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For your (in)convenience: part one

30th Aug 2007
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By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor

As headlines go, it’s up there with 'Queen Anne Dead' and 'Ursine Creatures Defecate in Arboreal Environments'. Apparently, UK customers would prefer to deal with a UK call centre rather than one based in some far-flung overseas location.

The Nationwide has long been a fierce advocate of keeping its call centre operations close to home, but an increasing number of other organisations are now starting to realise that there’s mileage to be had here. NatWest advertises the fact that it uses UK only call centres. (It doesn’t mention its annoying automated phone system that sees a Cyberman ringing customers up at all hours of the day, but we’ll leave that to one side....)

But back to Nationwide. It has proud credentials in this area. Since 2002, it has opened three new UK call centres, and refurbished two more at a time when rivals were booking their passage to India and trying to educate the cheap labour on UK customs and idioms by force feeding them Pat Butcher and Ken Barlow – an education theory that curiously enough doesn’t often deliver results!

“Nationwide’s call centres handle over a million enquiries each month and we are committed to retaining them within the UK,” says Graham Beale, chief executive at Nationwide. “Whilst many of our competitors see their overseas call centres as successful, and often more cost-effective, some have brought their functions back to the UK as they believe customer service may improve. Our relationship with our members is core to our business and isn’t something we would wish to export overseas. At Nationwide, we listen to our customers and pledge to provide the products and services they expect over the long-term and it is important to them that we keep our call centres based in the UK.”

Nationwide’s latest research found that 93 percent of people believe it is important that their calls are handled by a call centre based in the UK; 79 percent of people say they would be less likely to deal with a company that used call centres abroad; and 52 percent of people say they would change to another provider if they found their main bank or building society had started using a call centre abroad.

So why do we feel this way? Is it just a distrust of Johnny Foreigner? Or is there tangible evidence that this viewpoint has merit? Again, according to Nationwide’s survey, the reasons cited by the majority are that they get better service from the UK – a somewhat dubious claim!; their calls get answered quickly and efficiently – again, a dubious claim where some companies are concerned; and finally that it’s better for the UK economy – which is splendidly altruistic of the great British public, but probably doesn’t bear too much examination.

The most dubious – and potentially offensive – conclusion from the study is that nearly three quarters - 73 percent - of adults think call handlers working in financial services companies carry out a skilled job. The implicaiton here appears to be that that foreign call centres are not going to be provide skilled people – which is patently absurd as its more likely that firms will attract a top class graduate in Bangalore than they will in Brighton!

Part two, cultural issues, click here.

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