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February 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 9
On The Line

Time to Talk

By Tim Searcy

As the legislative season gets into full swing, the volume of complaints about teleservices are climbing to a dull roar. I do not have all the answers. As a matter of fact, I am not certain I have any answers. However, what I do have is a lot of questions. Unfortunately, these are not my questions. Instead consumers are asking for answers from the teleservices industry and from policy makers. Here are several question areas which demand our attention:

Jobs — Lou Dobbs rails against companies (including customer care) that choose to locate labor fulfillment offshore. The Obama administration is receiving pressure to create tax incentives and tax penalties to force firms to bring jobs back to the United States. With a price differential of greater than $10 per hour, it is hard to imagine an incentive or disincentive package sufficient to overcome the transition costs and ongoing financial benefit of locating centers offshore. However, businesses are facing a growing frustration with poor service attributed to offshore contact centers. Consumer activism coupled with government efforts may combine to create a backlash against offshore, which will be difficult to ignore. The dialog that continues to find its way into industry conferences and conventions revolves around the concept of “right sourcing.” Each firm has made business decisions related to sales, service and support by telephone and depending upon business goals and needs, determines where to locate their contact centers. The conversation used to be about first call resolution, customer satisfaction and service delivery, and which country or populace could do the best with the least. For offshoring to remain viable, it will be necessary to change the focus of leverage to which location can do the best. Period. Firms that want to use offshore centers may ultimately have to prove that the choice is not “just as good as American,” but rather it is better.

Consumer Relevance — The old reference to companies trying to sell siding for the home to consumers living in apartments is by and large gone. Companies target their marketing efforts better, and data analysis has made many of the simple mistakes of misdirection disappear. However, the outbound contact center is better equipped to manage preference than inbound centers. Many companies are desperately trying to turn their cost centers into profit centers by making their service centers sell during service calls. It is not unusual to contact your credit card company or make a call for technical support only to have the end of the call turn into a sales discussion on an unrelated product or service. These sales presentations are often germane and interesting, but they are certainly outside of the intent of the original call. Additionally, phone calls made for the purpose of purchasing something from a catalog company or from DRTV turn into multiple up-sell opportunities. Many of the products being promoted have nothing to do with even the product category of the initial call. Consumers and regulators are fed up with the overwhelming use of the up-sell. What is the prudent level of ongoing sales effort after the initial business of an inbound call is complete?

Consumer Convenience — The Do-Not-Call registry was in many ways more about convenience than the concept of privacy or intrusion as stated by the government. Most of the arguments in support of the DNC could be boiled down to annoyance. This same line of argument is being leveled at both technology and personnel issues in the contact center industry. Currently customers resent being put on hold without a queue announcement to alert them to how long they will be on hold. As a matter of course, consumers will often press “0” to try to reach a live operator. Consumers receive a second bit of frustration when the attempt to reach a live operator on an automated or a long hold call fail. The other consumer convenience issue relates to first call resolution. In the utility industry and other monopoly or near monopoly industries, rate increases and fines have been tied to service levels including hold times and first call resolution. By demanding that companies train and empower call center representatives, it is proven that a higher first call resolution can be achieved, and therefore consumers will not have to call again to address a problem. It is inconvenient to have to call back multiple times on the same issue, and consumers are unwilling to continue the practice.

At times, these issues only inspire anger on the part of business and the assumption that the government or consumers “just don’t understand” or are bent on our destruction. This is not universally true. Instead, the inquiries are based on the hope that some accommodation can be made among the major constituent groups of business, consumers and the government. It is the goal of the ATA’s Self-Regulatory Organization to provide a forum for all parties to discuss the proper balance of interests. If you would like to join the dialog, please contact me at [email protected], and I will get you connected.

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