

  • Warehousing and Logistics to 3PL providers
  • Data Center monitoring and support
  • Data Center redundancy & sustainability
  • ERP Implementation Project Management and Coordination

Sources:

(1)  Wikipedia: Languages of the Philippines

(2) Cyber City Teleservices


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