Outsourcing and Call Center Blog

31 May, 2007

Unleashing Creativity

Filed under: Call Center — shamrin @ 16:08

Here is a really excellent slideshow about creativity. The future success of the BPO business and, in my opinion, India Inc. lies in our ability to unleash the creativity of our organisations and our staff. Let’s let others take over the low-cost-labour tasks that we pioneered (give these to the Chinese or back to the West who seem to want them). I unleashing the real creative power of our people will mean some non-trivial adjustments to our management style and more than a little bit of overcoming some cultural norms but the reward will be worth the effort. Enjoy.

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Price doesn’t matter

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,Marketing,Outsourcing,Value — shamrin @ 12:11

OK, I’m getting more radical about this by the day I know, perhaps I’ll calm down about it soon. Until then, I think I’ll blame it on the heat. It’s been 40 degrees Celsius here pretty much round-the-clock for as long as I can remember now. Last night my wife woke me up because of the burning electrical smell filling the bedroom which I eventually traced to a failing plug on the air conditioner. In any event, we had to go the night without the A/C here and this morning I am 5 kilos lighter and loaded for bear.

Li Iwan’s entry called Give This Away where he quotes from Seth Godin’s blog caught my eye this morning. The original quote from Seth is:

“Maybe the reason it seems that price is all your customers care about is…… that you haven’t given them anything else to care about.” Seth Godin

Li adds that this quote should be sent to everyone in the company, and pinned-up in every break room.

This takes me back to my sales training when I first started as an Account Executive at Illinois Bell (ca. 1979). We were a virtual monopoly selling phone service, what could be less interesting. But the thrust of all our sales effort was on developing proposals that spoke to business benefit. Study the customer’s business, discover his business problems, his pain-points and find ways to solve them (through communications of course). OK, there was also the “Sell the Chump the Lump” approach but hey, we were on commission and you’ve got to feed the family. The point to me, of the above is simply if you go in talking price, you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities and, you’re going to end up just talking price.

30 May, 2007

Price vs. Value

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,Outsourcing,Value — shamrin @ 15:36

We’re having an ongoing discussion here in the office that I would characterise as a Price versus Value argument. The question comes down to, in the real world when customers pick an outsourcing partner, what is more important Price or Value? The price camp guys, who have a lot of experience in this business, argue that through hundreds of RFPs and thousands of discussions with prospects and customers, this business all boils down to price. Businesses want to save money, so they outsource and there isn’t significant functional differentiation between outsourcing partners to provide for some other deciding criteria.  On the other side is the value camp. We argue that customers are putting their business and careers in our hands; we are, in many cases, the only representatives that their customers will ever talk to. If this is true, making a decision based only or mainly on price is like trying to find a cheap brain surgeon, surely prospects want as good or better service than they can provide themselves at a reasonable price, not a cheap one.

I don’t know who’ll win the day on this discussion. Perhaps we’ll just have to let the market decide.

28 May, 2007

Value Creation

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,Marketing,Revenue,Strategy,Value — shamrin @ 16:12

Raimo van der Klein founder of Marikaya, a marketing and idea factory (my words) has some thoughts on value creation that really resonate with me. There were a couple of things in this entry in his blog that I thought were particularly apropos for Indian BPOs and coincide with a number of the things I’ve been talking about here.

If you look at the slideshow that goes with his blog entry, there is a slide titled “Adding Value Creates Margin“. This idea should be sloganised and put above every door in your building, pinned to every cubicle wall, emblazoned on every piece of stationary and perhaps tattooed on the back of the hand of every executive (and staff) in your organisation. We should, no we must be in a continuous struggle to find, create and invent value for our customers. I find that I can’t emphasise this enough because we, here in India, concentrate way too much on price which is merely the denominator in the value equation and is a very poor vehicle with which to manipulate value.

I want to keep this a short entry so let me just make a few unsupported bulletted claims:

  • Customers buy from you and stay with you based on (perceived) value
  • Value = Benefit / Price
  • There is some lower limit on Price, i.e., pricing below cost is an unsustainable business model for most of us
  • There is no such limit on the upside of Benefit
  • Increasing Value by increasing Benefit is a lot easier and more profitable that doing so by lowering price

26 May, 2007

Corporate Responsibility

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,ethics,Outsourcing,social responsibility — shamrin @ 12:21

When I was living in London, I spent a little over a year running a computer centre for the poor that was located on a large social housing estate there. We had a very nice internet cafe, we taught computer literacy courses for kids and adults and helped people out with problems with immigration, bills and the other myriad problems that life seems to dish out disproportionately to the poor. Part of my job also was fund raising. I never enjoyed that part but it gave me some time and cause to think about corporate responsibility and corporate social responsibility. I was reminded of this topic by a front page article in the Hindustan Times on Friday on a speech given by Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh in which he laid out “Ten Commandments for Industry” here in India. I have to admit that I’m weirded-out by the idea of a Sikh in a mostly Hindu country using a reference from the Jewish Bible to talk about corporate responsibility but I applaud the notion and I think we in the BPO business would do well to pay attention to it. Here is the list as printed in the paper (click for a full-size version): (more…)

21 May, 2007

The See-Through Call Center

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,Marketing,Outsourcing,Strategy — shamrin @ 19:11

An article last month in Wired Magazine called The See-Through CEO got me thinking about how the idea of extreme openness and transparency could really benefit our business.

