The Issues with Off-Shoring Customer Service

Infini Kimbrough
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For many years, the path to success in customer service call center management was to contract with an overseas offshoring firm to get customer service tasks done at a discount. By shipping work overseas, employers in the field achieved serious savings as the newly trained workforce put in longer hours for less pay. Recently, however, some companies have started to bring these overseas jobs back to the United States. After joyfully outsourcing customer service tasks for several decades, major employers have discovered some of the drawbacks of locating a call center overseas.

At the heart of the problem is the language barrier. To put it bluntly, every native English-speaking country in the world has high labor standards and minimum wages that make offshoring rather profitable. This reality has driven customer service work to countries with a large number of people for whom English is a second—or even a third—language. India has been a major player in this market because its history has left it with a very large population of English speakers. The Philippines has also been favored by offshored customer service due to previously being dependent on the US.

English is still a second language for most overseas local reps, however, and difficulties with the nuances of English—as well as unfamiliar accents—can make it difficult for productive communication to take place. This is even more of a problem when the customer is calling for technical support and has to describe a complicated problem or have a complex solution communicated back. Customers will often become exasperated, and even angry, at the frustrating language barrier.

Another issue with overseas customer service is that of trust. In many cases, a foreign workforce cannot be bonded at the same rates as a US-based force, which can lead to trouble when the job entails handling sensitive personal information or credit card numbers. The high turnover and general emphasis on high-volume work makes it even more difficult to ensure quality customer service.

That emphasis on high turnover rates and rapid call processing has also created trouble with training customer service reps for demanding technical issues such as computer troubleshooting. This kind of detail-oriented technical work calls for extensive training and experience, which implies a skilled workforce that often cannot be found at Third-World rates, regardless of the country it's in.

These are all issues specific to the company's bottom line, but outsourcing work overseas creates still more issues that can be regarded as external to your company. Offshoring is extremely unpopular in the US among customers, workers, and voters. Offshoring is perceived as a method by which companies maximize their profits by purging a skilled domestic workforce and imposing a slow, frustrating customer service experience on the public. While offshoring your company's customer service isn't necessarily a bad idea, you would do well to proceed with caution.



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