Offshore Call Centers: Time to Bring em Home?

Weighing the benefits (and problems) of an offshore call center is about more than the short term bottom line.


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A number of firms, including AT&T’s home Internet group, are bringing overseas call centers back to the United States. The hoped for benefits did not materialize as expected and a customer backlash in some cases has made the ventures less than ideal. Organizations pursuing offshore outsourcing strategies must not forget to factor in customer service and compartmentalization of activities.

Poor Customer Service

Offshore outsourcing – often called “offshoring” – can appear attractive from a number of perspectives. The relentless pressure to reduce costs is often a prime motivator and organizations may also hope to regain agility, bring in new skills, move closer to global customers and so on. While offshoring may bring these benefits, it is very important to remember to apply a holistic systems approach versus fixating on benefits in a limited number of areas. If the primary motivator is to reduce costs associated with taking calls in the United States from domestic users, it is extremely important that customer service not be overlooked.

Customer service is often a differentiator used during vendor selection and contract renewal. Never forget the experience that a caller has with the offshore organization will be the basis of how that organization is judged. Customers are contacting a call center for a reason. If the call takes extra time due to language barriers and the caller realizes this, their experience will be negatively impacted and brand damage is risked.

Three Challenges

There are three customer service challenges when offshoring call centers, involving language, culture, and resolution, that organizations need to take into account.

First, language can be a challenge. When confronted with a non-native speaker with a thick accent, some Americans feel considerable frustration. While this issue isn’t as severe with written communications, it can become a large problem during verbal communications. Recognizing this, some foreign call centers have implemented U.S. English training programs.

Second, cultural differences can further exacerbate the disconnect between the foreign call center employee and the American caller. As opposed to a more empathetic approach, the resulting communication may seem cold and uncaring to the caller. Alternatively the caller may make use of colloquial terms that the call center is unprepared to deal with, causing frustration.

Lastly, when callers make contact, they want their incident resolved or service request met. When they receive poor service and recognize that they're dealing with an offshore call center, then the two aspects combine and act as a multiplier, negatively impacting the firm’s brand reputation to the caller.

In the end, the customer doesn’t care that there is a push for cost reduction (or whatever the strategy is). All they care about is that their needs are met in an efficient, professional and courteous manner.

Next page: Failed Compartmentalization

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