Does a call centre location really matter?
Recently I was interviewed on TV by A Current Affair for a story on the Australian contact centre industry. I was initially approached by the editor after they read one of my earlier articles on ‘Why Australian Call Centres are going offshore‘ and in particular my comment that some businesses are now actively promoting the fact that their call centre is ‘Australian based’ as a competitive advantage.
Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock (or not based in Australia!) then you would have noticed the Commonwealth Bank’s campaign that is heavily promoting the location of their call centres across all media (TV, radio, print, Billboards, Social).
So why are they doing it? Is the call centre location really that important? If you’d like to watch the story that aired on TV here is the link otherwise I’ve outlined my thoughts on some of the factors you need to consider about deciding the right call centre location for your business.
What’s the big deal about the call centre location?
I personally don’t think the primary driver for anyone to send their call centre offshore is for a better customer experience. With offshore call centres in the vicinity of 60-70% cheaper than onshore typically the driving motivation is to reduce costs.
With labour accounting for around 75%-80% of a call centre budget its a pretty simple equation that moving the call centre to a location with cheaper salaries is going to make a significant impact.
The award rate for a call centre agent (base level) in Australia is $39,925 but then there are penalty rates for shift work, overtime rates, Superannuation, Workcover, Sick leave, annual leave etc on top of costs for accomodation, technology etc which all adds up to a significant amount. For easy comparison, a fully outsourced call centre agent in Australia will cost around $60AUD per hour versus around $12AUD in the Philippines. Using a 50 seat call centre as an example that can equate to a saving of over $4.7M per year – a significant carrot for most businesses.
Now it’s not to say businesses don’t want to improve the customer experience, and by saving millions of dollars a year businesses can afford to invest more in being open longer, having more staff than they can otherwise afford, developing better products etc. So sure you can mount a case for better service being the driver, but I’m yet to have a company contact me and say “Hey Justin I’ve been looking for ways we can offer a superior level of service to our customers so can you help us move our entire call centre operations to another country”. Its more along the lines of “Hey Justin I need to cut some costs out of the business, how can we do that without impacting the quality of service too much?”.
Let’s be clear – just because a call centre is located overseas doesn’t automatically equate to a negative experience. I’ve had some terrific call centre agents and experiences in the Philippines, South Africa and even from that far away exotic destination, New Zealand.
But on balance, speaking to someone from your own country who speaks the same language does have some benefits:
- It’s quicker and faster to communicate.
- You can use slang and still be understood.
- Its easier to detect emotion (for both the call centre agent and you).
- You can build stronger rapport whether its some jokes over the local footy scores, the weather etc or perhaps an empathetic ear about some cultural or political issues. Typically better rapport leads to a better customer experience (see below).
From my experience visiting call centres across the world, call centre agents work hard no matter what country they are in! So if we accept the fact that not one country’s call centre agents are more productive than another and language barriers aside, the biggest frustration with offshore call centres in my experience is typically the low levels of empowerment the agents are given to resolve your issue.
The offshore call centre agents are often expected to perform with rigid scripts, restricted access to systems and often poor support and training in all of the companies products. Its like trying to hit a cricket ball with your hands tied behind your back!
How many times have you gone through an IVR (press 1 for this, 2 for that) where you are then asked to enter in your account details, date of birth etc only to end up in an offshore call centre where you are asked the exact same questions! “Oh sorry sir we don’t have access to that information here” is a well-worn phrase. Its hardly the poor call centre workers fault but it’s a horrible way to start the conversation.
Just recently I had to call the local pay TV provider for some support. The after-hours support was handled offshore and the agent advised me that he was unable to help me because “I don’t have access to that system so you will need to call back tomorrow between 9am and 5pm and speak to a different team”. Does that piss me off as a customer? Absolutely! Is it the agent’s fault? Not at all.
Sadly offshore call centre workers are often only taught a very small section of a companies products or services and are told exactly what to say and how to say it. FAQ’s and system access are limited strictly to the items they support and to reduce the load on an onshore call centre or other channels, they are often not allowed to transfer customers to another team even when it’s clear they better placed to handle the enquiry.
So while our offshore friends might be fully conversant with a particular product or service, as soon as things go ‘off-script’ its normally when things start going downhill. Of course, customers don’t (and shouldn’t) need to stick to a script and only ask about one product or service. And that’s the risk with managing the customer experience – the agent and the associated systems and processes need to be flexible and seamless for the customer regardless of the location or channel.
I honestly think that if the customer experience was designed better and agents were fully empowered to help customers, then it really shouldn’t matter where the call is answered and there would be a lot fewer people frustrated with the offshore call centre experience!
As third world countries evolve and start investing more in infrastructure and more and more people move into ‘middle class’ the once cheap labour rates will start to increase. We experienced it in India and already in the Philippines (who service the USA more than Australia for the record) competition for elite call centre talent continues to drive up wages in the high population cities. This is forcing outsourcers and larger call centres to move further out to access more talent with less competition but naturally, over time this gets harder and harder to do.
Throw in the value of the Aussie dollar fluctuating and political instability in some countries and there are obviously a lot of moving parts that can make the commercial proposition and risk of offshoring increasingly difficult to forecast.
So who are the companies with 100% Australian call centres?
As I mentioned earlier we’ve started to see companies now actively promote their ‘Australian based’ call centre as a point of difference in a competitive marketplace. Commonwealth Bank, AMP, Red Energy and Aussie Broadband are just a few of the companies that come to mind.
For readers who have been following me for a while, you’d remember that years ago I had a list on this website that identified where the call centres were located for specific businesses. In late 2018/early 2019, I’ll be launching a website that will provide consumers with a resource to search by company name or by industry type to find out where businesses have their call centres.
What the stats say
We all have some personal opinions on this and for some on-shoring versus offshoring is a highly emotive topic so lets take a look at some recent statistics:
- A customer is 4 times more likely to go to your competitor if their problem is service related than price or product related. (Bain & Company)
- By the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. (Customers 2020 Report)
- Love your new customers, but never forget to appreciate your old clients as well: it’s 7x more expensive to get a new customer than to retain an existing one. (Invesp)
- 70% of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favour. (Lee Resource Inc)
- In the latest Australian Contact Centre industry report, Philippines as an on-shore location as reduced from 30% in 2014 to 19% in 2018
- Contact centres that outsourcing some contact centre functionality is on the rise – from 22% in 2014 to 24% in 2018
- 78% of organisations that outsource do so on-shore.
By now you’ve probably realised the decision to send your call centre offshore is not an easy one and there is certainly no ‘one size fits all’. If there are significant savings to be made and this enables your business to provide better service (because you can handle more volumes or offer extended hours) or you can pass on those cost savings in the form of lower prices to customers then you’d be crazy not to look at it.
And for some customers, having a cheaper product or service is worth the inconvenience of some potential language challenges or a lower quality of customer service. Bunnings and Aldi are just two of many examples where low prices over great service is a strategy that can work.
There is no doubt however that for most businesses the customer experience is the new battleground for the customer dollar so whichever way you go, make sure you invest in getting the customer experience right. Just because its offshore is not an excuse for a poor experience.
As always I look forward to your views.