Is it bad to outsource customer calls?

April 21 2007 by Ellen Roseman

I think you can make a case for outsourcing. When companies run promotions or introduce new products, they can’t always hire employees quickly enough to deal with the calls. So they use outside call centres to handle the overflow. That means less waiting time for you and me when we call for help.

The problem is lack of accountability. Call centre staff get a minimal amount of training, so they can answer common questions. But they often leave you hanging. They may be told NEVER to give out names or phone numbers of senior executives. So, it’s a closed loop.

If companies did more training of call centre staff and empowered them to escalate complaints, outsourcing might work out fine. Also, outsourcing results in cost savings that (we hope) are passed on to customers. That’s a good thing.

Some companies, such as Bell, try to save even more money by sending calls overseas. I’ve got nothing against Indian call centres, despite comments on this blog suggesting racism. It’s just that I hear constant complaints from readers about not understanding the accents. People also tell me about inappropriate advice — one senior was told to climb onto his roof in the winter to check his satellite connection — which doesn’t take into account the Canadian way of life.

So, here’s the question. If companies invest in better training, tools and technology, does it matter where they outsource the calls? Should you care whether the people you talk to live in Canada, the United States or overseas, as long as they’re smart, well-informed, polite, easily understood and willing to connect you to a supervisor if you need more help?

24 comments

  1. jay

    Apr 25 2007

    I totally agree. Companies outsource their work to reduce cost, make more profits, increase shareholder value. Companies like Bell outsource overseas to save more money as they still have to maintain profits, even though the CRTC has tied their hands. World over, companies are following this practice whether it is manufacturing or call centres. Basically companies want less liabilities. Opposing this is not going to yield anything, as goverments will not stop it and industry loves it.

    So, one has to accept reality and not be racial. If Canadians want to work for so much less, these companies will keep work here. People working in overseas call centres are smart enough. They should be trained properly to understand local conditions, local way of life and not to follow the script. This is also true for people working in outsourced call centres in Canada. Last but not least, we should remove racial bias from our minds.

  2. Paul

    Apr 25 2007

    If I know a CSR is not in Canada, I just end the call politely. A Bell rep called a few weeks ago and I could hardly understand what they were saying due to the strong accent. If the CSR is not in Canada, I won’t talk to them.

  3. scott

    Apr 26 2007

    I pay for Bell services so I think I should be able to understand what their phone reps are saying. I recently had a Bell guy that was impossible to understand. He passed me onto another phone rep here in Canada and she asked me (!) what was that guy talking about ?

  4. JSand

    May 7 2007

    I am not against having the calls go overseas. Other that the loss to the Canadian economy I think outsourcing to other country’s is good for business thus good for the investor.

    However, If I can not understand the accent then it is a very frustrating call indeed. I would rather deal with a company that has call centre staff that speak with the same accent. The only reason is so that I can understand what they are telling me.

    I recently was dealing with Bell calling centre. I was transfered around an eventually got a rep with a very thick Indian accent. The rep was very patient and polite but I just didn’t get the accent. He had to repeat himself often and a couple of times I had to ask him to spell what he was saying. As far as I’m concerned this is NOT god for business.

  5. Drew

    May 17 2007

    Ultimately, with an outsourced point of business contact, all companies are at the mercy of the company they are paying to handle their customer base.

    If your paycheque rests on the success of the company you work for, you are just a bit more apt to give a damn about the customer that is paying your wage than someone in an outsourced call centre would be. Afterall, they’ve got dozens of other customers to deal with. Think answering service. Same deal.

    All outsourcing centres provide a service, and only one service. Cheap labour. If the sweatshop hired has good people, they’ll provide good support. If not, the customer gets screwed.

    Ultimately, the person on the other end of the line doesn’t give a damn about you, because in not more than 8 hours they are going to go home, crack a beer, sit back and laugh about you.

    End of story.

  6. Drew

    May 17 2007

    With an outsourced point of business contact, all companies are at the mercy of the company they are paying to handle their customer base.

    If your paycheque rests on the success of the company you work for, you are just a bit more apt to give a damn about the customer that is paying your wage than someone in an outsourced call centre would be. Afterall, they’ve got dozens of other customers to deal with. Think answering service. Same deal.

    All outsourcing centres provide a service, and only one service. Cheap labour. If the sweatshop hired has good people, they’ll provide good support. If not, the customer gets screwed.

    Ultimately, the person on the other end of the line doesn’t give a damn about you, because in not more than 8 hours they are going to go home, crack a beer, sit back and laugh about you.

    End of story.

  7. guinness416

    May 17 2007

    I’m from Ireland, which has a lot of call centres, mainly for European headquarters of various multinationals. When I mention this to Canadians they’re always intrigued … “Why can’t we get Irish phone reps?” “I’d love to talk to an Irish CSR!” “I love the Irish accent!” are typical responses. I find this bizarre in comparison with the howls about South Asian reps.

  8. PurplePenguin

    May 18 2007

    It also makes me mad when I get reps that can’t speak French. If I am phoning a company that operates at the national level I expect to get service in the official language of my choice.

