Contact Centres Return to the UK

UK contact centre

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A quick brain teaser for you on this late Summer morning; aside from their initials, what do Cheryl Cole and Contact Centres have in common? They have both returned to the UK after failing to make it overseas. But all joking aside, the latter and somewhat less entertaining acronym has made the headlines recently, for after an era of overseas outsourcing it seems a trend is emerging towards brands bringing their contact centres back to the UK.

During this economic ‘winter of discontent’, opting for a domestic contact centre is becoming a way of aligning your brand and business with local values and, as our ever changing world spins dizzyingly on its axis and global economies morph in its wake, it appears that such hitherto money-spinning relocations could become a thing of the past.

This year Santander is moving operations back to the UK after receiving a high level of complaints, 165,000 in the latter half of 2010 alone. A spokesperson from the company stated that dealing with an off-shore contact centre caused “frustration that can lead to dissatisfaction”. The financial giant bolstered the news of its relocation with a branding overhaul and a new strapline, “driven to do better”, denoting its commitment to a better class of customer service. Societies are well accustomed to a global business environment, but it seems that consumers hesitate to embrace the notion of having their financial, sartorial or other needs dealt with by a call handler who could be many thousands of miles away, in a different time zone and who may well be fresh from a daily briefing about the goings on in Albert Square.

Rather than language issues or grievances over accents, a lack of cultural affinity is thought to be a key factor in the failure of some overseas contact centres to engage and satisfy customers. If a customer has a complex or contentious issue, any obstacle to empathy or understanding between the call handler and caller can escalate rapidly to a point where both brand and solution are irreparably marred. Having a conversation with an individual who relates and empathises with your issue and can analyse the problem within a shared cultural context is crucial to a satisfying and progressive business relationship.

Telecoms provider, New Call Telecom also recently returned to the UK after discovering the disparities in call efficiency between the UK and their outsourced offices in India. Speaking to the Economic Times CEO Nigel Eastwood asserted; “The average (call) handling time in the UK is three minutes. But if you go out to India you add another minute, unless it is a very efficient operation… we can actually reduce the head count with the saving”

During the earlier stages of relocations to India, low property and salary rates warranted the move, but in recent times inflation and prices have increased; Indian wages are expected to rise 13% over the next year. In short, what was working economically for businesses is no longer working for them or their customers. At New Call’s new offices in Burnley, Lancashire the rental cost in pounds per square foot is similar to that in major Indian cities and the area has good scope for an economicaly viable workforce. In addition, there are no extra costs for transporting managers or other staff to review progress on site and manage any issues.

As economic pressures mount throughout the world notions of patriotism come to the fore and businesses that show themselves to be supporting local economies and communities receive praise in the media and from politicians. Brands will undoubtedly be using Santander et al as litmus tests for their own future strategies. Astute brands know that failing to listen to the needs of their customers is integral to on-going success. It could be that consumer’s disaffection continues to pull the tide that will cause the sea change.

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