Outsourcing and Call Center Blog

31 August, 2007

Owning the problem

Filed under: Bad,Customer Service,India,Standard Chartered — shamrin @ 17:47

Today’s example of poor customer service comes from Standard Chartered Bank here in India. I have to admit I’ve not had a good track record with these guys, I’ve lost count of how many times their Call Center agents have simply dropped my call when asked a hard question. But today I think we got a teachable point. I had ordered a new debit card over the phone, it was meant to be delivered to my local branch but I went into the bank to pick up my new debit card I was told by the customer service executive that the card was not in the bank. I asked him to look it up in the computer and he verified that the card had been issued and that my account had been debited for the cost of my “privileged” gold card. Then he did something that I think was rather amazing, he handed the problem back to me. When I asked what was next, he didn’t get on the phone and try to find out where the card was, or double-check the bank’s records or really even think about it that much, he just told me, “Well, you’ll have to call the customer support line and sort it out with them.”

The teachable point is that if you work for the bank, or the ISP or the Wal-Mart or whatever organisation you are a part of and whether you are in a call center or on site, never, never, never hand a problem back to a customer. Like it or not, when a customer gives you his problem, you’re stuck with it, solve the problem or find someone who can solve the problem and stick with it until the customer is satisfied.

As it turns out, my card was in the bank but I only found this out after being sent to another branch, then returning to the original one to insist that the card was there. I realise that banks these days aren’t known to be the paragon’s of helpfulness but these guys at Standard Chartered wrote the book on bad service. No one ever said they were sorry or gave any explanation.

Update: See Standard Chartered Revisited entry for more on this. 

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Being Successful

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,HR & Staffing,India,social responsibility — shamrin @ 11:38

Living and working in India right now reminds me so much of living and working in the US during the 80’s. The 80’s was a kind of awakening time in America, it was all about growth and “making it” and achievement. Reagan was in the White House and brought with him an optimism that finally overcame the ennui that followed the Vietnam war. During this decade the US made a kind of come-back into a roll of prominence on the world stage. The stock market boomed and Gordon Gekko told us, “Greed is good”.

Now it seems to be India’s turn. Tech jobs are plentiful, people have more options for their lives than ever before and the malls are springing up like desert flowers after a rain shower (within 1 mile of my office there are currently seven malls with 4 more being built, one of which will be the largest in Asia).

The 80’s were a long time ago and my definition of success is a lot different now than it was then. But being here now and working with so many young people, in their twenties and just starting out their careers, I often feel the urge to talk to them about success and leadership and values. One of the things I tell them about success at work is that I believe there are three basic things you have to do in your job:

  • Make money for your shareholders / company
  • Bring value to your customers
  • Have fun

I believe if you concentrate on and achieve these three things, and these three things alone, you will be successful at whatever you do. In fact, if you do these things I think you can dispense with most of the other stuff that make jobs unfulfilling (like following the rules:-). Moreover if you are not doing these things on your current job (especially the third one), you should find a new job.

28 August, 2007

What should you outsource? Almost everything.

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,ethics,Marketing,off shoring,Outsourcing,Trust — shamrin @ 14:13

One of the blogs I read regularly is by Seth Godin who writes mostly about marketing in a very pithy informative style. In a recent entry called The Scarcity Shortage Seth mentions two topics that are close to my heart, outsourcing and trust. Towards the end of his piece he says:

So what’s scarce now? Respect. Honesty. Good judgment. Long-term relationships that lead to trust. None of these things guarantee loyalty in the face of cut-rate competition, though. So to that list I’ll add this: an insanely low-cost structure based on outsourcing everything except your company’s insight into what your customers really want to buy. If the work is boring, let someone else do it, faster and cheaper than you ever could. If your products are boring, kill them before your competition does.

I just had to stop and think about what this notion meant to my outsourcing business. On the one hand, it’s really good for us, if Seth is right then we’re in the right place to help more and more businesses become hyper-competitive and focus on their core skills. But we mustn’t skip over the first part of his comments because they apply to us as well; respect, honesty, judgement and trust built through experience are skills we must hone and values we must adhere to in order to serve the market we are in.

21 August, 2007

The whole world is watching

Thomas Friedman wrote an interesting column recently for the New York Times about how we all lead public lives now. He says that with blogs and mobile camera phones we are all publishers and paparazzi. You have to be a Times Select subscriber to read the article (alas) but here is the link: The Whole World Is Watching.

In case you’re not a Times Select subscriber, I will shamelessly quote from the article while simultaneously hoping not to offend Mr. Friedman or the NYT both of which I highly respect. Friedman says:

When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer — and each of us so much more transparent.

He goes on to talk about Dov Seidman and a new business ethics book he has written called, “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life)” and says that the lives of young people will now be indelibly documented in the “Permanent Record” that is the internet. Funny how one of the biggest threats that an authority figure could make against young people of my generation was that some mistake or otherwise stupid thing you had done was going to, “go into your Permanent Record”. What he is referring to here is the growing importance of online reputation which is important both to people and to businesses. Your actions are now increasingly transparent in this connected world, with the possibility of word of them spreading rapidly and virally. We marketers try to harness this power (sometimes at our peril) but online rep has a life of its own.