  9. imavictim2

    Jun 24 2007

    I am a customer service rep who has worked for Bell for more than 20 years, not all of it in customer service, so I have been thrown smack into the middle of the huge changes which have taken place over the last 10 years, that is, outsourcing. When I started working for Bell, “call centre” was a phrase I had never heard. Those were good days.

    But moving along…I feel just as victimized as some of our loyal customers, if not more when having to be a go-between for the reps in India call centres, and the customer here in Canada, who is more often than not beyond frustrated by the time he/she reaches me and countless times I have been told, “Oh thank GOD you speak English!!” Who ever thought that I could please a customer just by saying “Hello, how can I help you today?”

    Customers complain constantly about the “service” they receive from reps in India, who I will not argue are polite and trying their best. In my opinion, they’re victims just as much as the customer and myself are victims in this situation. However, these are our CUSTOMERS and we cannot ignore their feelings about this when we hear them day in and day out. If we do, we are doomed as a corporation, as a company and I feel very strongly about this. All I can do is empathize with the customers, while at the same time walking that fine line between customer empathy and company disparagement…and that can be tricky to say the least.

    Let me just wrap up by saying that management (including upper) is well aware of the feelings of the majority of our customer base if they are listening to as many calls as they claim to be, and if they are listening to the information we are passing on as front line reps for Bell. What they intend to do, or not do about it, is what remains unanswered…

  10. catherine

    Jun 22 2008

    Contrary to popular belief, many Canadians would gladly accept jobs that are being outsourced to offshore call centers.

    We need to stop thinking in terms of “this or that”. We can send jobs overseas and help unemployed Canadians.

    While the business case promotes the idea of sending jobs to offshore call centres, the social responsibility mandate tells us that there are opportunities to assist marginalized and unemployed Canadians (e.g. at-risk youth, persons with disabilities, new Canadians) that ought not to be ignored.

    Perhaps we should think of creative options for addressing the offshore dilemma…

    Catherine

  11. Ronnie

    May 16 2009

    Let’s make a logical view on outsourcing. A business needs outsourcing to compete in today’s market, but considering it with due care and support for its customer base.

    Normally, the most crucial part of the whole outsourcing is quality, training and selection procedures of the team — not just simply outsourcing to save on expenses.

  12. Atif S Ahmad

    Aug 24 2009

    Hey this is Atif from BITLogix Pvt Ltd. BITLogix was established as a firm that provides business consultancy and enterprise information technology solutions in 2003. Since then our services help businesses maximize their business return on information technology investments that are critical to their success in today’s competitive business environment. We are fully an employee-owned company representing a greater employee commitment to successful solution delivery.

    BITLogix is also a provider of offshore contact center and business process outsourcing services. We offer a variety of customer care services including Inbound/Outbound Voice Services, E-mail Management, Data Processing Management, Real-time Web-Based Chat Services ; Web Application Development, Offshore Website Development and Customized Application.

    BITLogix is based at Lahore, Pakistan. Most of the companies are now looking forward to start outsourcing their businesses to Pakistan instead of outsourcing to India or Phillipines. Beacause not all but many Indian call centers were & are still involved in the credit card selling & selling customer’s data, which is ethically & legally wrong.

    Pakistan offers five advantages over India:

    1. Western experience: Executives at IT firms in Pakistan often have worked and gone to school in the U.S., which is Pakistan’s largest export market. Indian IT firms whose managers have worked in the West are generally more expensive than similarly positioned Indian firms, without always providing noticeable differences in program implementation capabilities. The willingness of Pakistanis to return home from the West stands in marked contrast to most Indians who arrive for school or work in the West and never look back.

    2. Professionalism and integrity: The personal integrity of Pakistani managers is easy to identify and appreciate, especially by Westerners with business experience elsewhere in the region. However, the relatively open and trusting nature of Pakistanis has made them easy prey for Indian business brokers who have managed to cheat several Pakistani IT firms by offering to provide them with outsourcing contracts in exchange for up-front fees. The Pakistanis assumed that these Indians were open minded and charitable for coming to help less experienced firms in Pakistan gain access to international contracts, until the Indians took their money and disappeared.

    3. Higher labor availability: Fewer holidays in Pakistan means less slippage in staff availability compared to India. IT firms in India are advised to hire a diverse workforce so that members of one community can enjoy important festivals while members of other communities cover the phones and keep production going.

    4. Good accents: Pakistan’s official language is English. Only Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and the Punjabi areas of India can come close to competing with accents in Pakistan, where many families speak English at home and where accent neutralization for non-native speakers of English is substantially easier than in India. Language skills and accents provide Pakistan with a major advantage over all other Asian outsourcing destinations.

    5. Low cost talent pool: India’s top-tier labor force for IT work has been stretched thin in many areas, especially Bangalore, where escalating wage rates, turnover and higher outsourcing prices are reaching critical mass at the same time that the urban infrastructure has exceeded its carrying capacity. Annual turnover rates reported to InternationalStaff.net for most merchant call center facilities in India at the beginning of November are approaching 100 percent. High turnover rates are causing a shift to second tier Indian cities and to Kolkata. Escalating turnover rates are one of the Indian outsourcing industry’s dirty secrets. In comparison, Pakistan’s top-tier talent pool is largely untapped and turnover rates are less than 20 percent.

