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Part two: cultural issues

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

However, some firms do cite cultural issues with dealing with foreign call centres that serve to drive down the customer experience. Insurance firm Norwich Union brought some call centre jobs back to the UK after admitting to problems over cultural differences between customers and staff in India .

It has already moved 6,500 jobs to India, most recently opening a call centre in Chennai – last November. But it has returned 150 jobs to the UK, notably the call centre operations for household insurance claims. The cultural issues appear to be some pretty basic ones. For example, customers calling to make a claim for loss or damage were having to explain basic concepts to Indian call centre staff due to cultural differences, such as how a broken immersion heater could cause flood damage.

It’s hard to imagine this came as a surprise to Norwich Union. A report carried out for Aviva, which owns Norwich Union, found that 51 percent of customers were “appalled” by call centres abroad, with India consistently singled out for criticism. Respondents said staff in the subcontinent “lacked knowledge of Britain”.

Powergen, one of the UK's biggest electricity suppliers also closed its Indian call centres and reverted to UK-based advisers following complaints from customers. Nick Horler, managing director of Powergen, says: “Offshore call centres may have their place for certain industries. However, we believe that we can best achieve industry-leading customer service by operating solely in the UK. When customers contact us they need to be confident that their query will be fully resolved quickly. Although the cost of overseas outsourcing can be low, we're simply not prepared to achieve savings at the risk or expense of customer satisfaction.”

It’s a point that is also made by Compass Management Consulting, which warns that UK companies are wasting money and damaging customer relations by offshoring call centres. Poor perceptions of service that customers report with offshore contact centres and language difficulties can lower productivity and lead to calls lasting up to twice as long as UK-based operations.

“[Companies] should ask themselves some simple questions ahead of an offshoring decision: ‘What are the drivers of efficient call centres and what is the market price for operating a call centre that helps the business remain or even become competitive?’," says Simon Scarrott, head of business development and marketing at Compass. “In too many cases, service quality is being compromised by an offshoring decision that fails to deliver the level of savings anticipated.”

But a major problem may be that the right questions have not been asked until recently. Instead of asking which model and which technologies will deliver the best customer experience for users of a call centre, too many firms have simply been won over by the much vaunted cost advantages of moving offshore. But then research by Teasel Performance Management suggests that few firms proatively measure customer satisfaction on an ongoing basis.

In-house contact centres are much more proactive on overall assessment, with 83 percent sending out questionnaires; 43 percent calling customers at random; 43 percent calculating average call value; and 26 percent asking customers to stay on the line to complete a brief survey. The most common approach to measuring customer satisfaction was to listen to a selection of calls and make a judgement

But less than half of all outsourced call centres (43 percent] send out questionnaires and only a third (29 percent) carry out random customer calling. Outsourced contact centres are instead more interested in reporting on call numbers rather than the quality of the call.

“The findings highlight that many contact centres say that although customer satisfaction is key to the service they provide, most are only measuring this on the hygiene of the process rather than on the quality of how the call is handled and resolved,” says Tim Burfoot, managing director of Teasel Performance Management. “This is all very well, but contact centres must widen the way in which they track and monitor activities if they are to really understand how they are performing. The overall question, of course, is whether contact centres, outsourced or in-house are monitoring the right things?”

Part three, call centre technologies, click here.

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