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Bruce von Maltitz

Bruce von Maltitz

Bruce von Maltitz is Director of 1Stream. The leading provider of proven hosted call centre technology in South African. Their award-winning platform serves customers of all sizes. 1Stream provide pay-per-use access to world-class technology. Customers profit from 1Stream's secure and reliable functionality that is fast, easy, and affordable to deploy.

Website URL: http://www.1stream.co.za

In the Global Village, does geography still matter?

Friday, 14 September 2012 11:25 Published in Software
In the Global Village, does geography still matter?

Saying that we’re living in a global village or a virtual world is stating the obvious. Video calling, high-speed Internet, social media and teleconferencing have given us the ability to instantly connect, regardless of our location. Nowhere is this more obviously demonstrated than in the realm of call centres where customers in countries such as the UK and US regularly interact with support services in the Philippines, India and of course, South Africa.

For the most part, this system has worked well. Research has shown that most people don’t care where their call centres are based – as long as they can deliver adequate support – and companies have cut their labour and real estate costs dramatically. As Martin Conboy, editor of the Sauce (an outsourcing news service in Australia) puts it: “If companies can access talented and less expensive labor in somewhere like the Philippines, why would a business pay more for the same thing in their own country?”

But lately there seems to be a backlash. In his state of the Union address earlier this year, US President Barack Obama urged American businesses to bring jobs to back to the US and eliminated tax breaks for companies that outsource. Last year, Spanish-owned bank Santander withdrew their centres from India and returned them to the UK citing “customer frustration with geographically and culturally distant call centre operatives”. They weren’t the only ones. BT, Powergen and New Call Telecom followed suit, as did several American credit card companies.

Ostentatiously, the groups have cited the inability to relate to customers as the reason for the withdrawal. In fact, a rather bold article by the Washington Post has claimed that India is rapidly losing their claim as the call centre capital of the world to the Philippines, because Philippine culture more closely represents that of the United States. But does the ability to discuss soap operas or the weather really impact your customer service experience? Geography, in my opinion, was not the problem (albeit a convenient excuse) in the examples above. Dig a little deeper and I expect you’ll find that less time and money was spent on training and managing staff than prudent.

Virtualisation and Call centres

Cloud based technology has many benefits, such as the economies of scale, mitigation of hardware failure and access to accurate information on demand. It also allows companies the ability to set up a call centre anywhere in the world, across different time zones, which may result in improved continuity of business.

Well-trained call centre agents are continuously educated and trained on new and existing products and services, and are able to provide detailed information that enables them to troubleshoot a wide range of inquiries. They are also equipped to handle queries particular to the region they are serving, such as pricing queries or rate plans, despite being limited to that geographic area.

If queries are resolved promptly and efficiently, does the customer really care where the call centre is based? I doubt it.

At the end of the day, customers want the same thing from their call centres: clear lines of communication, good customer service and after-sales care if needed. Whether the individual speaks in an accent or not is irrelevant – as long as they can be easily and clearly understood.

The reality is that offshore hubs such as India, the Philippines – and South Africa – are not going out of business any time soon, as long as they can offer cheaper and more efficient call centres and refuse to compromise on quality. The BPO boom in India can be attributed to cheap labor costs and the country’s pool of skilled, English-speaking professionals – both factors that can be found in abundance in South Africa. And considering, from an economic viewpoint, that the call centres outsourced to India alone has created 800 000 jobs, we should make a point of competing for a spot in that market.
We’re not limited by our location anymore and customers realise that. They care about your level of service and the efficiency of your staff. If you can manage that, you will succeed – no matter where your call centre is located.


How to iron out your call centre issues in 5 easy steps

Monday, 13 August 2012 10:21 Published in PR & Communications
How to iron out your call centre issues in 5 easy steps

There is no excuse for poor customer service – whether online, in person or on the phone. Here are tips on how businesses can iron out the wrinkles in their call centres and ensure a better customer experience for all.
The call centre is often the first point of contact for customers, which is why it is crucial that the experience is a positive and satisfying one. Here are a few guidelines that explain how companies can make that happen.

1. Don't skimp on technology

There is no use spending money on advertising to lure people to phone your call centre if all your customers are faced with when they dial in is a set of shoddy welcome message or poor call quality. Opt for a provider that has economy of scale and can take away the headache of tech support and upgrading to maintain quality control, but never settle for second best when it comes to the tech that is responsible for customer service delivery.

2. Outsource the tech headache

Investing in the best systems available does not always make financial sense. If you are not handling huge volumes of calls, you cannot offset the initial capital cost. Since technology can become obsolete or in need of upgrades in a fairly short period of time, you are left with the problem of trying to integrate different pieces of equipment and keep up with patches and updates. By using a hosted service, you are buying an integrated suite of services that is always up to date – and it's cost-effective enough for even the smaller contact centres to use.

3. Don't shy away from implementing a cloud solution as you grow

If a call centre experiences rapid growth – increasing call volumes, diverse queries – they are often hard-pressed to meet the demand. Agents stay on the phone for longer and enquiries take longer to resolve. Resources in terms of both staff and technology are pushed to the edge. The call centre could address that by undergoing a costly expansion in terms of hardware and software...but there are no guarantees that the demand will remain high, leaving the centre stuck with the empty seats. The cloud offers the ability to provide just enough capacity for your business peaks and troughs, with flexible charges to match this "elastic" delivery.

4. Spend time on your staff

70% of call centre costs are your people – the agents and their managers. The industry has grown, and the quality staff that you want to retain has become more demanding. Call centres aim to hire agents that are capable, professional, reliable, sensible, hard-working and committed – and it is important to hang onto them. They want to work in a facility where their workday is pleasant and they aren't forced to use terrible technology that makes them (and the customers they're trying to serve) miserable – such as scratchy voice quality, dropped calls, no integration of customer management and telephony systems. Make sure that your staff are happy – and your customers will be a lot happier too.

5. Choose the right partner

Choosing the right service provider is as important as choosing the right solution and service delivery model, since it influences everything – basic set-up of the technology, operation, trouble-shooting, quality assurance and technology refreshes. By choosing a partner with a service-centric, consultative approach, customers can be sure that core issues such as their call routing and queues are set up with the help of the experts, reports deliver the best possible analysis for their business type and goals, and their system functions with optimal quality and productivity.
Your call centre does not have be one that everyone loves to hate. Following these simple steps can turn your call centre around, cut costs and improve service delivery.

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