I see O year in you the vast
terraqueous globe given and giving all,
Europe to Asia, Africa join'd, and they to the New
The lands, geographies, dancing before you, holding
a festival garland,
As brides and bridegrooms hand in hand.
Passage To India
In "Passage To India," Whitman was celebrating not
only the great communications accomplishments of the
19th century, the laying of the Atlantic and Pacific
cables, the joining of the transcontinental railroad
in the United States and the opening of the Suez
Canal, but also the spiritual effects the opening of
these communications channels would have on the world.
For Whitman, the fulfillment of Columbus' dream, of
easy commerce to India, should lead to more than just
trade, it should lead to a spiritual awakening that
comes when communication around the world leads to a
free exchange of knowledge and the recognition of
common human yearnings, desires and needs, breaking
down the age-old barriers of distance and ignorance.
This dream is closer to fulfillment now that the Web
is worldwide, making nearly instantaneous the
transferring of voice and data, words and ideas, from
anywhere to anywhere in the world.
Taking advantage of the opportunities of global
communications, several companies have started up in
the past few years that are drawing on India's vast
population and resulting large numbers of
well-educated technology experts to provide support.
As much software development has been successfully
outsourced to India since the '90s, one barrier to
acceptance has already come down, and telephony and
data costs are falling as India moves toward
privatization in those areas. Following are brief
descriptions of some of the companies providing
contact center services from India.
I recently spoke with Jai Gupta, CEO of Verette, Inc., about Verette's operations. Verette
is headquartered in Livermore, California, with its
contact center located in Mumbai, India, connected by
Verette's DVI (digital voice infrastructure)
end-to-end dedicated circuits via IPLC (International
Private Leased Circuit), which improves the quality of
VoIP calls (and the quality was certainly high for the
call I received from their contact center in Mumbai).
While I was on that call, I was also logged in to
their Web demo, guided through the site by a very
pleasant CSR, Kaizad Sidhwa, a commerce graduate from
Mumbai University (who was polite to the point of not
mentioning the spelling errors in my typing during our
Web chat session [Verette uses Cisco's WebLine product
for chat, page pushing, form filling and
Gupta stressed the importance Verette places on not
only the company's infrastructure (for which it has
partnered with AT&T, Cisco, Compaq,
Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Telera), but also on
the quality and training of its agents. Verette
provides its agents with a four-component training
program, which consists of product-specific training,
America 101 (people, geography, sports, etc.), accent
training (where the agents listen to tapes and watch
American TV shows) and customer service 101. The
initial training time is two weeks, and
product-specific training runs from six to eight
Gupta said Verette strives to mold itself to
provide the touch and feel of what its clients have in
the U.S., and train on the client's tools so they can
use them in the program. For each client, Verette
builds a dedicated team and matches agent skills to
each program. Gupta told me that upfront setup costs
are low for clients, and they can have a client's
program up and running in six to eight weeks.
Sidhwa told me Verette believes in complete
customer satisfaction, but Gupta said that over and
above that, Verette looks to improve their employees'
skills and their quality of life. Gupta added that
Verette is looking to expand its client base to
Europe, Asia/Pacific and South and Central America.
MphasiS-BFL designs and builds
information technology architecture for Fortune 500
companies that are custom-tailored for financial,
retail and technology industries using a variety of
applications. Its 1,400 engineers develop systems that
share the same customer information across branch
offices, customer service centers, call centers and
Web-based interfaces. With this expertise in systems
integration, it seems only natural that MphasiS-BFL
would go into the outsourced contact center services
field, as it has through its subsidiary, MsourcE
Jaitirth "Jerry" Rao, chairman and CEO of MphasiS
and chairman of MsourcE, told me about MsourcE's
operations in its two contact centers in India, one in
Bangalore and one in Pune. Each center has
approximately 200 agents and is staffed 24/7. Rao said
that all agents at MsourcE are college graduates and
receive four to six weeks of initial training that
includes accent training, customer service and
technology. Agents undergo a broad spectrum of
training, from online to classroom to viewing films
and TV programming from the U.S. Whenever possible,
the agents are trained specifically on the client's
business at a client's headquarters so the agents are
able to provide complete and in-depth answers to
inquiries. Attesting to the quality procedures at
MsourcE, its Pune center has received ISO 9001-2000
quality standard certification.
