Category Archives: Call Center Commentary

Bombay Calling

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

The TV special, Bombay Calling, provides a compelling exposé of an India-based outsourcing call center and the people who work there. In documentary style, it shows both the good and the bad in offshore call centers. Just as proponents of offshoring would find plenty to celebrate, opponents would likewise be encouraged. I was both mesmerized and saddened by what I saw.

Through the eye of the camera, I was pleasantly surprised to see many of the same call center conventions repeated in this overseas operation (with only a few adaptations to accommodate culture). I was encouraged with the bright-eyed, enthusiastic workforce, their can-do spirit, and an optimistic outlook.

The show begins by introducing us to Kaz Lalani. Not only does he outsource calls to Bombay, India, but he also “operates call centers in other countries to spread the risk.” Kaz boasts that his Indian reps have a strong work ethic. There is an air of joyous excitement and capable confidence among the agents.

The call center is filled with hard-working, fun-loving staff who enjoy their co-workers, their jobs, and the work they do.  Staff interviews reveal why. “It’s a great job, for good pay,” states one agent, “even for an undergrad.” Another boasts that he makes more than his girlfriend — even though she has a graduate degree. A third employee dropped out of engineering school for the express purpose of pursuing a call center career.

The average starting pay for a call center agent in Bombay was reported to be more that four times the average Indian income. This is why young people leave rural areas for call center work in Bombay.

This does cause some angst, both for parents — who lament a loss of tradition — and their children — who must adapt to city life without the nearby help of family. Nevertheless, there is a general acquiescence to the situation. Many agents send money home, pay bills for their parents, or do things to increase the standard of living for their family; all of which is made possible by their call center jobs.

With even more call centers opening in Bombay, these agents are acutely aware of the great demand for their English-speaking skills. They perceive this ability as their unrestricted ticket to opportunity and success. (A humorous aside is that the show’s producers occasionally resort to subtitles for some of their English-speaking interviewees.)

Eight months later, the call center is hurriedly expanding. They are calling Australia (first shift) and the U.K. (second shift). Some reps have been promoted to training, supervisory, and QA positions. However, the dark-side of their sharp rise in income is beginning to show.

One rep proudly admits that he has become materialistic; another longs for more time to spend with his wife and child; a third wants to leave the call center, but can’t — he has become accustomed to his new standard of living. Many of the reps are now complaining about the stress of the job — and they turn to partying and alcohol — every night — to dull their angst.

With the rapid expansion, not all of the new hires are ideal and some do not work out; sales numbers plummet. Some reps aren’t concerned — they’ll just go to another center; others are worried, but at a loss what to do. One once confident rep has lost his swagger — he has gone two days without a sale — and has a shell-shocked glaze.

This call center is no longer producing like it used to — or like the other ones in the network. An ultimatum is given. Some agents are sent to retraining, others are terminated. The call center is now a somber and dreary place. A pall hangs over the cubicles; the optimism is gone. Eventually the operation is scaled back to 25 agents. Kaz turns his concentration to other call centers.

In Bombay, call center work is truly changing the lives of its agents — for better and for worse.

[I watched “Bombay Calling” on FSTV (Free Speech Television). It has since run several more times, so if you are interested,  you might be able to watch it yourself in the future.]

[Posted by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD  for Connections Magazine, a contact center publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]

A Perfect Answer

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

How often have you called someplace and wondered if you reached the right number? All too often, calls are answered hurriedly, haphazardly, or incompletely. Or perhaps the agent seems out of breath by the time they complete a lengthy, tongue-twisting answer. It is vital that all calls be consistently answered in the same way, regardless of location or agent.  Here are three parts of the ideal way to do so:

Greeting

The greeting serves to set a positive tone for the call. It is simply “Good morning,” Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” The greeting tells the caller that the phone has been answered — and that it is time for them to listen! These words signal that it is time for the caller to listen, but it is not critical if they are missed.

Company Identity

This is simply the name of your organization or client, such as, “Acme Call Center.” It lets callers know who they’ve reached, confirming that their call has gone through correctly. Say the company name as it would be used by and most familiar to those outside the organization. Therefore, drop legal suffixes, such an Inc, LLC, and Ltd.  Also, avoid abbreviate the company name; saying “ACC” when everyone knows you as “Acme Call Center” will only cause confusion.

Agent Identity

The final element is your first name. It adds a valuable personal touch. It is much easier for a caller to get mad at an anonymous voice, than an identifiable person. Using your name allows you to build a rapport and establish a track record with the caller. As the last word of the answer phrase, it is also the one most easily remembered by the caller. Omitting your name implies an avoidance of personal involvement; ending with your name, signals confidence and competence, which are critical in problem solving and customer service situations.

Avoid Unnecessary Information

It is all too common for people to tack on the inane phrase, “How may I direct your call?” A direct response to this senseless question would be “quickly and accurately.” This is a waste of time.

Putting these elements together, results in the perfect answer: “Good morning, Acme Call Center, this is Peter.”

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Outbound Calling: Past, Present, and Future

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The most buffeted segment of call center work has been the outbound arena, specifically, consumer calling. With the combined effects of a public outcry against intrusion, political expediency, and the enactment of state and ultimately a national do not call (DNC) law, outbound calling to consumers has, by most all accounts, been devastated. 

Some outsource call centers elected to cease all outbound work, migrating to inbound (thereby diverting work from existing inbound centers, resulting in a smaller slice of the market for inbound centers). Other outbound call centers elected to switch from consumer campaigns to business calling, something to which I can personally attest. 

I am sad to report that these call centers have learned nothing from the motivation behind the DNC legislation. They are employing the same tactics with business calling that caused the downfall of consumer calling.

This includes inadequately compiled lists, poorly screened and trained agents, badly written scripts, and overly aggressively dialer settings.  I’m all for a smartly targeted call, dispensing useful and relevant information –- but in my experience, it’s just not happening. 

Too often, I receive inept B2B telemarketing calls. To make matters worse, often the dialing rate is set too tight and I get dead air or am disconnected. It is one thing to be interrupted by a useless phone call, but it is infuriating to be interrupted so that a machine can hang up on me.

Outbound call centers need to be careful. The same lackadaisical business practices that resulted in the government regulation and legal restrictions on residential calling could easily be extended to include business numbers.

It appears that these centers are still stuck the old numbers game: if you make enough calls, you are going to get some sales. Their focus is on quantity over quality. I would much rather have an agent who made four quality contacts an hour and close 25%, than an agent who cranked out 20 mediocre calls an hour and closed 5%.

The sales number would be the same, but the in the first situation, the agent would be less stressed, the caller parties less frustrated, the quality of the interaction much greater, and fewer people interrupted. Plus, the 75% who didn’t buy would most likely be left with a positive impression of that company, leaving the door open for future sales and referrals.

To personalize George Santayana’s advice, if we don’t learn from history, we will be doomed to repeat it.

[Posted by Peter Lyle DeHaan for Connections Magazine, a contact center publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]