Bringing Call Centers Home: The Business Case for Onshoring

By Joe Jacoboni

The call center industry has transformed and evolved over the last decade; it has moved away from a focus on customer service and customer satisfaction to bottom-line revenue and outsourced services. Not surprisingly, we have seen steep declines in customer satisfaction and loyalty, along with a significant increase in churn. This obsessive focus on the bottom line has led to many large companies going offshore for customer service and technical support, with smaller companies playing “follow the leader.” The result is that overall customer satisfaction has declined significantly.

Customer Relationships: The Lifeblood of All Companies: A poll by Opinion Research indicates that 69 percent of Americans are less likely to do business with a company after one bad call center experience. Yet, according to a 2007 Aspect Index report, customers are 33 percent more likely to do more business with a company after a positive customer experience.

So, while everyone understands how important satisfied customers are (and how powerful extremely satisfied customers are), many U.S. companies have shipped this responsibility to the lowest cost provider, often an overseas call center with low wage, under-trained workers. As a result, customer support and service satisfaction have been overshadowed by considerations solely for the bottom line.

Offshoring services fail to tell the whole story. No one mentions that customer satisfaction plummets due to the inability to deliver service that fulfills the expectations of an American customer. This has led to a loss of customer satisfaction and customer retention for many companies.

The Most Important Person in Today’s Economy Has Been Outsourced: The Customer! The twenty-first century needs a new call center model to transform the industry, one that focuses on the customer, not on the cost of doing business with that customer. The industry must look at the value, not simply the cost, of call center services with the ultimate goal of providing extreme customer satisfaction. This will yield an enthusiastic customer who will, in turn, stimulate strong word-of-mouth loyalty, ultimately leading to higher revenues.

Yes, cost is key, and some outsourcing can help save costs, but the siren call of the bottom line obscures the high risk of customer dissatisfaction, which is inevitable due to language barriers, extended length of calls, comprehension issues, and a lack of cultural context, all of which kills productivity. The net effect of extended calls is a productivity decline of 39 to 105 percent.

In addition, many of the behaviors that Americans intuitively expect from call center representatives are literally and figuratively foreign to international representatives. Representatives must be able to empathize with customers and respond in a culturally appropriate manner. It has been reported that problems with comprehension occur in an average of 18 percent of offshore calls (about one in five calls), which is a prime cause of customer frustration.

Offshore Call Center Support and Service Is the Lifetime Value of a Loyal Customer and Customer Retention: Whether it’s the loss of a customer due to having reached a foreign country for service and immediately hung up, or the loss of a customer who had a bad experience, current industry practices are causing an increase in costs to retain existing customers and gain new customers.

Companies must recognize that not delivering on the promise of extreme customer satisfaction not only inhibits a company’s word-of-mouth references but can also destroy a company. An unhappy individual’s campaigns against a company, either face-to-face with family and friends or via social media, allows that story to be told repeatedly, and a company will be unable to remove or control these negative references.

The key is not just reducing call center costs but improving overall return on investment of the customer experience. It’s not just about how quickly are calls answered or first call resolution. A real contact center partner understands the traditional variables but also recognizes the value of an extremely satisfied customer. This means that call center managers must understand what it takes to satisfy a customer’s needs. The call center manager must develop a long-term relationship with the customer to continue to evaluate, recognize, and support that customer’s ongoing needs, building a relationship that transcends a single interaction.

This industry must look at offering their services as solutions providers, not body shops, understanding each client’s specific objectives and the service and support needs of our clients’ customers. The only way to meet these objectives and provide extreme customer satisfaction is to evaluate the processes and procedures of every touch point of customer contact. We must then determine how to support and implement call center services that positively affect these specific areas, so the client’s customers receive excellent support and service.

Reevaluate and Reinvent the Call Center Industry to Make the Customer Number One: The new call center market is based on three things: the innovative use of technology, a closely-knit partnership between the outsource organization and the company it supports, and a unique workforce model.

For our industry to be successful, we must design and implement support systems that use state-of-the-art hosted on-demand technologies. We must solve customer service and technical support issues with appropriate technology that achieves the best results – whether voice, email, or chat – and allows the contact center and remote representatives to be closely integrated and monitored, ensuring the highest level of customer satisfaction.

We must develop and implement a strategic workforce management model using the “natural human resources” available in America – students, retirees, stay-at-home parents, special-needs individuals, and veterans. We must take responsibility to not only look at the bottom line but also provide education, training, and call center jobs in the United States.

The Call Center Industry Must Change: We must elevate customer service and technical support so people are satisfied by the contact, no matter what form it takes. We must deliver a customer experience that responds to people’s expectations so they do not dread their call center experience. We must provide call center services that respond appropriately to the cultural context of our customers. This will turn customers into loyal followers, and even evangelists, because the experience will align with the customer’s values. For the companies who employ the new call center model, increased customer satisfaction will help attract and retain customers and develop customer loyalty. This “value-added experience” will feed the customer’s emotion, which has far-reaching benefits.

As an industry, we must demonstrate that onshore call center services are cost effective and price competitive. We need to deliver exceptional expected service that is culturally appropriate, work with our clients to define the most appropriate response to their customers’ needs, and deliver a higher degree of extreme customer satisfaction better than what is currently being provided.

We must reinvent this industry to meet our customer’s expectations. We must bring call center services careers back to America to perform customer support more effectively so as not to waste a customer’s most important resource: time.

Joe Jacoboni founded Contact Centers of America in 2007 to address the critical shortcomings he observed in the contact center industry, an industry in which he is a pioneer. Recognizing the failures of offshoring and growing customer dissatisfaction with outsourcing, Jacoboni founded CCA to bring jobs back to America.

[From Connection Magazine January 2010]