For a while now I’ve been preaching around the office that Indian Call Centers and BPOs should be looking to Silicon Valley for guidance on how to run our business. Honestly speaking, part of the reason for my preaching this is simply shock value, but it’s really not a disingenuous comparison. I think small to medium sized independent BPOs like ours have very similar issues to technology start-ups. For example, we have to attract and hold key talent in a very competitive employment market. For those of us selling into an international market, we need to present a “larger than life” image, the same as a tech start-up that wants to sell to much larger corporations. Creating an image of staying power and muscle (while operating on a shoe-string budget) so that these companies trust us for their long-term business needs is critical to selling to them. I think there are other comparisons in the area of marketing and product development as well.

They say that after a while people start to look like their dogs. I’m not sure this is true…although come to think of it my ex-girlfriend does look a bit like a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, but I digress. The point I mean to make, and I’ve said this before here, is that businesses tend to start to look like the ones they compare themselves to. I’ve known of companies that have both succeeded and failed because of who they compared themselves to and ultimately emulated (consult Tom Peters for more on this topic). So, let’s compare ourselves to the best and brightest of the internet age. Let’s steal concepts from Google and Yahoo, Digg and Salesforce.com. Let’s be smart and innovative and value ideas. Let’s be on the bleeding edge of customer service innovation then let’s go public, become millionaires and come back and do it all again because it’s just so damn fun!

19 May, 2007

Under Promise, Over Deliver

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,Outsourcing,Strategy — shamrin @ 13:32

There are two writers who have had a really powerful impact on my career, Stephen Covey and Tom Peters. Stephen Covey’s books “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and especially “Principle Centered Leadership” formed my core beliefs about leadership and behaviour in the business world (and real world as well). In the 80s, Tom Peters came out with two books, “In Search of Excellence” and “Thriving on Chaos“. I was working for AT&T in the US when I read the latter and found it so amazing and eye-opening that for many years I gifted the book to everyone that worked for me – it’s career changing. When I first interviewed for my job here in India, I found that my company’s second-in-command also counted “Thriving on Chaos” as his favourite business book – this is not for no reason when working in India I might add. I thought of this and of Tom Peters when I read this article about Indian BPOs.

The article refers to a study (available here) by a European consulting company on doing business in with Indian BPOs. The thing that jumped out at me was this line:

“all the companies surveyed specifically mentioned the tendency of Indian workers to “over commit” (say yes to every request) as a significant cultural issue. “

This is simply disturbing and if we don’t fix it ASAP, the so-called Indian Phenomenon is doomed. (more…)

11 May, 2007

What business are we in really?

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,Marketing,Outsourcing,Strategy — shamrin @ 17:15

I was asking myself the question, “What business are we really in?” while reading an article on the changing market for BPOs. Maybe this seems like a strange question and perhaps it’s not one that I would want to ask out loud in the office. I assume that if I did some people would give me a strange look and say, “You’re in the Call Centre business” or “BPO” or “KPO” or some such with an implied “, stupid”. But I think it’s important, regardless of the industry you are in, to constantly ask yourself this question. It’s important because most industries are in a constant state of change, especially now in the internet age; it’s important because your competitors are changing, in an effort to steal your business; and it’s important because your customers are changing, striving to do things better, faster, cheaper and more profitably. Hopefully we anticipate these changes and stay one step ahead of the competition and our clients, but if we don’t at least follow them closely, ultimately the train will leave the station without us and our business will be gone with it.

T-Rex (more…)

5 May, 2007

Improve quality, retention and profits – create a “staff of one”

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,HR & Staffing,Outsourcing — shamrin @ 19:24

The idea of a “market of one” has been around for a long time. In the 80’s and 90’s it was applied in B2B marketing in a fairly broad way with the idea that products and messages would be customised individually for individual customers. Dell and Toyota are examples of bringing this notion to the consumer market with their approach to building computers and cars on an assembly line but to the specification of an individual consumer. I remember meeting Michael Dell in 1990 at his then modest-sized factory in Austin and seeing them assemble and test each machine to the buyer’s specifications. The combination of just-in-time inventory control and personalisation was brilliant and represented a new and important revenue model. Today personalisation of internet and mobile experiences are taking the idea even further. But how about applying this concept to personnel management in the call centre? (more…)

1 May, 2007

From Cost-Centre to Revenue-Generator

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,Outsourcing,Revenue — shamrin @ 17:35

“Within five to 10 years, contact centers will become one of the most important revenue-generating departments in most enterprises”.

This is a recent quote from Donna Fluss of DMG Consulting (registration required) who specialise in customer support and call centre strategies. If this is true (and I think it is except that there is no way it will take 10 years, I would say more like now to 3), it will have a profound impact on our business and on profits as this business moves from a price-based commodity to one offering a high-value / high-margin product. To take advantage of this change, contact centres will need to be able to demonstrate our expertise at selling and customer service. (more…)

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