Back in July of 2007, I wrote about several British companies with advertising campaigns promoting the fact that they used only call centers based in the UK and wondered whether it was xenophobia or simply good business. About a year later, the Black Book of Outsourcing flagged the idea of companies moving contact centers closer to home as a key outsourcing trend.
Dell, a company that has taken some past knocks for its customer service, is now offering such services from the U.S., but with an interesting twist. As the Washington Post reports, it's charging folks to connect with an American agent, $12.95 a month for customers with a Dell account or $99 a year for people who buy a new PC. It's sweetening the deal by promising wait times of two minutes or less. Those not paying these fees will likely connect with a contact center agent in another country, such as India or the Philippines.
A Dell spokesman says the move "illustrates Dell's commitment to customer choice." At least one expert, Lyn Kramer, managing director of the Kramer and Associates call-center consultancy, chafes at bit at the idea of charging customers to speak with an agent on U.S. shores. She says:
Most people in the customer service world believe that if you have sold me a product, then support for that product should be free.
The article offers cell phone provider Jitterbug as an example of a U.S. company that promotes its domestic call centers and does not charge customers a premium for the service. David Inns, Jitterbug's CEO, says it was tough to pass up cost savings that he heard could be as much as 75 percent by employing offshore agents. But, he says, "What's missing from those estimates is what the impact is on customer satisfaction and what is the impact on first-call resolution."
In fact, an oft-cited 2004 study by consulting firm ContactBabel found British agents could answer 25 percent more calls per hour than their Indian counterparts and resolve 17 percent more problems during an initial call. Not only that, but ContactBabel estimated that the total savings from shifting 1,000 call center jobs from the UK to India would vanish if the move led one-third of 1 percent of a (hypothetical) company's customers to take their business elsewhere.
It will be interesting to see how many Dell customers decide to pony up and pay for U.S.-based support.