Outsourcing Done Right: A Real Life Story
Over the last 15 years I have participated and managed many outsourcing initiatives. The first undertaking, in 1995, I was involved in, was the onshore or domestic outsourcing of a technical sustain group to a local call center. ultimately the whole project failed after approximately 18 month. This failure was not due to a without of training, but rather due to churn at the outsourcing provider. They had such a high turnover of staff that we were not able keeping up with training and retaining the know-how.
later studies and interviews with other organizations and 3rd party outsourcing providers I conducted, ultimately uncovered that this was a shared issue within the US call center industry. Being a call center agent that works in a sustain role can be a very demanding and stressful profession and there are not many people who can or want to be the ones dealing with other peoples problems, frustrations and complaints. It takes a special person to do that and nevertheless be able to keep calm but assertive.
ultimately the call center was pulled back in-house and we built a complete sustain center from scratch. Meaning we put the technology behind to sustain the agents, like a telephone system (AVAYA DEFINITY) that supported important roles, like:
call center monitoring application (BCMSVU) by wall boards and computer integrated telephony (CIT) in addition as statistics. Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) application (PROLOGIX)
We implemented technology that provided agents the ability to log and research tickets, escalate calls to a higher level in addition as recording calls for training purposes.
But the most important aspect has been that we hired people who would fit the profile of a successful call center agent. People who did not mind dealing with other peoples problems. People who did not get upset about being yelled at or >on event< being cursed at for no obvious reason, except the callers frustration that may or may not have been caused by the agent. It was important to sustain the call center agents in their task and function. The agents were given the ability to take frequent unscheduled breaks, especially after an extremely stressful call. All agents had the ability to conference in a supervisor if required, either by caller need or if the agent thought it would be wise for conflict resolution. All agents were promoted 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 manager certain situations.
The center ultimately became very successful and was in operation for over 4 years with almost no turnover.
ultimately the organization increased its sales quantity, which within a period of 2 years more than tripled, that the current ecosystem could not manager the onslaught of sustain calls anymore without increasing call hours and the number of agents. The budget in place did not sustain 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 sustain 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 possible since there would have been no cost savings and careful evaluation of these domestic call centers ultimately revealed that they nevertheless had a fairly high turnover, which would have meant frequent loss of know-how and retraining (additional 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, already 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 already with the most progressive 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).
ultimately, 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 already operated its own LEC (LEBBSI a FCC 214 licensed carrier) 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 course of action has been completed and leave their outsourcing provider up to themselves. This often can have extreme results and may rule 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 already 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 nevertheless 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 truly follow the customer and explain more accurate and provide better sustain.
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 independent and more efficient. Over time we introduced more of our more complicate products to the call center.
We provided the call center agents with incentives, like t-shirts, marketing gadgets like pens, observe pads, etc. and we already provided for the occasional lunch or other social gathering, which became a huge success. We already learned that call center agents from other groups were eager to join our groups.
In a matter of fact we worked with 2 sustain groups. The first group was a group that provided very basic trouble shooting sustain based on a Top 10 trouble shooting list in addition as up and cross selling, where the second group handled more complicate problems that were escalated by the first group. When the second group was unable to help the call ultimately came back to us for follow-up sustain.
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) sustain 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.
Source: (1) Wikipedia: Languages of the Philippines
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