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Outsourcing – the human cost

Posted by Michael Bloch in ecommerce (Wednesday December 26, 2007 )

If you’ve ever called a company and wound up being routed to their call center overseas, while it can be a frustrating experience; spare a thought for the person at the other end. Also, if call center work is something you’re thinking of getting into, this recent article may have you thinking twice.

I think we’ve all experienced the wonderful situation of having a problem with a product or service, calling the company, being left on hold only to be then answered by someone with an accent we can hardly understand. It’s possible we’re already ticked off prior to picking up the phone, so the dynamics are perfect for us to totally lose our cool.

It’s certainly not all beer and skittles for those at the other end either; particularly if you’re in India. Outsourced businesses employ more than 1.6 million Indians in their 20s and 30s and this article on CNN outlines some of the occupational hazards.

Many operators experience sleep disorders, heart disease, depression and family problems due to the nature of the work. Having some experience on both sides of the outsourcing arrangement, I can certainly understand. The stress isn’t just confined to Indian workers, I believe that in the USA the turnover for Level 1 support workers in the web hosting industry is somewhere around 6 months. It doesn’t matter how much you get paid, getting continuously yelled at and abused for issues that are usually totally beyond your control certainly isn’t for everyone :).

One of the biggest problems I find in these situations as mentioned is when the operator has a heavy accent. Companies should not permit this to happen as the crux of support is clear communications. Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see increasing numbers of mismatched people working in these call centers due to those who can do so finding other work. There’s already quite a stigma becoming attached to the job, which is unfortunate.

Our bank was going to outsource customer service to India; and that just wasn’t on in my opinion. I wrote a note to them about it telling them I’d pull my accounts if they did, not thinking it would have any effect whatsoever.. but it seems I wasn’t alone as the bank changed their plans and kept that side of operations within Australia. I’m not xenophobic, but there is a line and giving someone access to my financial information in another country really crossed it.

Outsourcing support is a great way to manage costs, but if you’re considering outsourcing operations overseas, particularly where there will be direct human contact involved, think about the types of clients you have and the problems they frequently face. Where the staff will be taking credit card numbers, don’t even think about outsourcing that side of things overseas – you’ll just wind up with a stack of dropped lines and lost customers; and it’s certainly a security risk.

Really dig around when selecting a call center to do your customer support work. Find out about their staff and how they are treated, the recruitment process, shift hour lengths, the level of proficiency etc. and communicate with some of the workers first if you can to get a better vibe. This isn’t just for the good of your business, but also for the folks that will be dealing with your (sometimes) irate customers.

Related:

Learn more about outsourcing development work

Learn more about outsourcing sales and support



 

 
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