Outsourcing and Call Center Blog

17 January, 2008

India – Masters of Customer Service – Part II

I think I may have been a bit too subtle with my point in my original post on this topic. The title is meant to be ironic, and the post meant to challenge Indian call centres as to why, with all the experience we have here, we are not widely considered the best in the world at what we do. Cheapest yes, best no.

A couple of readers have been moved to comment on my post, I suspect missing my poorly supported irony, about the failings of Indian outsourcing. There are some common themes I see in posts here and elsewhere that talk about Indian outsourcing. The complaints normally have to do with language, subject knowledge and communication. An example of this comes from Reader “Spence” commenting on my original entry on this topic:

Most of the reps [in India] on the phones are given a week long crash course on how to pronounce words on a page. That does not mean they understand what they are saying and you can’t tell me that you could take a similar course in a language you have only heard in movies and music and be able to communicate as proficiently as in your native tongue.

I think Spence is ill-informed but I can’t blame him for that, there are enough call centres here in India for which this statement is accurate that it is a defensible remark. For the record, the agents working in most international call centres have been speaking and learning English from their first day in school. The major papers here are in English, English is the language of business and of Television news. Actually the movies and music here (alas) tend to be in Hindi or another one of the nine indigenous languages.

Individual Difference

A Western company looking to outsource their call centre misses the fact that there is great variation in approach and quality among Indian call centres at its peril. I divide the call centre market here into 3 categories (which I will cover not in numerical order for reasons that are my own :-).

Tier I Call Centres– These are the highly capitalised, highly professional global outsourcing players that Thomas Friedman writes about. Infosys, Wipro, Convergys, Genpact are among the names in this category. These companies have a lot of money and have world-class skills in dealing with Western clients, understanding their problems and developing solution. They throw a lot of their money and recruiting, at training and retention. I don’t think they always get it right, but from what I’ve seen they have a good product.

Tier III Call Centres – This is a big category and it’s to call centres in this category that my friends like Spence (I think) often refer. These call centres have somewhere between a few and a few hundred people working for them. They are cutting their margins as thinly as they can to attract business. These guys are the “Wham bam thank you ma’am” end of the industry. Don’t get me wrong, I suspect mostly they work their buns off for their clients, but because they’re small, poorly capitalised and, yes, because of some unique features of Indian culture, their commitment to quality can exceed their ability to deliver.

Tier II Call Centres – Somewhere in between the global players and the bottom feeders, there is a group of medium to large centres that are delivering high quality service on a (just) slightly better than shoe string budget. These centres have from a few hundred to a few thousand agents and, while they are under-capitalised, they are generating enough cash flow to provide high quality services to companies that, like themselves, are in the middle ground of their own markets but have aspirations. The company I worked for here in India was in this category.

From my own experience in the middle tier, agents get a considerable amount of training (six weeks on many international processes) both on subject matter and accent training. The accent training is not so much to correct their English as to shape it for the target market. I didn’t have that much exposure to raw recruits but the agents who reach the floor are typically experienced agents whose English and verbal communications skills are as good mine. I note with some humility that most of them are also brighter, smarter and harder working than me – oh well, hopefully wisdom comes only with age, it may be all I have left to rely on.

What’s the Problem Then?

So if the people and the training and the experience is so great Steve, why do so many people rubbish Indian centres as having poor quality and what should they (we) do about it? Ah, well, that is a huge question that I do have some insights on that I will get to in the future either here or elsewhere. Here are a couple of things for now:

  • Any company thinking of outsourcing to India needs to think about more than just price, it needs to be ready to look at process, at training and measurement. If you want a quality output, find an outsourcing partner that is ready to make some recommendations about processes, not just take yours as a given.
  • I think the way you go about choosing an Indian outsourcing partner is very different than the way you would choose, say a business partner based in North America. I suspect a lot of off-shoring arrangements are doomed from the start because of avoidable mismatches stemming from differences in business culture and communications style.
  • For customer service processes, training has to go beyond the mechanics of issue resolution and the words that are used with callers. Think empathy training.

To those of you who have mentioned it’s been a while since I wrote anything here, I thank you for noticing. It’s a busy time here, we are getting ready for an international relocation and at the same time trying to get in as much last minute sightseeing as we can. I’ll do my best to keep up regular entries.

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30 Comments »

  1. I got the link of this article from “KPO google alert” I have on my mails. Nice to see your entry after a long time on this blog.

