Bring It on Home

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  October 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

Hello CIS readers. I suppose the first order of business for this issue’s Logout column should be an introduction. As you may have noticed, I’m a new face at Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. In fact, I’ll be heading up the editorial effort at CIS from here forward.

Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’ve been a trade magazine reporter in the telecom/communications space for 20 years. I got my start at Telephony magazine, then worked for a couple years as a senior editor for Inter@ctive Week, did an 11-year stint as editor in chief of xchange magazine, and came aboard TMC (News - Alert) a little more than two years ago. TMC tapped me in August to lead the editorial charge at CIS, and I’m excited to present to you the first issue of Customer Interaction Solutions created under my guidance. As always, we welcome your input on this or any CIS issue.

As we got started on CIS October, one of the first pieces of customer interaction-related news that came to my attention was the launch of jobs4america. The FCC (News - Alert) and a coalition of call center companies joined forces on this effort, which aims to create (or, more specifically in most cases, bring back from overseas) 100,000 broadband-enabled call center jobs in the next two years in the U.S.

The partners say that will help out some of the communities in our country that have been hit hardest by the economic downturn; that’s in part because broadband connectivity, VoIP technology and newer call center solutions enable people to work remotely as customer service reps. That’s good for workers because it gives them much more flexibility to work wherever they are. (I personally have been working at home for most of my career, and I love it.)

Alpine Access is among the 10 companies mentioned in the FCC’s jobs4america announcement, which notes the company expects to add 4,000 U.S.-based call center jobs in the next two years. In August, the company revealed plans to hire more than 1,000 work-from-home employees across the nation by the end of 2011.

Cynthia Phillips, vice president of marketing of Alpine Access, told me in an August interview that the company is the only pure play, employee-based contact center business that uses home-based agents exclusively. As a result, she says, the education and quality of the Alpine Access call center reps is much higher than reps at competitors’ brick-and-mortar call centers because it can recruit from a much broader base of job candidates. She adds that Alpine Access also has older reps (which typically means more work experience) than is the norm in the industry and low employee turnover. Phillips says some of company’s employees have been on the job for eight or 10 years. Many of these folks also have industry-specific expertise that Phillips says Alpine Access matches up with the special requirements of its clients.

Saying that about 70 percent of Alpine Access business in the last year involved companies that decided to bring their call centers back from overseas in an effort to increase customer service and at the same time support the U.S. economy, Phillips comments: “At the end of the day the question to the companies is: How valuable are your customers?”

It is far better to keep a customer than to lose one and have to go get a new one, she says.

“As a consumer myself, sometimes the only interaction I have [with a company] is through their call center, so the call rep I talk to at a company is my only perception point about that company,” Phillips adds. That said, “there’s always going to be a need for that human component.”

Kevin Childs (News - Alert), practice leader, contact center lead at Manpower, tells me that 10 to 15 years ago many people thought contact centers had seen their best days in the U.S., because at the time many contact center work was moving overseas. But that’s no longer the case, he indicates, adding that in the U.S. Manpower employs 10,000 contact center reps and provides contact centers to more than 3,500 companies.

Manpower, he says, works closely with client companies to deliver contact center solutions that balance cost vs. quality related to customer interaction. Those solutions, he adds, include matching the best talent with the individual customer, providing on-demand labor resources, and delivering performance management and process improvement tools and solutions. What’s more, he says, Manpower customers can improve customer interactions while retaining control over contact center leadership and strategy, and the customer experience.

Pointing out that Consumer Reports in July reported that consumer satisfaction is at an all-time low, Childs says using U.S.-based call center reps – at least for high-value customers; doing performance management; and leveraging state-of-the-art contact centers solutions that don’t remove the company’s line of site to the customer, could help turn that around.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi