smith+co on
customer experience
Shaun Smith
  • By Shaun Smith
  • Apr 13 2009

What is the future for contact centre offshoring?

I was presenting a CEM workshop last week in Amsterdam with TOTE-M our consulting partner there. We had a great group of delegates covering a broad spectrum of industries all keen to learn how CEM could help their business.

At one point we were talking about the ‘evolution’ of the contact centre and my prediction that this touch-point will become increasingly important for brands wishing to differentiate on the basis of the customer experience. I went on to say that I also thought that more organisations will be bringing their call centres back onshore as consumers become disenfranchised with the level of support often provided by outsourced facilities.

Agents delivering the brand values

One of the delegates disagreed saying that, in his view, if you have great processes and good technology then the contact centre can be located anywhere. I agree up to a point … and that point is when the contact centre agents become responsible for delivering the brand values and creating an experience for customers that creates an emotional connection.

No matter how good the training or the processes, it is extremely difficult for an agent sitting in a call-centre in Bangalore to provide an empathetic and credible brand experience to a consumer in Boston. Look at this research we did with one of the largest telecom operators in the UK as part of our ‘CEM+ Synchrony’ audits.


You can see that we analysed the behaviour of top agents and agents selected at random to identify what they did differently. We plotted their behaviour at significant touch-points and gave them a score out of 100 for each. We also analysed the response of the customers and plotted their emotional connection by listening to how they responded to the agent (not shown here).

Top agents end well

So for example, a customer said at the end of the call with a top agent ‘Thank you so much - you have been really helpful, I shall certainly use you again’, whilst a typical response at the end of calls with the random agents was a simple ‘OK, thanks’.

Looking at the profile you can see straight away that the top agents spend more time on understanding the customer’s need (58% vs 37%) and using, what we call, ‘helping’ behaviours (54% vs 37%). Selling behaviour is more evident too (41% vs 5%), but this is not ‘hard selling’ in the traditional CRM sense so much as offering appropriate solutions to a stated need.

The only area where the top agents score lower was in ‘Experiential control’ (43% vs 48%), in other words managing the call and getting the customer off the line faster. Now an objection to this might be, “That is all very well but we can’t afford for our agents to take more than the target handling time on a call”. The fact is that one study by Ventana found that only 40% of customer problems were resolved on the first call. I would argue better to do it right first time and not have to handle a second or even, third call.

Engage emotionally

One organisation found that if customers laughed during a call, their Net Promoter Score (a measure of satisfaction) went up by 8 points on average. Now, I am not suggesting for a moment that your agents should be cracking jokes, but I am suggesting that creating a real connection with a customer is a powerful way of creating a customer experience that differentiates your brand and, in so doing, drive revenue.

I think it is much harder to get that level of connection when the agents are hired hands and feel no connection to your brand themselves.

The reason that First Direct provides a best in class contact centre experience and came top in the 2008 GfK NOP contact centre customer service study, is that its people are themselves connected emotionally to the brand. One study by CIPD found that 83% of First Direct employees were proud to say they worked for the organisation. This what First Direct says to its prospective employees.

First Direct - Who we are
“The clue’s in the name, really. First telephone bank, first to offer a 24/7 service. We’re pioneers by nature.

“Almost 20 years on, with one in three customers joining us on personal recommendation, we continue to set the standards. So confident are we of our exceptional service, that we give our customers £100 when they join, and another £100 if they choose to move elsewhere within six months. You can see everything you need to know about this by reading about our service guarantee.

“That’s our customers. What about our people? The ones that make it all possible. Well, they’re all true individuals, for starters. Because we love people to be themselves at work. Our work-hard, play-hard culture seems to complement that very well indeed. In short, we’re brimming with personality.”

The way forward

In conclusion, I think we are going to see more organisations for whom the customer experience is an integral and differentiating part of their strategy, reconsider their offshoring strategy. Yes it may be efficient and reduce costs but is that at the expense of effectiveness? Even more importantly does it inhibit the organisation from truly delivering an experience that keeps customers loyal to the brand? If the answer is ‘yes’ then it is time to re-think your strategy.