The Customer Service Survey

It Matters Who You Hire, Not Where You Hire Them

by Peter Leppik on Tue, 2005-10-18 01:00
The magic of fiber-optic communications has created a global market for talent in the customer service business. In a very real way, we're all still adjusting--economically and culturally--to this new reality.

Information Week published an editorial last week that captures this adjustment possibly in more depth than intended. On the one hand, we have British Telecom's Chief Procurement Officer calling BT's customers "bigots" for complaining about being sent to an Indian call center. On the other hand, we have the author of the editorial responding that no, the real problem is bad customer service and poorly-trained agents.

The truth is that both sides are right.

On the one hand, there are clearly some consumers who have become so sensitized to offshore customer service that they get upset at any hint of a foreign accent in a customer service agent. This happens, by the way, even if the agent is a U.S. citizen sitting in a call center in New Mexico.

On the other hand, no company offshores its customer service because they think it will provide better-quality service. The decision is always based on saving money. To the extent that quality is a consideration, it is to try to make sure the service quality doesn't degrade too much.

On the other other hand, it can be just as hard to find quality customer service agents in a domestic call center as it is to find them overseas. In a country like India, you probably have a better chance of attracting motivated and intelligent people to those jobs.

On the other other other hand, if companies placed a higher priority on customer service rather than treating it as a dead-end entry-level job to be escaped as fast as possible, then maybe it would be easier to attract better people.

I think I've about run out of hands.

But offshore customer service is here to stay, just like manufacturing is now a global industry. I expect that over time quality will improve as companies pay more attention to hiring the best people wherever they may be located. But even as the quality of the service improves, it will take a long time for consumers to get used to the idea that offshore service can be quality service.

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