Thursday, 15 February 2007

Humans in the loop, what a to-do!

A lesson this week for all those who have been seduced by the offer of technological wizardry, reduced costs and quality customer care. It appears that we as a nation are not happy with talking to people in remote corners of the world about our insurance claims. The classic conversation between the three hard of hearing old ladies takes on a new slant, “Is it windy?”, “No, dear I think it’s Thursday”, “Oh yes, I’d love a cup of tea”. Many Call centre customers it would seem no doubt relate to this after a chat with someone at a non UK call centre.

Companies eager to benefit from the lower wage costs and a highly educated and motivated workforce flock to India. Only for many of them now to come home to the UK with their heads bowed. Yes, the technology was fine, Manchester to Mumbai in the flick of a switch if only we could understand what was being said at the other end of the phone it would have been great.

The rapid embrace of technology is not always going to give you the results you expect because you have one strange thing in the equation: human beings.


Peter said...

Well, the move for overseas Call Centres was always slightly odd. Perhaps it was a bold, new challenge for those concerned with global sourcing. But given its direct B2C engagement, it was obviously going to be different to sourcing, say, the manufacture of a pair of jeans.

That said, what are the stats? We hear about failures but presumably there are many successes as well. My colleague Brian Nicholson may be able to elaborate on success and failure rates. Also, what makes the difference?

Two only slightly related threads also come to mind. (1) I took a taxi back from Oldham to Manchester last week. As usual, it was a chance for a chat with the driver about what's wrong with the world. Within this the driver, a British guy of Asian background, was telling me that he always tries to talk to Asian call centre staff in their native tongue. He likes to know if they are being treated well by their employers and whether the Brits on the phoneline are polite. The answer to both questions, thankfully, is usually yes. (2) Had a great chat yesterday with some folk who run an Asian TV channel. Its an astonishing story. Millions of satellite viewers across the globe from a base in Britain. This really is a global village if you are prepared to treat it as such. More on this soon.

pc said...

Having just been in India the last couple of weeks it startling to see the changes that these call centres are effecting.

Everywhere I went, when asked if I was British, I was informed of all the companies that are locating in Gurgaon, just south of New Delhi.

It's driving a lot of prosperity and providing jobs for people who otherwise couldn't get them. There seems to be a glut of overqualified graduates in India (overqualified for their economy that is) so we find them working in call centres. the alternative it seems is bleak(er).

But it's also driving a gulf between the have's and have nots. That's another story and I'm sure that call centres are not the only driver. The new found wealth (which is relative) is not filtering never will I suspect.

In my experience I have never had anything but excellent service when connected to a call centre over there...and I'd have to say it is better, on the whole, than I experience with UK call centres.

Apparently, the recruits go through extensive language (and even accent recognition) training once signed up, and many seem to enjoy the interaction they have with the west. Even then though, it seems to be a short term position, not a career. The couple of people I spoke to over there who had worked in BT's centre couldn't stick it for more than a couple of years.

But you are right...the technology cannot always bridge the gap...we ignore this at our peril.