Sunday Thoughts: "English is widely spoken, but not widely understood"

Sunday, November 9th, 2008 - Uncategorized

I saw this quote recently, and smiled!

When I ran the largest call centre design team for a large UK based TelCo, we always trained our guys to design systems around the customer experience, and data collection for the client (it amuses me when I think about it, that nominally those are two great principles around which to design a website). In designing customer experience, we always insisted on a lot of input to the agent selection process – my best client took this to another step, and really challenged the team asking us to design the building: he went on to start what is now the UK’s second largest outsource call handling service on the same principles. When we designed solutions, we always thought about customer flow and volumes – and always thought about language. It meant when we designed in country A for a flow of customers in region B, the agents were mainly from that region.

I thought the late 1990’s flow of call centres to India was interesting, and shortermist. Basically, it was Exec’s more worried about bottom line economics of running their businesses, than thinking about customer relationships. My most annoying experience was cashing in the endowment policies associated with a mortgage. The original policies were issued by two separate companies, which some 15years later had merged – one had outsourced to India, and it took 3months and 20 phone calls to get cashed; the other presently still handled the calls in the UK, it took 28days and one phone call to cash. I had a life insurance policy with that company, which I also decided resultantly to cash and move elsewhere, and after doing so wrote to the Chief Executive to explain my experiences and reasoning – he still moved the call centre handling completely to India! I think there are excellent Indian based call centres – but the good agents were the one’s who had travelled, and returned home – and they were picked up years ago.

Some 12months later, the new CEO of the insurance company announced he would be moving front office handling back to the UK – a short hand way of saying what other banking CEO’s admitted later, that customer turnover was escalating out of the roof when calls were handled overseas from the customer, while locally based solutions showed more stable relationships. About two years later, I was interviewing an experienced Call Centre business development manager for a job, who had handled the review of the a large UK car breakdown companies thoughts about off-shoring. He took a brief on a Thursday, wrote a business case through the weekend which he presented to their telecoms team on the following Tuesday; and had a commendation by Friday from the CEO, together with a two year deal to retain all telecoms services for his company. Why? Because he had taken their own data of each customer being worth an average of £480pa in revenue, with an average life relationship of 47years, and calculated the point at which increased client turnover (and hence lost revenue) outstripped the cost saving of off-shoring – the answer: 0.01%, or 23days!

I think there is a role for off-shoring, but in customer relationships there are other factors. I always thought these would show through, and eventually the effective off-shoring would be “back office” mainly non-client interaction and processing, not customer handling. Many of the biggest and best Asian IT outsourcing firms now employ “localised” front offices, with the back office where it is most cost effective – but the article questions: is it really, even at that level? I know of contractors in a large Swindon based organisation now complaining of continual delays in implementing a new IT solution, because the solution is being written some 6,000miles remotely, and communication issues mean wrong deliveries which are continually late.

I don’t think this is a language issue – and I don’t think its a cultural issue. I do think its an issue where we ought to accept each other as human beings, and that we truly are unique and different in many, many ways.

I think the question for us in business, is how do we manage these human scale differences to ensure delivery and team harmony? I have seen what are in the majority simple communication differences, translate into become highly disruptive racial problems – and that’s just daft.

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