Rao said MsourcE has two interconnected telecom
centers in the U.S., one in California and one in
Texas, which are linked to the two Indian centers
through IPLC terrestrial fiber and satellite links to
ensure multiple redundancies.
MsourcE provides inbound and outbound telephony
services, e-mail response, text chat and VoIP support
from Web sites. MsourcE's first step for its clients
is to perform an eCRM needs analysis so it can develop
a strategy capable of engaging automated support that
escalates to live help as needed.
Providing additional customer reach for MsourcE and
its clients is the Oxelis eSupport Console from Oxelis,
Inc. The eSupport Console, which can
be deployed on Web sites or sent with e-mail, provides
users with multimedia previews to educate users about
site features or the products or services a company
provides. The eSupport Console also gives the user FAQ
features, as well as the ability to escalate to live
help through text chat or VoIP. According to Madhu
Vijayan, president and CEO of Oxelis, these features
allow the eSupport Console to "deliver the right
service to the right person at the right time."
Customer.com has its contact center in the
International Technology Park in Bangalore, which has
various facilities for employees such as workout and
health facilities. Onsite they have 100 percent uptime
data connectivity and stand-alone power. In fact, when
earthquakes hit India last year, 24/7 Customer.com
allowed other companies to use their facilities. Its
corporate headquarters in Los Gatos, California and
its operations center in Bangalore are connected
through a VSNL earth station with IPLC connectivity
and has an uninterrupted power supply.
Sudhakar "Sid" Kosaraju, vice president of
development and marketing, 24/7 Customer.com told me
that companies are rethinking their strategies because
of the global slowdown, and for many, their first
thought is to look to India. "For them," he continued,
"24/7 Customer.com can offer a higher skill level and
lower costs. The advent of a large software
development industry in India in the 1990s has given
many a high level of comfort in outsourcing other
services to India." In the case of 24/7 Customer.com,
over the past year their services have done a complete
turnaround, from a 30/70 ratio of voice services to
e-mail and chat last year, to 70 percent voice and 30
percent e-mail and chat this year. The company
recently recorded its 1,000,000th customer service
query for 2001, and expects to handle 1,000,000 more
by the end of the year.
24/7 Customer.com handles all types of programs for
their clients, such as customer service, financial
services, retail and tech support. Kosaraju said that
in clients, they look to have long-term contracts with
Global 500-level companies, and for those clients they
can provide both inbound and outbound services, and
perform cross-selling and upselling as well.
The company has recently been awarded ISO 9002
certification and its Bangalore inbound customer
service operation has secured the highest Baseline
Assessment score earned to date by any organization
using the COPC-2000 Standard (Release 3.1) from COPC.
At present, 24/7 Customer.com has 350 seats and 300
agents, half of whom have master's degrees and all of
whom have BA degrees. 24/7 Customer.com's agents work
in teams dedicated to a single customer's business.
Among the customers are AltaVista, Rediff.com and
Shutterfly, as well as recent customers that include a
large global telecom provider, a large financial
services provider, a large car reservations company
and a large hotel chain.
CustomerAsset.com, headquartered in Bangalore and with
offices in the U.S. and the U.K. as well, is a joint
venture between SOFTBANK, ePartners (News Corporation)
and P K Mittal (Ispat Group). Raghu Krishnaiah, chief
of U.S. operations for CustomerAsset.com, provided me
details about the operations of CustomerAsset.com and
its eCRM offerings in outsourced customer interaction,
outbound telesales, inbound customer service, data
mining, database marketing and campaign management.
