Is it time to bring offshore call-centres back home?

Before I start this post dear reader, I declare I only speak one language – Australian. I respect anyone who can speak multiple languages. But because someone can speak a language doesn’t mean they can communicate in the language they speak.

I assume my international colleagues experience similar frustrations as we Aussies do, when you call a local company’s “customer service centre” that is located in a country where English isn’t the first language. This outsourcing of alleged service has been one of the great cons of modern capitalism.

Firstly, the service is worse, it’s never better. Secondly, the income earned by the call-centre staff doesn’t benefit our local economy. Thirdly, the poor service really pisses-off customers, the people who pay the salaries of the call-centre staff.

One of the worst experiences is when the call-centre representative gets into a circular loop reading from a script, usually because they don’t understand the language or its nuances, and are unable to solve the problem at hand. The conversation ends up as “I understand your situation…” Of course they have no idea or understanding of the situation. But some call-centre psychiatrist, or human capital expert, has convinced management that this phrase helps diffuse the customer’s frustration, when in reality it makes matters worse.

“I have no idea how to solve your problem, but it says here I should say…”

So, given the COVID-Crisis and the massive unemployment it is creating, isn’t it time we returned call-centres to Australia?

Qantas is an example. Today it announced it is sacking around 6,000 staff in order to survive. Why not relocate the Qantas call-centres to Australia and employ some of those staff, where the income will benefit the local economy? It will also improve the customer service.

Telstra is another one. I’ve yet to speak with a customer service person without “I beg you pardon” being the most common phrase I use. Even worse is the Voice Recognition software that doesn’t work. Here’s a typical day in the life of a customer. You call the Telstra hotline. A computer answers and asks you to state why you’re calling. After stating your reason to the computer, it replies with something such as “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you, please repeat the reason for your call.”

This goes on until the computer forwards you to a human in another country. You go on hold until an English-as-a-second-language representative starts talking to you, usually to advise you’ve been put through to the wrong department, so “please hold while I transfer you“. Then the line goes dead, or if you’re lucky you get through to a queue to wait to speak to another representative, blah, blah.

“What do you mean, how do I spell Kim?”

It may be naive, but I believe we should use this opportunity to create jobs in our local economy – we have the talent pool. It’s the largest since the Great Depression. Let’s bring our call-centres home!

Gotta go, I’m having internet problems and have to call Telstra – aaaggghhhh!!!

6 Comments

  1. Speaking sense, as always.
    It all starts with one initial crap decision…….. let’s empower bean counters to make customer experience decisions.

  2. Agreed. The real problem is that all these industrial economy operators believe that call centres (i.e. customer service and valuable client relationship management expertise centres) are cost centres not profit centres because their efficiency or sustaining innovation developed proposition leading to this ‘customer-service-as-an-afterthought’ is configured backwards!

  3. It’s not “rocket science” that people want to (a) be understood and (b) to understand what the other person is saying. Some of this will depend on the customer base, of course. My elderly mother is hard of hearing in any case, so I’m continually having to act as interpreter because she can’t hear and understand what the “customer service ” person is saying. I’ve noticed that the direct mail companies in the UK tend to have local service (and are better on this issue) whereas big companies are more likely to offshore.

    As you point out elsewhere Malcolm, a big part of the problem is the bean counters viewing this as an expense rather than as a vital part of the customer relationship.

    • Yes Kevin, the bean counters need to realise that service doesn’t always require super-profits. The banks for example close branches when they aren’t making a profit, forgetting they are there to provide a service and it’s OK to make $4B profit instead of $5B…

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