In 2011, the Philippines displaced India as the call center capital of the world. It secured its spot as the top choice of foreign investors for call center outsourcing due in large part to an English-speaking workforce and a compatible culture. The industry has been a substantial boon to the nation's growing middle class, and government support has made business simpler and more profitable.
In the Philippines, in India and around the world, international contact centers offer many benefits for business. Labor can be more cost-efficient, and 24-hour customer service becomes simple when team members are working in different time zones. Regions with established contact center industries often become hubs for expert training resources and experienced agents with specialized skills. Additionally, outsourcing can also help organizations scale up and down with traffic flow because a single location can serve a range of customers.
Yet collaborating and running call centers across borders comes with difficulties, too. Cultural insensitivity and language and accent barriers are often obvious to consumers, but managers face additional unseen challenges on the back end. Failure to balance legal and cultural standards across different communities can ruin a caller's experience. To increase satisfaction, organizations running foreign contact centers must be able to meet the needs of customers and employees alike.
Customers expect better, faster service. When people reach out to customer service, they expect the response to be efficient and effective. They want to speak with an agent who understands their problem and can address it. Satisfaction in the industry is inconsistent: Fifty-seven percent of consumers have been so steamed during a customer service interaction in the last year that they hung up the phone without a resolution. Yet despite the discouraging hang-up count, eighty-four percent [AS1] of customers have also reported call center experiences that were successful and positive, according to a survey by inContact, a NICE company.
Prompt resolution has always been the goal of customer service, but more complex international markets require more complex international solutions. Managers must employ and train increasingly specialized staff members and ensure that complete coverage is available every moment the lines are open. Moreover, employees must be empowered to resolve customer complaints. Organizing a system that can manage diverse skills sets requires complex routing and scheduling infrastructure.
Customers want to be engaged. Callers want competent, effective service, but they want it delivered in a friendly and relatable way. In international contact centers, this can prove particularly challenging. Cultural sensitivity is not something that can be learned by experience alone: A study of cross-cultural training courses at business schools found that students who participated in the program had higher cultural intelligence than students who worked in multicultural settings but did not take a cross-cultural management course.
Managers have many options to improve the situation: Language and accent counseling can be very effective, and cultural awareness and quality management can guide employees towards appropriate interactions. Yet once employees have been counseled and trained, leadership has to ensure that agents with the right expertise, culture and language competencies are available at the right time. Accurate traffic forecasts are key. Modern forecasting systems can handle incredibly complex demands, weighing and incorporating any range of source, input, and historical and real-time data – including individual agents' ability to relate to and engage with callers from around the globe.
Employees deserve cultural respect. Cultural observances and holidays vary widely from region to region. Practices even differ within the U.S.: Businesses in New Orleans shut down for Mardi Gras, some schools in the Northeast close schools during Jewish holidays, and many communities take a rest on Good Friday. If holidays and expectations are so different within a single country, how can expats or international companies collaborate with foreign contact centers?
Developing schedules that fit the needs of agents and callers is no easy task. Balancing labor laws is also a factor, since some sites have strict employee protection standards through union contracts or government regulations. Spreadsheets are no longer an option in this kind of environment; technology is the only solution. Long-term predictions can prepare a contact center for holidays and events well in advance. To be a digital and agile business, businesses need a solution that supports virtually any scheduling methodology, enabling them to choose the approach that best meets their needs.
Because contact centers are direct and powerful brand touchpoints, they must be able to satisfy customers regardless of location. Accents must be understandable over the phone, and cultural nuances and etiquette should be addressed. Local holidays, regulations and laws must be respected. Yet training in culture, language and service areas is only useful if managers apply it correctly. The more regions a contact center touches, the more scheduling parameters and forecasting strategies it must include. Only a complex, data-driven solution can meet the needs of the modern contact center and satisfy customers, employees and business, no matter where they are.
Paul Chance is a senior product marketing manager for NICE Workforce Management (WFM), the leading software solution used by contact centers to digest the complexity of their organizations and produce precise forecasts and clear action. For more information, visit www.nice.com/engage/workforce-optimization/workforce-management.
[AS1]This survey was led by InContact in 2015. Given that InContact has been acquired by NICE since then, is it an acceptable source for data? Or should we steer clear of information branded for another service, regardless of ties to NICE?