    Do let me know if you have any questions, I would be more than happy to answer tose.

    Regards,
    Atif Shamim
    BITLogix Pvt Ltd

  13. Phil-Am OSI

    Jan 13 2010

    Interesting topic!

    Outsourcing is a pretty debatable topic but I respect each opinion discussed here.

  14. Anita

    Mar 31 2010

    I just hung up after speaking with a Bell representative in India. I was asking where a refund cheque was that I was expecting weeks ago. He told me it was sent out on March 1, and the mailing time is 4-6 weeks!

    When I asked him where the cheque was coming from, he didn’t know. Canada Post does NOT take 4-6 weeks to deliver mail, and yet he was adamant that it does take that long.

    I was a Bell customer for 15 years, and over that time I have become increasingly frustrated with the customer service, and constant billing issues and mistakes I have had to resolve.

    When they brought in the “Automated Emily”, I was so upset at the hoops I had to jump through just to get to speak to someone live. Now that they have outsourced to India, it reached the point that I have ended my relationship with Bell altogether.

    I am born in Canada, of East Indian descent, so I do better than many other people in deciphering through a thick Indian accent, but I seem to have trouble getting them to understand me (speaking vs. comprehension).

    Other than a script they’re given to follow, they don’t have any training, outside of that limited script, to be able to work through more complex questions. Their lack of knowledge of the Canadian way of life limits their abilities to empathize and understand our concerns, which is a huge key to customer satisfaction.

    I firmly believe there are workers here that have the skills to fill these roles in a call centre in Cananda. I, myself, am a customer service agent and find it to be a very rewarding career.

    Perhaps companies like Bell would rather not be bound by the basic rights of Canadians to decent wages and working conditions, and outsourcing will eliminate those concerns. But it will surely also affect their client base.

    I certainly never saw savings on my phone, internet or cell phones in the time I was with them. In fact, I was constantly being overcharged and fighting for corrections.

    From this point forward, I will not deal with a company that outsources their customer service overseas. From my experience, the people that suffer are the customers, and the thousands of skilled and experienced people in Canada fighting for jobs that are quickly disappearing.

  15. outsource seo

    Oct 5 2010

    There’s something wrong with the company I guess. Training is the best solution to enhance every staff on their job. Here in the Philippines, we already had a short course for Call Centers. To tell you honestly, we have the best call center representatives here.

  16. scrabble

    Oct 8 2010

    Outsourcing is IMO only reporting the problem. You can’t pay people as they should be paid, so you find other people that you can pay less… What will happen, when these people will start wanting to be normally paid ???

  17. Steve sisson

    Nov 3 2010

    I agree with what scrabble said

  18. casino flash

    Nov 12 2010

    BITLogix is based at Lahore, Pakistan. Most of the companies are now looking forward to start outsourcing their businesses to Pakistan instead of outsourcing to India or Phillipines. Beacause not all but many Indian call centers were & are still involved in the credit card selling & selling customer’s data, which is ethically & legally wrong.

  19. flowers delivered uk

    Jan 9 2011

    Outsourcing is certainly here to stay. I am very familiar with what you are saying – such a lack of training. The main problem is it is perceived poorly. We do need to invest in training and increase standards.

  20. Pip

    Apr 7 2011

    Outsourcing is nothing new. It’s just that we’ve, in the West, moved what feels like the last bit of work that isn’t service overseas. When it was low end manufacturing, we simply called it overseas investment.

  21. Coach Dog

    Apr 18 2011

    Outsourcing has been an integral part of my ability to profitably do business on the internet. Outsourcing is not just for call centers anymore. A variety of affordable options are available on sites like Odesk.

  22. laptop backpacks

    May 27 2011

    Outsourcing has become a every day part of many, many businesses today. I don’t see anything wrong with it personally, it helps industry in such a strong way.

    As for outsourcing customer calls, I also don’t see anything wrong with that, if overseas employees are trained well, they can be of just as much help as a worker here.

  23. Purdu

    Sep 28 2011

    Canada is the biggest fraud country in the world. It has sold its identity for nothing. The government of Canada is letting in millions (15 million since 1980) into Canada so they can send money overseas. Canadian companies to cut costs in half are sending jobs overseas. The only way to stop them is not do business with them. Period. 60%-90% Canadian ownership and % of workers or get out of our country. And that applies to \Canadian\ companies as well as foreign based ones.

  24. mrnagy88

    May 13 2015

    It’s hard to agree with Bell’s policy after spending an hour and a half on the phone talking with 6 different people in 3 different departments to resolve a simple bill dispute.

    All of the staff from overseas had no authority to help me whatsoever. My time spent talking to them was a complete waste of my time and theirs.

    I don’t think Bell cares about their time, since they must be paying their staff so little. Most of the opportunity cost is my time spent on the phone.

    I will definitely switch cell phone providers when my current contract is up (their pricing is another factor).