Friedman concludes by quoting Seidman saying,

“We do not live in glass houses (houses have walls); we live on glass microscope slides … visible and exposed to all,” he writes. So whether you’re selling cars or newspapers (or just buying one at the news-stand), get your hows right — how you build trust, how you collaborate, how you lead and how you say you’re sorry. More people than ever will know about it when you do — or don’t.

I don’t necessarily think there is a special message here for those of us in the Call Centre business, but there is definitely a message. How we conduct our business and how we manage and care for our employees will become increasing public information and will impact our online and real-world reputations. Web 2.0 has not gripped India the way it has America and other parts of the west, we don’t have 1 billion bloggers yet, but we’ll get there. And when we do, there are sure to be benefits for organisations that conduct themselves in the most ethical, transparent ways.

15 August, 2007

The secret to personal happiness and success – product improvement

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,ethics,HR & Staffing,off shoring,Outsourcing — shamrin @ 20:21

I’m giving a talk tomorrow to a group of team leaders in our call center. The topic is on “Creating a Company  Mission Statement.” I’ve been working on a proposed statement for our organisation and I’m hoping to get the thoughts and ultimately the buy-in of the people who are really at the pointy-end of the sword on this. But I’ve got an ulterior motive as well, I want to challenge them to create their own personal mission statement for their lives. The reason for this is that I think my company, and it occurs to me on the 60th anniversary of its independence this country, needs great leaders to carry us to the grand visions that we have for the future – and great leaders start with a mission, a purpose, a raison d’etre.

We went to the cinema this afternoon and saw The Simpson’s Movie (review: Two thumbs up, but really just a long version of the TV show.) While we were waiting for the movie start time printed on our tickets, which we keep relearning in India means when the doors open, not when the film is supposed to start, we dropped into a bookstore located  in the Metropolitan Mall here in Gurgaon. There, I saw hundreds of titles on how to improve your job position, how to make millions, how to profit from the market, how to get what you want from others and a lot of similar topics that seem to be quite popular in this booming country. It brought to mind a long-held belief of mine that the way to do better is to be better.

I don’t believe success is a matter of technique. Call me a dreamer, but I believe the way to get ahead in business, to improve your lot, to make all the money you want and to be happy doing it is to make yourself the best person you can be. “What does this mean in practice?”, I asked myself as I thumbed through a book by Donald Trump. What it means is if you want to be happy and successful, don’t read books by rich people, read books by and about great people. Great people with great ideas have something to teach us about ourselves and about life, things that we can incorporate within us and use in all our pursuits for the rest of our lives. Techniques are just techniques, they have their time which comes…and goes.

This brought me around to an excellent blog entry by Tom Vander Well called “Great Service Principles are Great Life Principles“, in which he concludes,

When I’m old and gray (grayer than I am now), it really won’t matter much – in the grand scheme of things – if I helped a person raise their QA score from 83.8 to 95.9. What will matter is that someone picked up on a service principle, applied it, and it made a positive difference in their life and their relationships.

I think the converse of the this concept is true as well, a principled centred life, one based on deeply held and considered core beliefs and positive values will lead a person to be successful in whatever s/he endeavours to do. As the Two Steves at Freakonomics might put it I think; what we are is the thing we have to sell in the market. We can mess with the packaging and I suppose that doesn’t hurt, but it’s the product that really matters – improving the product changes everything for the better.

10 August, 2007

Trust, it’s the key to building the business

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,Marketing,off shoring,Outsourcing,Strategy,Trust — shamrin @ 20:02

This is so simple it’s almost not worth mentioning, but its so important it must be. Our business is all about trust. Our customers are putting the fate of their businesses in our hands. For those of us located in India or any other off-shoring location, our customers are putting the fate of their businesses in the hands of foreigners in a foreign place with foreign names and foreign customs. Like the fact that someone figured out that you can eat lobsters is a testament to the power hunger, the fact that someone figured out this off-shoring thing could work is a testament to the profit motive.

The quest for profits is obviously very strong, so strong in fact many of us have begun to think that it’s the only factor that customers consider when they buy things. Well if that were true, no one would be using iPods or wearing a Rolexes, or driving BMWs or shopping at Nordstrom. And, if it were true in the business services business that we are in, Accenture would not exist nor would Goldman Sachs, nor Fedex nor IBM. But they do, so what’s going on? You could say that what’s going on has to do with branding and that would not be far from the truth, but if you go deeper I think you find it’s about trust. Both consumers, who do not have the profit motive, and businesses who do, trade with brands and companies that they trust.

We in marketing, in sales and in the delivery chain for BPOs and Call Centers need to focus our efforts on trust-building and trust-earning. Seth Godin (who writes the marketing blog I wish I did) brings up an aspect of trust in his recent entry “Shipping and Handling” suggesting that customers won’t do business for long with mail order companies who hide there profit in S&H charges.  I think he’s spot on about this, I know from my own experience that I always avoid eBay auctions where the S&H charges are inordinately high. We don’t trust businesses that pile on hidden charges (banking industry, are you listening?) and we think twice before patronising them a second time once burned. I think it’s healthy and a good idea to take a look at our pricing, at our policies and at our flexibility with our clients to ensure that we are building trust.

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