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When it comes to offshore call centres, what price is a happy customer? How can AI help?

The offshore explosion

The nineties saw an explosion in the deployment of offshore service centres, the most popular destinations being China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Brazil. The main benefit of this dash to offshoring and outsourcing was seen as reduced cost, given the compelling lower staffing and real estate costs these locations could offer. And with global spending on service centres estimated to be some US$325 billion annually, according to Everest, it was a desirable proposition. However, as so often is the case, everything that glitters is not always gold, as there have been some well-documented offshoring problems.

These include:

  • Diminishing cost advantages with rising salary and operating expenses in some of the once-popular offshore locations.

  • Hidden infrastructure costs.

  • Differing cultural approaches and attitudes.

  • Language barriers.

  • Increased handling times;

  • Difficulties in meeting SLAs/KPIs causing customer frustration: many UK firms found their home-based call centres received much higher customer ratings than those overseas, as reported in call-centres.com.

  • time zone challenges.

  • security issues due to reports of data breaches in those locations which sometimes lack a stable and reliable infrastructure.

  • Different offshore regulatory and data regimes often conflict with a company's regulators.

Heading for home

In recent years, due to plummeting customer satisfaction rates and spiralling costs, there has been a reversal in the offshoring trend as many firms have decided to up sticks and head for home. In 2010, only 35% of service centres were onshore; by 2015, this had risen to 53%. As the cost benefits reduce, so too has to the tolerance of the limitations of offshoring as many firms recognise the need to increase employee and client satisfaction by automating processes for a slicker service, and upskilling staff. However, while this can be done in offshore centres, often it is more easily achieved locally.

Out with the old and in with the old?

According to a Fukuoka Mutual Life Insurance study, pre-pandemic home working had proven to reduce costs by an estimated 10%. But now, unfortunately, for many, working from home is essential. The advantages of a near-permanent home working model from a cost perspective are apparent, as firms will no longer need to maintain expensive office space and related operating expenditure. Sounds plausible, but without careful consideration and planning, could one merely be replacing the challenges encountered with the offshore model with similar problems on the newly deployed home territory?

The rise of the mighty customer

These days disgruntled customers have a mighty voice and are not afraid to use it. Easy access to influential social media channels is either a firm's best friend or their worst nightmare, and unhappy customers can make or break a reputation almost overnight. Modern technology has a significant role to play and is already proven to enable a business to deliver a seamless and highly positive customer experience. Scarily, according to a report by Contact Centre Helper and Calabrio in May 2020, based on 300 contact centres surveyed, only 1 in 10 businesses have their service facility based in the cloud, but 8 out of 10 are now deploying cloud software, or at the planning stage.

The onset of coronavirus worldwide and subsequent spikes in incoming communication, mainly via email and voice calls, led to 70% of companies providing clients with an increasing range of automated alternatives. This spike caused massive issues as firms struggled to support overworked and distressed call handlers and increasingly dissatisfied customers, leaving many scrabbling to find a solution to this unsatisfactory situation. The answer is undoubtedly intelligent business automation provided by new AI-powered SaaS technology, which can automate inefficient and time-consuming labour-intensive processes based on unstructured data such as incoming emails. Apart from significant cost benefits, this strategy also enables a firm to liberate its staff to work on more productive, value-added tasks, leading to the higher employee and customer satisfaction that all businesses crave.

By using the latest SaaS/CCaaS (Customer Centre as a Service) technology based in the cloud, a few forward-thinking firms have already adopted technologies which has transformed inefficient home working into a highly productive customer-centric business environment, If remaining offshore is the preferred option, adopting a cloud-based customer centre will also allow firms to provide a more seamless, automated service. So, while to some extent, the place of domicile becomes irrelevant – if this comes at the expense of increased customer satisfaction as reported by clients when the call centre is closer to home, the price could become fool’s gold. The choice is yours.

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