Calling a centre

It seems that BT is one of the first one making a step back, a step towards the old times. They are moving away from those bulk cheap Indian call centres. I wonder if they are just the first. The title ‘BT hires 1,000 UK staff after complaints over Indian call centres‘ is not wrong, but I feel it is misleading. The article (at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/18/bt-hires-1000-uk-staff-after-complaints-indian-call-centres),

I have had my share of experience with Indian call centres. The quote “The recruitment drive follows reports from customers that they preferred speaking to people in UK call centres rather than Indian staff based in Bangalore and Delhi. BT said the new jobs would be “frontline roles” in customer care“. You see, there are many places where the solution might to some degree work, yet the UK is different in many ways. They excel in dialects and expressions, so when an Indian call centre has an employee that would speak ‘English’, the idea that all versions of English are the same, they will come back from a cold turkey dinner with an added icy cold shower.

The fact that 80% of the call must be repeated because the friendly voice on the other side did not understand it is at the core of what is wrong, and it is one of two massive issues. In all fairness, none are actually the fault of the friendly voice on the phone, they are the core of the issue the flaw of the boss of his/her boss, likely even one level higher. Talking to someone in England in BBC English works perfect for the person on the non-Indian side of the phone conversation, the person responding is for the most ignorant of the BBC English condition and before the Indian call centre operator realises it.

So when the call starts and that person hears “I needed a bullseye before going off to Bedfordshire, now the fast sausage and mash machine has gone bollocks and ate me card!

How long until the call centre operator gets a clue that the man is trying to get $50 from the ATM and it swallowed his bank card? It could take 10 minutes just to get that sentence translated. I know it is an exaggeration, but consider how inaudible some dialects are especially from people in places like Hounslow or Cardiff. Now most UK people have a small problem comprehending people from there, so how will someone in India have a clue? These examples are a little out there, yet considering the vast wealth of expressions and dialects, the issue remains and for BT and some banks, the Indian call centres are not a solution, they never were and I personally talked to people in the late 90’s where that prediction was clearly given, yet it was all about cutting costs and getting a solution where people could live with a degradation from 100% service to 80% service, not just in the UK, this issue is nearly global.

The second issue is even more of a problem, again, the kind Indian voice should not be blamed, for the simple reason that this was all management. To get a certain path, people were ‘taught’ scripts and clear paths of choices. Almost like the automated system when you call places like Telstra, Optus, Vodafone (and Vodafail too) and many others. The system that takes you from choice to choice, a path with 1-5 choices, the call centre person got a similar path, and for 70% it works, for 70% of the issues, that they are receiving a call for, that gets resolved. Yet the other 30% are out of luck. The system is unrelenting and the call centre was not allowed to deviate. Having have worked as a Technical Account Manager in the service field, I saw and have been through many iterations where the customer has that 1% flaw, a dozen a day, data fields can be a relentless one and as more systems interact, more flaws creep into the connectivity. Now add the language to the procedural part and yes, now 1 in 3 would have an issue and the call centre would see new escalations on how one would infect another and soon the system was unworkable, the call centre person never had a clue on how things went from bad to worse and the worst part is that this is not some average count, in this system, the issues stack, so we get issue on issue with an ever increasing population who go from ‘tolerating’ to ‘extremely oppositional’.

A flawed system that came into play from the need of cost suppression. A sales driven industry that would never properly value the power of quality service, interesting is that it took this long to realise it. or is the issue not really costs, but the need for having home shaped jobs, more and more are needed in a current economy where local jobs are essentially more important.

