Call Center Jobs are Coming Back: Is your Contact Center Ready?
It can be one of the most frustrating experiences a caller to a contact center may encounter: the call is answered by an agent in a far away country with a different culture and language. But the trend of outsourcing contact center jobs that has been prevalent for more than a decade now seems to be reversing itself. Thousands of these jobs are coming back to the United States, for reasons that have as much to do with economics as customer service. Companies considering a similar move should make certain they have the right technology in place before they start hiring. Thankfully, with the rising popularity of cloud solutions it’s not as daunting as it used to be to equip managers and agents with workforce optimization and other tools that make it easier to deliver the service customers expect.
From Here to There
Why did so many companies outsource? One word – money. No one will ever argue that the customer service is better when it is delivered from India or the Philippines. With the lower cost of manpower, overseas call centers have been able to provide outsourcing services at a cost that is 50% less than in the U.S or U.K.But there are inevitable consequences to doing business this way, and none of them reflect favorably on a company’s customer service reputation. This doesn’t mean that the people in these countries are somehow inferior or incapable of answering a telephone.
But when a customer places a call to a company to question a billing charge or place an order, and after waiting several minutes is greeted by a distant-sounding voice with an indistinguishable accent, that customer knows that resolving this matter is going to take longer than it probably should. While it may seem insensitive to complain about someone speaking with an accent, it’s also frustrating to be unable to explain your situation to an overseas agent, or understand his or her responses.
There are privacy and security issues as well. Many telephone calls require the customer to provide a social security number or credit card information. Some of us are reticent about sharing this data in the U.S., where privacy laws have already been passed. These laws do not exist internationally. Hacking and security breaches are also more commonplace overseas. If you become a victim, you might not find out about it for several days, or even weeks.
From There to Here
But today, thousands of these jobs are coming back home, and for the same reason they originally left – money. Wages abroad have gone up anywhere from 10-20% a year, reports USA Today. According to the Fort Worth-based outsourcing firm Novo 1, at one point 30 percent of call center jobs for high-tech firms were offshore; now, thanks to insourcing, it’s more like 12 percent.Paul Stockford, the director of research for the National Association of Call Centers in Hattiesburg, Miss., said the nonprofit membership group estimates there are about 66,000 call centers in the U.S., with that number expected to grow.
By one estimation, about 180,000 contact center jobs were created nationally in 2012 and 2013. While economics was the primary motivator for this reversal, there has also been an admission by some firms that the service their customers receive via long distance has not been sufficient. So it’s not surprising that airlines and automobile companies are among those industries leading the way, given the higher value of each customer sale.
General Motors began repatriating many of its contact center positions last year. Technology has also expanded and improved to the point where many of the simpler issues that used to provoke a phone call can now be handled via the company’s website or some other automated means. As a result, a higher percentage of calls to contact centers focus on more complex issues, that require agents with better training and communication skills.
Meeting Customer Expectations
So now, after the sigh of relief many callers will express at reaching a US-based agent, they will expect a higher degree of customer service. That starts with qualified, well-trained agents, but even the most talented personnel need the right tools to deliver a positive customer interaction. After years of outsourcing, companies gearing up for a larger domestic contact center presence may quickly realize that spreadsheets are no longer sufficient for scheduling, or analyzing statistics on call volume.
This rudimentary system has now been surpassed by workforce optimization (WFO) software. From tracking call history, adherence and performance, to call recording capabilities, WFO makes almost every aspect of the contact center supervisor’s job more efficient. WFO addresses quality management and performance management as well, regardless of the size of the call center or the number of agents employed. Of course, the last thing these companies want is a significant investment in new hardware and software that may not be able to grow and adapt with the business. But now the benefits of unified workforce optimization can be delivered from the cloud. Users pay only a low monthly subscription fee with no upfront investment, a huge savings from an on-premise solution that could cost $100,000 or more.
The cloud model provides additional benefits as well. Set-up can be completed in days or weeks, with secure access available to agents and managers in the contact center and at remote locations. With a traditional hardware/software system, complete installation and configuration can take several months, if not years, which adds additional costs and inconvenience to the conversion process. A cloud platform also provides maximum scalability, and all software upgrades are delivered automatically at no additional cost. When a manual software upgrade is necessary, the cost can be prohibitive enough to be put off, which reduces a call center’s ability to operate at maximum efficiency.
As the provision of customer service becomes more sophisticated, and as costs continue to rise overseas, companies that outsource their customer contact centers are shifting their focus to centers within the U.S., which can provide a higher quality of care. This means they are willing to pay a little more to have their outsourced customer contact centers back onshore. But that investment can quickly escalate if a large technology investment is required. Cloud computing can reduce these costs. It is provided as a subscription service, so there is no need to invest in additional hardware and software for such vital capabilities as workforce optimization. In this model, contact centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need.
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