Posts Tagged ‘Technical support’

by Oliver Schmid


A very large collections call centre in Lakela...

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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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by Oliver Schmid  – IAOP :: International Association of Outsourcing Professionals Member


1.) What is outsourcing?

For years, outsourcing has been on the mind of many business people but what one associates with the term outsourcing, might be conceived as something completely different by somebody else. The only common ground is the understanding to give a task or process that used to be performed internally to a third-party service provider for fulfillment.

2.) Types of Outsourcing:

Outsourcing can be as mundane as giving support to somebody else and might be as complex as having business core processes being performed by somebody else.

Typical tasks and/or processes that are outsourced can be:

  • Partial or Total Outsourcing: Some functions or tasks will be outsourced partially while other will be outsourced in its entire. Partial or complete outsourcing can also be seen differently and depends of the viewpoint (Customer / Provider) of the parties involved. It also depends of the overall functionality of the to-be outsourced operations and can often not be determined clearly.
  • There is outsourcing of only operational functions vs. outsourcing of functions, tools and personnel.
  • Business Process Outsourcing (BPO): Interpretation of the meaning of BPO varies and depends again on the point of view. From a customer point, it could be giving away an in-itself-closed-business-process for which the provider carries complete responsibility. From a legal aspect, it is imperative to define all roles and responsibilities in a contractual from and every party involved need to understand their individual responsibilities and the consequences for non-compliance.

3.) Goals

The possible reasons for customers to look more closely at outsourcing to are equally diverse and complex as its possibilities and approaches.

Therefore, only some of the usual motivations for outsourcing will be referred to here:

  • Focusing on core business:
    • An organization wants to concentrate its resources on its core business, and therefore functions that are not part of its core business will be outsourced.
  • Cost savings and optimization:
    • An organization wants to reduce its cost of doing business through outsourcing by creating a flexible cost structure, which is directly related to the performance of its service provider.
  • Purchasing skills:
    • An organization wants to benefit from the increased competence of the provider who considers the to-be outsourced function as its core business. Often, an organization also wants to reduce its performance risk through contractual reassignment of performance risk to its service provider.
  • Flexibility:
    • The provider can often offer the customer more flexibility in the implementation of the delegated services than it would have been possible to a customer with its limited resources and scope for action.

4.) An outsourcing project is divided generally into:

  • the preparatory and planning phase, which includes the Baseline analysis, defining goals and determining the future procedures,
  • the initiation phase with the selection of the provider. and the contract negotiations,
  • the implementation phase with the transfer and the Setup of the facility (or Transition to Operate) and finally the actual
  • the start of the actual operation

Looking at the continuous “life” of an outsourcing initiative the following phases will follow:

  • Review and optimization of relationship and implemented processes
  • At contract expiration either the transfer of all functions to a new service provider or the return of the outsourced functions to the organization (insourcing)

5.) Preparation & Planning:

At the beginning of each outsourcing, a strategic analysis is performed to determine which services or which divisions will be outsourced as well as where the interfaces between the internal and external providers will be in the future.

Following this phase the outsourcing scope will be defined, which will include the functional spectrum. It should definitely be avoided not to make any clear commitments at the beginning, because the scope is the basis for all further tests, the structuring of the outsourcing and the subsequent tender.

The next step would be the internal analysis (assessment) of all areas that are part of the scope:

  • What personnel and which assets are involved?
  • What type of data is available?
  • Current Cost?
  • Which services are currently performed internally and which are already performed externally?
  • To which extend have processes and services already been documented?
  • What is the quality of the currently performed services?
  • Is delivery of services consistent with the according service performance documentation?
  • Are there any legal aspects that need to be considered; e.g. transfer of licenses?
  • Are there any industry-specific aspects to be considered (e.g. in the financial area)?

Oliver Schmid has extensive experience in offshore outsourcing to the Philippines, nearshore outsourcing to Canada and onshore outsourcing of matrix oriented call centers.  He is also versified in outsourcing of data center operations and data center monitoring and support. In addition Oliver Schmid participated in various 3PL and Supply Chain outsourcing initiatives.


