Customer Service: The Going Gets Tough at Call Centers

Ann All

Ann All spoke with Sheri Teodoru, worldwide managing partner of CFI Group, which assists its clients worldwide to maximize shareholder (or other stakeholder) value by optimizing employee and customer satisfaction. It developed the software for the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which is used to monitor and benchmark customer satisfaction across more than 200 companies and U.S. federal agencies.


All: CFI Group's research found that customers who thought a contact center was located offshore ranked their experiences significantly lower (26 points on a 100-point scale) than experiences at onshore centers. They also indicated they'd be twice as likely to defect. What were customers' biggest issues with offshore centers? Do they tend to have a negative perception of such centers, regardless of their actual service levels?
Teodoru: Clearly there is some backlash due to the offshoring of jobs. There is some negativity there. We asked outright, "Does the location affect your likelihood to do business?" But the more interesting thing was, the number of people that said "yes" was the same whether or not they thought (contact centers) were offshored. So it isn't as if there is this knee-jerk reaction driving the negativity.


The far bigger issue is that customers just aren't getting their problems resolved by the offshore agents. This is primarily driven by the PC industry. It has done a lot of offshoring, which clearly has not worked. The issues are complex; the reps couldn't solve the problems; customers left angry. This drove down (customers') satisfaction with the call, and clearly, their overall satisfaction with the (computer) companies. It ended up translating into a lower stock price for some of the companies. So it's a big issue.


All: Yes, I see that PC call centers only got a 64 (on a scale of 100), largely based on the fact that customers were less likely to get their issues resolved on a single call. Is this because, as you said, problems associated with PCs tend to be more complex? Or are there other issues?
Teodoru: I have a horrible grasp of French. Yet I can go to France and find my way around a little bit and probably order a cup of coffee or a meal. But if I wanted to discuss a business problem with someone in France, I wouldn't get much past "bonjour." I think you've got some of that going on here. You've got very complicated issues. Just look at the computer on your desk and think about the 5 million ways you could describe its keyboard in a script. So when you try to describe your problem, if those words don't appear on a script, the agent might not know the American colloquialism. So you end up getting this bizarre inability for the agent to even understand what you are asking. With onshore, there's less of that. If you call (a computer component) "this thingamajig," you might still be able to get the agent to understand what you are talking about.

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