After a screening process that includes written and
verbal skills testing, agents go through an initial
three-and-a-half-week training program. Krishnaiah
stressed that CustomerAsset.com hires only people with
college degrees and two years of work experience in
the field. Krishnaiah said an advantage of India over
the U.S. is that it is difficult to cost-effectively
find people in the U.S. who can cross-sell as well as
perform customer service.
Krishnaiah said that CustomerAsset.com is run and
operated like a U.S. company, and offers a quality of
service guarantee. As part of its overall business
strategy, it is looking to partner with CRM software
dealers. As part of its CRM offerings, agents have a
complete history of a customer's interactions with the
client, whether it is Web, e-mail, fax or voice.
Krishnaiah added that they try to reduce the number of
agents needed to handle the work so that clients
increase margins 30 to 40 percent.
CustomerAsset.com has two centers in Bangalore,
with dedicated fiber optic circuits through AT&T
and MCI for voice and data streaming, carrier-class
automatic call distributors (ACDs) and multiplexers
with built-in redundancy; customer care specialists
use Dell PCs, IBM thin clients and IBM Netfinity
servers and agent desktops connect to virtual LANs
through Intel switches to ensure confidentiality.
Krishnaiah said that clients are separated both
physically and technologically in the centers.
CustomerAsset.com plans to have a 5,000-seat capacity
by the end of 2003. They also recently acquired
TeleWeb Worldwide, a Denver-based company that was
primarily focused on outsourced customer service and
sales to India from U.S. telecommunications companies.
Headquartered in Los Angeles, C-Cubed Solutions
provides live sales and support help for its clients
from its center in Bangalore. Steve Durham, COO of
C-Cubed Solutions, explained that they provide live
sales help and customer service through e-mail and
text chat for their clients. Durham said all of
C-Cubed Solutions' 140 CSRs are college graduates and
are Oracle- and Microsoft-qualified and are
well-trained on the eshare software they use in their
"We want to give clients a level of acceptability --
they can put us on hiatus or ratchet our services up
or down," said Durham. For potential clients, C-Cubed
Solutions will put together an interim knowledge base
from a company's Web pages. C-Cubed uses this interim
knowledge base to provide a gap analysis to show the
potential clients how they can improve upon or extend
the services that the potential clients are currently
giving their customers. Durham added that C-Cubed
provides its clients consistency, speed and provides a
skill set that is uniform and measured.
According to Durham, C-Cubed doesn't require net
start-up fees or minimums or a contract, so there is
an area for clients to test programs. C-Cubed staffs
for 75 percent utilization and charges around $12 per
person per hour (and they only charge when an agent is
doing work for a client), and Durham told me that chat
times go down the longer they work with a client.
Among C-Cubed clients, they are handling e-mail for
Net2Phone, and for Sony, they are providing e-selling
live sales help on the Sony Web site. Other clients
include Ritz Interactive, allpets.com and Koss AV.
C-Cubed Solutions is planning on adding Spanish,
Portuguese and French, so they will be able to offer
their services to all of the Americas as well as a
large portion of Europe, and there are also plans to
expand into offering voice services in the future.
So, is India the panacea for all companies looking
to give their customers follow-the-sun e-commerce
sales and support? For some it will be and the
companies mentioned here are already providing a
viable outsourcing alternative. But no one place can
provide the solutions for all needs, so look at India
and compare your needs to what companies there are
Author's Note: Reading Whitman's lines again
as well as my introduction to this piece on the night
of September 11, 2001, perhaps my faith in the
opportunities for greater understanding of the human
condition through global communications seems too
idealistic, but I cannot help but feel that the more
we can spread knowledge, the more compassionate we
will become and the greater the chances for peace.
Open your mind and the heart will follow -- the body
will no longer be the center of the world -- the
center will be the soul.
The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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