    Sameer

    Comment by Sameer — 17 January, 2008 @ 16:15 | Reply

  2. I think that in many ways the best way for Indian Call Centres to go is

    1. Quality
    2. Niche market.

    I see a lot of Indian Call Centres who seem to think that they can offer all BPO services, but in the end can only differentiate on price. Quality and niche really has to be the big way to go.

    There was a quite in depth BBC programme recently that showed life in an Indian call centre. What immediately struck me was how tired the agents looked. These were highly trained bright agents who were being over-worked. When someone is that burnt out, it is not hard to see why the quality and levels of empathy with the customer fall down.

    Comment by Jonty - Call centre Helper — 22 January, 2008 @ 22:24 | Reply

  3. I am contacting you through this contact form as there was no email address available. We would be interested in purchasing advertising on your blog https://indiancallcenter.wordpress.com/
    . Please get back to me using the email address I have entered if you would be interested in discussing this further.

    Comment by Scott — 29 February, 2008 @ 22:17 | Reply

  4. wants to get job

    Comment by afrooz — 6 March, 2008 @ 11:18 | Reply

  5. Oh, talk about a Swede telling Indians how to provide customer service – have you experienced customer service in your own benefit state of Sweden?

    Comment by manmachine — 9 March, 2008 @ 6:29 | Reply

  6. Hi Shamrin, I like the 3 categories you have made of Indian Call center market. I feel things are now changing positively in India. Indian organization like NASSCOM taking steps to improve working style of Indian BPO industry. So now you can expect better quality from most of the Indian Call Centers.

    Comment by Jay - Call Centre Dept. — 18 March, 2008 @ 11:29 | Reply

  7. Hi Steve,

    It’s nice to know that Indian industry are now getting better. When I’m doing research about outsourcing business, most of the result is about doing business outsourcing in India. It says that Indian industry is doing well right now, new businesses like call centers that are having best quality service offered. Many new graduates working with this companies to keep and improved Indian industry.

    Maybe in the near future, lot’s of potential companies are building business in India, those new graduates will be hire and trained to improved Indian country.

    Comment by Reyna Flor — 11 April, 2008 @ 22:23 | Reply

  8. Hi Steve,

    Good to see you’re still going strong. I just mentioned your blog to Jonas C, so perhaps he’ll check in and renew the acquaintance. For Manmachine’s benefit: Steve may seem inordinately Swedish to you, in name as well as in views, but I believe he was born and raised in the US, home of “the customer is always right” so don’t kick him on that account.

    What is your view on the eventual progression of Call-centers to the Communication Centers the old dot-com visionaries went on about, happily conducting business in every possible channel – voice/web/mail/SMS/chat/forum/video?

    Comment by Mats N — 23 April, 2008 @ 17:24 | Reply

  9. Great blog!!! Very informative and engaging at the same time. I totally agree that call centers and outsourcing will expand globally. such rise will increase for customer service agents and legal assistant. It’s just a matter of the right choice.

    Comment by legal assistant — 27 May, 2008 @ 9:44 | Reply

  10. Hi Steve,

    I really appricates with your blogs, We provide call center services, Inbound call center, Outbound Call Center Services, Telemarketing Services, and BPO Services India and USA.

    For More information, Please visit our web sites http://www.inso.us

    Comment by Peter Jeams, Jr. — 19 September, 2008 @ 18:19 | Reply

  11. Very good posting…

    Comment by DotMark Inc. — 27 November, 2008 @ 14:31 | Reply

  12. This language barrier is still going to be an issue no matter how much training you give your agents. As a self promotion, in our Israel call center our agents are all recent emigrants from North America, and we don’t have the language (accent) issue.

    As small as the world is getting – people still do not respond well to foreign accents…

    Comment by Av Gitlin — 27 January, 2009 @ 17:37 | Reply

  13. Hey… hope you update this regarly… thanks..

    Comment by QBeX — 5 February, 2009 @ 21:06 | Reply

  14. thanks

    Comment by çağrı merkezi — 10 February, 2009 @ 1:26 | Reply

  15. Voice and accent trainings are the most important part of agent trainings for sure. However, companies which outsource, need to figure out what is it really that affects customer satisfaction. After identifying the gap between service delivery and business objectives, they can take action on what could reduce this gap and result in increased CSAT scores.

    Comment by Ajay — 5 May, 2009 @ 15:18 | Reply

  16. There are many great talents in india, some people just overlooked it, they don’t explore the abilities of people and their skills. India is a booming country and its call center industry is also booming.

    Comment by Training center in cebu — 27 May, 2009 @ 4:06 | Reply

  17. It’s good to know that the Indian call center industry is improving and growing at the same time. Good article!

    Comment by http://www.hitratesolutions.com — 27 May, 2009 @ 13:52 | Reply

  18. Hi

    It is really interesting to know more about Indian Outsourcing Services.I think Indian bpo’s are really doing a good job.

