I remember reading a customer complaint letter whilst I was working with a large UK retailer. The complaints that were listed were all valid and well articulated, yet it was the final comment that sticks in my mind. It was along the lines of, “and when are you going to close down your Indian call centres and bring them back to the UK?”. At that time all of the call centres were based onshore in the UK, and not a single call was answered by anyone other than a UK employee. The call centres were based all over the UK, and had a fair reflection of the local demographic population based at each of its centres.
Now was the comment in the letter a reflection of the customer’s frustration at thinking they were talking to an Indian call centre agent, or the fact that they were struggling with the communication due to the accent? The UK has some pretty extreme accents – think of Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle – they all have very strong accents, that to the untrained ear is very difficult to understand. If you cannot understand the person you are trying to communicate with, then of course the customer experience is going to suffer.
Currently I have the privilege of building a 500 seat call centre operation in Durban, South Africa. Our clients are in the UK and Australia, and we specialise in the energy, telco and financial services industries. Our call centre operators differ little to their colleagues in the countries that they serve: similar age groups, similar interests, yet there is one huge difference. The products and services that they are “experts” in servicing are often completely alien to them. Broadband?…they have yet to get ADSL. PPI?….no idea what you mean, have never had credit, let alone insurance to cover it should I lose my job or get sick. … Boiler replacement? Why would you have a boiler in your house?….You get my drift…..South Africa is in some ways behind in terms of technology and advancements you find common in the first world.
Yet with good training and support, there is no reason why these operators cannot become experts, and are able to advise and recommend the best products and services based on the customers needs. Understanding what the customer needs is done with good questioning, listening, play back (summarising what you have heard), and then agreeing on the way forward – not by ramming home the current product that there is an incentive to sell more of for that week.
Yet all of this excellent product, knowledge and skills training is going to be irrelevant if the customer cannot understand what the operator is saying. In South Africa there are currently 25 million unemployed people between the ages of 18-35, they are well educated and have a desire to work, there are just very few opportunities for them to get a job. The BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industry is one of the growing industries in the South African economy today where there is a clear recognition that to supply the growth the industry needs, there has to be an investment in skills.
We partner with an NPO called Harambee, which is a youth employment accelerator that recruits candidates where existing corporate recruitment networks do not reach, assesses their competencies to match them to the jobs where they are most likely to succeed, and exposes them to a high quality, tailored and cost-effective bridging programme that directly addresses the needs identified by employers.
Harambee offers us a customised work readiness programme to bridge unemployed South Africans into successful agents for our business. This offers an opportunity to break the vicious circle of “can’t get a job because I have no work experience, can’t get any work experience if no one will give me a job”. The work readiness programme focuses on both the resilience and the skills needed to succeed in sales. There is a heavy emphasis on voice and communication to improve clarity and proficiency that allows the agent to be understood by the customer, and to build rapport and empathy. Those that go through the Harambee programme have got an excellent chance of getting a job in both national and international call centres, as they now have the ability to communicate effectively.
The attractiveness to Offshoring BPO is to reduce opex….however there is no point in reducing your opex by 10% if you are churning your customer base by 15%, that is not sustainable. In my opinion there needs to be a better management of expectation between client and BPO…..yes I can offer 100 seats to support a new marketing campaign….but not next week Tuesday…..we need to work on realistic speed to competency plans, with glide paths that are achievable.
Now was the comment in the letter a reflection of the customers frustration at thinking they were talking to an Indian call centre, or the fact that they were struggling with the communication due to the accent? The UK has some pretty extreme accents, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, to name but a few can all have very strong accents, that to the untrained ear is very difficult to understand. If you cannot understand the person you are trying to communicate with, then of course the customer experience is going to suffer.
Ross Telfer is the Managing Director of a large BPO based in Durban, South Africa. The operation specialises in Telesales campaigns to the UK and Australia in the Telecoms, Energy and Financial Services sectors.
Ross has held senior roles over the past 20 years in Shop Direct Group, Talk Talk, Yellow Pages and Vodafone and has vast experience of working with Outsource Partners. The challenge and opportunity to build a business from scratch in one of the fastest growing geographies for the BPO industry globally, has been hugely rewarding. South Africa is a great news story at the moment, and Ross is very proud to be a part of it.
Coracall is a full service Contact Centre global operation with facilities across the United Kingdom and South Africa.We’re owned and managed by professionals who possess many years of experience in delivering intelligent customer contact solutions and strong client relationships. As a privately owned company, we offer cost effective and flexible service options, which can be swiftly implemented by our management team to meet your business needs and objectives.
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