In all this, we now need to consider the following: “But while BT performed badly overall, data on how quickly telecoms firms resolved complaints undermine reports that customers find it hard to communicate with Indian call centre staff“. Here we see two parts, the first one is ‘how quickly telecoms firms resolved complaints‘, there was not a technology part, for the most the issue was communication, clear communication both ways, when you consider that the UK population side does not speak BBC English (apart from perhaps those in the BBC building, and those in that large London donut), so as far as I can tell, most issues could be easily resolved though ‘proper’ English and the actual issue when identified would be resolved almost immediately. The part ‘hard to communicate with Indian call centre staff‘ gives the other part from the resolution, but overall there is another question, how do the numbers hold up when every case from beginning to end is checked on timeframes and quality? The given statement might not hold up, for the simple reason that the operational system is still an issue that path will not be the greatest issue when it is all in the UK, but overall there is an operational side that is not addressed. What operational call centre solutions will become part of the BT frame? Because the data that follows will need to be monitored and even as places are ‘preparing’ for the new solution, the question that follows is ‘are the right metrics being considered?‘ When we take that into consideration, we would need to see who will be looking at those metrics. A sales person will look at different metrics than a solution, service or consultancy manager, even though the consultancy manager is about sales, it will be about the satisfaction of the sold solution, so there will be a much stronger overlap.

The question now becomes, what will be the next hurdles for BT?

The infrastructure and the technology is one, the IT and the call centre system will require different solutions today than most solutions offered a decade ago, are those solutions up to speed to remain scalable, evolutionary and easily deployable? You see, the Indians who developed those solutions have created a decade of infrastructure expertise, that knowledge is partially lost to the UK solution industry.

the final quote to consider is “It said staff had recently agreed to more flexible working hours, to make sure calls could be answered from the UK at the weekend and in the evenings. “This demonstrates the commitment from everyone at BT to work together to improve customer service and to make things easy for our customers,” said Barr“, part of this has always existed, many places, including in the late 90’s required solutions to be working for a longer time. In that part there are two solutions, one is the variable times, which are at the current core of the solutions, in some cases (possibly not in the case of BT) is to have a time zone coverage, where large corporations have coverage in Europe, the US and Australia, creating a near perfect 24 hour coverage. When one call centre shuts down, the other one starts, or has been operating a few hours, meaning that any issue not dealt with in call centre one, the one to the east will pick up those issues as well as the ones they receive until they shot down, this moves forwards and in that solution a global service system comes to play, that level of service is now more and more required, because saving money was only an option where sales is king, in a system where sales is no longer staying up to speed, services needs to create a pillow for new sales and new steps to higher revenue.

That time is now returning, or perhaps better stated, the core of business needs to return to their home fields. In a state where mobiles rule, where Telco’s can be started from a living room with the mere need to have access to bandwidth to sell on, the home field advantage relies on service and interactive response, that step is now the place for the larger home players to get back their consumer base and from that step, reclaim the foundation of income to return to those large players. The sharks are returning and they are getting rid of the pilot fish that have been feeding themselves on too much food, the shark has been hungry for too long.

In that example, we all understand that in the healthy environment the shark will need, allow and even require the pilot fish. Yet as its food supply has been reduced to a mere fraction of what it was, the shark needs to evolve into being better and more efficient in devouring the food it gets, as there is less. So it sucks to be the pilot fish, but for too long every shark had not one but 5-10 pilot fish around its teeth, that part can no longer continue, whether those 5-10 were ‘validly’ there. In the end, cutting costs for those banks might have been a jump that is a lot more expensive than they bargained for, which will be at the centre of the numbers that the new call centre solutions would be trying to show in the pursuit of growing their grades, qualities and key result areas. So where is the flaw in my last statement?

You see, past the shark we get the issue that it was about cheap that was not, which is not completely correct, it is the change towards the new location that is the new cost, not the lack of old profits. We can argue that the not predicting that change is short sighted, but is that the flaw of the past, or our obsessive need to lay blame in the now?

It seems to me that BT is only the first in many, for those who have the quality and the knowledge, this will be an evolving field of need. Personally I see that this could be a potential job bringer to places like Scotland and Wales. When this evolves into a separate global call centre with a global coverage, those who have it will come to a decent growing field, a field of need where for the last few years there was none.

You see, there is another side in this, in the last few weeks there have been reports from places like Digital India we see titles like ‘Digital India will take off on the strength of call centres in small towns‘ (at http://indianexpress.com/article/business/business-others/digital-india-will-take-off-on-the-strength-of-call-centres-in-small-towns-ravi-shankar-prasad/) which makes perfect sense for their local market, a local market that has been evolving for some time now. Now consider the quote “There is enough data work available in the country (to be handled by these centres)”, which remains a fair call, yet the article is absent of international parts, which is a little odd, considering that this is about Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Communications and Information Technology. Yet, in that same line of thinking we now get lines like ‘Serco on the road to recovery with £250m sale of Indian call centre business‘, Serco seems to be on a road, leaving that outsourcing solution to Blackstone.