    TransVisionary Solutions

    Comment by TransVisionary Solutions — 19 August, 2009 @ 15:36 | Reply

  19. yup its really nice to know that the indian industry is getting better and popular everywhere, whenever i search about outsouring buesiness its show that most of the result of doing business of outsourcing in india then the others..

    i also appreciated yur blog its really nice… im sending u to my blog url pls have a look at it.

    http://navigantindia.blogspot.com/

    Comment by Ankur Bhatia — 28 October, 2009 @ 14:40 | Reply

  20. I just visited your blog and found an interesting one for content link exchange with my website. As your blog is relevant with mine so it would beneficial for both of us and in this way we can also increase our back links. If you are interested with our proposal please mail me at- link.content@gmail.com

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    John Carlson

    Comment by John Carlson — 9 November, 2009 @ 18:08 | Reply

  21. […] here: India – Masters of Customer Service – Part II « Outsourcing and … SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "India – Masters of Customer Service – Part II « Outsourcing […]

    Pingback by India – Masters of Customer Service – Part II « Outsourcing and … | TY4calling - India — 15 January, 2010 @ 21:08 | Reply

  22. Customer service is one of the most important task for all kind of businesses, whether its small size, mid-size or large size business. We all agree that in today’s competitive market, it’s difficult to make new client, day by day all companies are more concentrating on salesforce or marketing to continuously increase their customer base but customer retention is more difficult task than customer acquisition. At Kall Konnect we understand this difference very well. We believe that customer service is very important task for your business because. Your customers are part of your business from long time and have excellent trust and bond with your products and services at the same time. We also understand that small-midsized company need more time to focus on their salesforce and want someone who can take care of your customers. Kall Konnect is specialized in customer service and it is also a best customer service call center rated by our clients.

    We have noticed that many businesses thinks that outsourcing customer service to offshore customer service call center is great step towards cost efficient operations, but at the same time with cost effective services you are also taking risk of quality, The reason for this mentality is sometimes outsourcer come across to service provider who lacks into accent, English, communication etiquettes etc. At Kall Konnect we also understand your fear of not outsourcing the operation to offshore service provider and we strongly agree to your concerns and we normally do recruitment of our employee on the basis of some standards. You can learn more about the standards on basis of which we recruit people in our business. Kindly browse our Careers section where you can learn more about selection and training process.

    Kall Konnect provides best customer service through its call center. Our customer service call center is one of the best customer services who continuously work after improving your customer’s satisfaction. Beside customer service call centre services we also provide services like telesales telemarketing, call center services. Our call center is based in India.

    Comment by Kall Konnect — 22 February, 2010 @ 13:06 | Reply

  23. No doubt it is a fact that India still lags behind in the international BPO arena when it comes to delivering hi performance. It is because Indian bpo manpower has quantity but less quality. But there r some quality concious bpos in india that believe in providing high end call center services.

    Comment by Hcall — 7 April, 2010 @ 14:41 | Reply

  24. I think that India’s call centers need to be trained more in order to answer the problem of call handling inefficiency. Quantity in manpower does not necessary translate to high-quality performance. This is why India is said to be losing its position as the leading IT outsourcing country in the world.

    Comment by outsourcing providers Philippines — 24 May, 2010 @ 8:34 | Reply

  25. Makes a really interesting post. I’m really enjoying your blog………….

    Comment by Call Center services — 3 July, 2010 @ 12:18 | Reply

  26. I enjoyed reading your blog. At least Indian call center now are getting better.

    that Outsourcing call centers

    Comment by arribatel107 — 22 September, 2010 @ 18:53 | Reply

  27. Yes Its true that Indian are Master of Customer Service…. But Who is there to Prove it?
    What Say?

    Comment by Jackson — 24 September, 2010 @ 14:27 | Reply

  28. Actually, for me its only the language making the barrier that makes companies jump their services to other countries such as the Philippines. However, commend Indian human resources on the back end or IT support. They are very skilled.

    Comment by outsourced customer service — 2 December, 2010 @ 11:30 | Reply

  29. Great post!!! Very informative and engaging at the same time. I totally agree that call centers and outsourcing will expand globally.Thanks for this

    Comment by Call center India — 28 March, 2011 @ 16:49 | Reply

  30. I know i have got late to find this blog but i must say just like others have said that It’s a great post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Comment by leadtransfer — 22 March, 2012 @ 15:18 | Reply


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