Oliver Schmid, EzineArticles.com Basic PLUS Author


Creative Commons License
The Structure of Outsourcing by Oliver Schmid is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Call Center Agents (funny)

Being a call center agent can be a very tough business, especially if you have Multiple Personality Disorder Syndrome(MPDS). At times call center agents may be so confused that they have a tough time to keep their different personalities apart and distinguish whether they are calling, are being called or even what client they are representing at a specific call.

Outsourcing, Insourcing and Saving MoneyOutsourcing means retaining the services from somebody outside of an organization to perform a task that would normally be done by somebody within an organization.  Saving money has always been one of the drivers for considering outsourcing. If saving money is used as the only driver, any outsourcing project will fail badly. There has to be a strategic motivation behind outsourcing in addition to save money, such as …

  • … increasing efficiencies. For example: Outsourcing customer support can provide the opportunity to increase customer service performance by offering extended support hours, adding a potential for increasing revenue streams through up-selling and/or cross selling.
  • … freeing up internal staff to concentrate more on the core competencies of an organization

For any outsourcing project it is imperative that all parties communicate their needs and requirements at all times. Outsourcing does not mean handing of a task, process or business function to a third party and then let leave them with it for all eternity without any follow up interaction. Outsourcing means interaction and communication between all parties at all times, whether it is during the planning and setup stage or whether it is an ongoing interaction after going-live.

Some great resources I recommend in regards to Outsourcing and how it can save you money and improve your overall business processes are:

by Oliver Schmid / 4954 IT Consulting, LLC

Outsourcing EDI  is increasingly being chosen by companies of all sizes who engage  in EDI.   Suppliers are put under pressure from their customers to adopt EDI, but find that they are investing resources and money into, which may for the organizationa non-value-adding activity, while negatively impacting  the core business.  Even companies who come willingly to EDI are often put off by the extra resources and technical expertise it demands.

There are EDI Standards that have to be learned like ANSIX12, EDIFACT or XML and knowledge has to be maintained, since structure of these EDI standards changes all the time, as well as customers often change their internal standards and usually is your responsibility to stay up-to-date on these changes.  In addition EDI translation maps for your various trading partners (TP) need to be developed and maintained.

Learning and maintaining those standards, developing and maintaining TP maps on an ongoing bases,  plus the acquisition of an internal EDI Solution (Translator, Hardware) can be expensive.  To setup an in-house EDI System you need:

  • EDI Translation Software – The low end packages are a few thousand dollars and they go up from there. And usually you get what you pay for.
  • EDI VAN Services – A few hundred dollars to set up and monthly charges based on volume. And volume may go up quick, since a trading partner not only sends you an order (ANSIX12 – 850), but wants in return a “Functional Acknowledgement (ANSIX12 – 997). These are already two transactions for one order. The next thing a TP usually will require from you to be send is an EDI Invoice (ANSIX12 – 810) and you will in return receive a Functional Acknowledgement back. And already we are at four transactions just for one order. Transactions that may follow down the road are Advanced Ship Notices  (ANSIX12 – 856) (which are by the way one of the most difficult transactions to setup and to satisfy), Change Order Request (ANSIX12 – 860), etc.. And anytime you are not able to trade these documents in a timely and for your customer satisfactory condition you will get hit  with a Charge-back, which someday will be a complete Blog Subject of its own.
  • EDI Integration with your Business Software (Your ERP Solution or accounting package)  and this can be expensive. Even most EDI Packages today claim to seamlessly integrate with the major back-end systems, some customization is usually required and depend on your needs and your customers requirements.
  • EDI Technical Staff – You will need at least one technical person to set up the EDI Translation Software and integrate with your back-end system. This person will not only need to understand the technical challenges your business has on top of all the EDI requirements from your trading partners and of course the systems and software involved.
  • EDI Coordinator – At least one person, which will oversee the day to day operations of your EDI system to insure all your documents are flowing in and out of your systems  correctly and in a timely manner. This person is usually also the direct contact for your trading partners in case anything goes wrong on your end or your trading partners end and coordinates the resolution.

Summary: There will be some significant upfront cost and investments, as well as some ongoing investments in staff and operations to maintain an In-house EDI System.  This does not mean that you should outsource your EDI Operations at all cost, but you definitely should perform a detailed cost benefit analysis to see what makes most sense to you.

email: oliver.schmid@4954itc.com

Phone: +1-770-776-6182

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