Three Alternatives to Your Offshore Call CenterApril 4, 2012 by Lauren Carlson
In December 2011, a bill was introduced to Congress that, if passed, will refuse federal grant or guaranteed loan programs to companies that have offshore call center operations. The U.S. Call Center and Consumer Protection Act, or H.R. 3596, will also require all offshore call center employees to reveal their location to U.S. consumers and give them the option to be transferred to a U.S.-based call center. The primary purpose of the bill is to provide more jobs to qualified U.S. workers.
Those companies that do offshore their call centers do so for obvious financial reasons. It is typically more cost-effective and results in reduced overhead costs, as well as provides companies the ability to scale up or down accordingly. But what if those same things could be achieved by hiring onshore? Below, I’ve highlighted three companies that have developed smart alternatives to the offshore call center that not only keep costs down, but also prevent your company from feeling the pain of H.R. 3596.
Working Solutions Brings a New Meaning to “In-House”
Back in 1996, before freelancing or working at home were commonplace, Kim Houlne launched one of the first virtual workforce companies, Working Solutions. In 1996, they employed 2,000 home-based agents, or what they call Agents OnDemand. Today, that number has grown to over 110,000 agents whose expertise spans all verticals.
“We’ve had 1.4 million agents register, but through our targeted selection process, we end up with the best of the best,” says Tim Houlne, CEO of Working Solutions. “We attract the right agents with the right skill set to support our customers, whatever business they are in.”
Sourcing talent from contract workers who operate from home has several benefits. There is the obvious one of reduced overhead. With an at-home call center workforce, your company can easily scale without having to invest in more office space. This reduced per capita investment makes the at-home call center model very comparable to the offshoring option.
Another benefit of the at-home workforce is that they value the convenience of working in their own space. Therefore, they are more content and more likely to provide superior customer service. I know I’m much nicer in house shoes than I am in heels. In addition to congeniality, the at-home agent model provides something you simply cannot get with offshoring: native speakers. These things all contribute to an improved customer experience, which translates to a company’s most precious commodity—customer loyalty.
JetBlue Capitalizes on a State of Stay-at-Home Mothers
Another company that has tapped into this idea of “homesourcing” is JetBlue. When he co-founded Morris Air in the early ‘80s, David Neeleman decided to test the idea of hiring stay-at-home mothers to manage the call-in reservation system. Coming from a Mormon home where the wife’s primary role is stay-at-home mom, Neeleman recognized that this would be a great way for mothers to manage the home and children, while contributing to the household income.
In 1998, Neeleman took this idea to his new venture, JetBlue. Today, JetBlue employs approximately 1,500 stay-at-home agents (80% female) in the traditionally Mormon community in Salt Lake City, Utah. Each employee is equipped to handle general questions and customer service concerns related to air travel on JetBlue, and is provided with a company computer and a second phone line to handle the call volume.
Clearly there’s something to be said for a “mother’s touch” because JetBlue has consistently higher rates of customer satisfaction than many of their competitors. Not only is satisfaction high, but JetBlue has also reported reduced agent turnover and increased productivity, two metrics that relate directly to cost-savings.
Televerde Taps Federal Prisons To Create Jobs (and Hope)
Televerde’s call center agents are in-house. To be specific, they are in the “big house.” A leading B2B demand creation solutions company, Televerde partners with the Perryville state prison to employ the female inmates as call center operators. Not only is this a cost-effective alternative to offshore call centers, but it also serves as an innovative approach to rehabilitation.
Televerde customers include high-tech giants such as Cisco, Hitachi and SAP, which means the inmate agents are charged with selling that complex hardware and software. To get savvy, the ladies undergo six weeks of training that covers the industry, as well as rules of general propriety.
Since moving to the prison call center model, Televerde boasts increased revenues, lower turnover and a highly motivated workforce, half of whom continue on with Televerde after their release. Not only has Televerde created a successful and cost-effective call center, but they’ve done so with the greater good in mind.
Location, Location, Location
The companies we’ve discussed searched their brains to come up with a creative approach to staffing their call centers, but sometimes all you need to do is search a map. While the recession may seem like a distant memory for some in the tech world, it is still very much a reality in many parts of the country. Places like Omaha, NE, Oklahoma City, OK, Providence, RI and Grand Forks, ND, are still in an economic depression, but are home to a largely well-educated population.
These cities represent a great opportunity for companies looking to establish call centers in the U.S. The labor is cheaper, but the quality is not compromised.
Asking the Right Questions
Many of you may be reading this, thinking, “That’s impressive, but government bureaucracy will likely kill this bill anyway, so why should I care?” Great question. Now I have a few for you.
The mass exodus of the call center industry to the east in the late 90s and early 2000s was largely due to the labor arbitrage. India provided educated, experienced workers at a fraction of the price. However, no one was tracking the intangible costs. How much is spent on cultural training? Dialect training? And what about customer satisfaction? Sure, your labor costs are down, but what does your customer attrition look like? A new consideration is online reputation. Are your customers praising or bashing you on social media? What is the real cost of a “Like” or a negative review on Yelp?
Regardless of whether H.R. 3596 becomes a reality, smart companies will start asking themselves these questions and begin reconsidering their offshore operations.