The issue is a little hard to set, as Serco has had its fingers in so many pies, many failing to a larger extent, so that issue on Call centres is not easily settled here, but consider the dive they took by ridding themselves of it at this time and at the massive discount it was sold at, it starts to form a speculated pattern. You see, the fact that Indian call centres are all growing in their local market, and ‘speculated’ must remain the operative word here, because the needs of one Telco, does not give way to an early summer feeling in the employment market. For that we need to take one additional look to the BBC article (at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31762595), called ‘The country training people to leave‘, the quote there is ““British companies love us because our English is not accented. The brightest graduates from our universities fight to get a job here. We only take the smartest kids. And after we’ve finished training them they even get your British sarcasm,” says Tubbs“, which is actually at the heart of the matter for one of the Indian issues, yet the part that is not addressed is that India had grown a strong infrastructure. That part was shown in the NY Times a year earlier, “The 2.2 million vehicles a day that grind away on Manila’s crumbling road system cost the country 876 billion pesos a year, or more than $20 billion, in lost productivity and wasted energy, according to a recent study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. That is a serious drain on an economy of about $250 billion“, now add to that “Manila is plagued by power failures, chronic water shortages and an antiquated telecommunications system“, I am taking the airport out of that equation, which remains an issue too. The bottleneck was not addressing the growing options that required a massive overhaul, now it is too late, the power from Manilla in language was shown, making the move back to the UK an easy step. Consider the earlier BBC article, which gave “the government teaches thousands of people the skills they need to get jobs abroad“, we now have a rolling economy moving back to the UK, with additional options for workers who could be relocated to the UK should the call centres run dry on willing staff, even more optional is getting a hold of all that call centre staff, should the UK market not be providing enough early on, the UK has options to home grow a market they had lost, even more important is that this is a service filed Scottish workers could be trained in, giving additional solutions when the cost of corporate costs in the greater London area falls short, that is providing Birmingham does not pick up this opportunity.

As stated, it is speculated, but I see that BT has opened a door, a door that remains ajar for others to consider. Even if they are not in the UK, large US and Japanese corporations requires more and more the need for service solutions in the European timeline, the Indian solution was not the success they expected and the Manilla crises will continue at least 4-5 years, that is, if the infrastructure gets a massive overhaul as per immediate, if not, they lose the market too and Europe is hungry for real revenue, revenue that requires a service solution, one they had abstained form for too long.

Will this pan out correctly?

Even as the Philippine government is projecting a 15% growth from 2014 onwards, getting it from $11 billion, to $15 billion this year, the issue remains infrastructure, they have no real solution and the issues started to play in 2014, whilst no true overhaul had commenced, which means that it needs to address a near 32% growth and need in resources, whilst Manilla has no way to deal with it. This means that the summer drains will leave systems collapsing, something that we would start to see soon enough, it also means that those with Manilla support choices will need an alternative they did not bargain for. So the BT move is timely (in Philippine terms), if not essential to their path to repair.

Whatever comes next will be interesting to watch, because when that move does go forward, it becomes interesting to see how the larger corporations deal with their vested interest in places like Germany and France. In that regard, BT’s step (as stated by the Financial Times) comes with additional needs, as Sir Mike Rake saw the outsourcing as an ‘Achilles heel’, which might have been an understatement. In all that, Deutsche Telekom, who is connected in all this, might be seeing new trends to insourcing (pushing for could be a better word), as it also closes the door for the UK to leave the EEC as insourcing becomes more and more successful, which means many business players will be pushing for this success.

That part has additional reasons when we see that Sir Mike Rake, possibly UK’s largest Europhile in history gets to voice on how UK business at large does not want any form of Brexit, a move that can be given strength as call centres will grow in need within the EEC, which is just what the UK Conservatives hoped for, they just never expected to get saved by a call centre, which is amazingly hilarious in its own right.

 

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