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The Philippines was considered the new frontier of high quality off shore contact center support operations, and for the most part it was.  It did not have the extreme accent India brought to the table, and found a culture that LOVED the U.S. and all our craziness.  But, with that love of our culture has also sped up the pace of the formation of a middle class in the Philippines, specifically Manila.

It may sound odd, but the middle class formation and growth is the kiss of death for call centers in countries like the Philippines.  The reason is that people begin to want more, and when a center is willing to pay $.10 – $.15 more they jump ship, many times still during training.  In the last six months I have heard from countless consultants and client’s beginning to complain seriously about the attrition levels in training and post training they are beginning to experience in their Manila sites.

These drastic increases in attrition has opened up some huge opportunities for other parts of the world, specifically in Latin America, the Caribbean, South Africa and yes even the U.S.A.  Many organizations like Discover Card, have decided to stop playing with the offshore model and bring it all home to the U.S.  This has allowed them to produce a HUGE marketing blitz technique, that looking at their stock prices seems to be working.  But, for some companies U.S. labor rates are just not possible to work inside of.  For these organizations I have been seeing an extremely growing interest into Latin America and the Caribbean, where labor markets are extremely plentiful and cost is very low relative to the U.S.

So what does this mean for the call center market as we look forward into 2013 and 2014?  In my opinion we are going to see one major shift, and one subtle, but impactful shift.

Major Shift:

Organizations are beginning to separate out different lines of communications between multiple carriers.  Many times this is being done strategically so they can place non-verbal support (Email, Web-Cat, SMS, etc…) in countries with great English grammar and technical abilities, but accent issues for the U.S. market (a.k.a. – India).  I see this trend growing, and you will begin to see countries like India get a resurgence of BPO once again, but not with voice support but non-verbal support.  As for the verbal support I see this beginning to move back to the country of origin, or to a near-shore support model, depending on budget availability for verbal support.

This shift will be a great opportunity for companies that have support centers in multiple countries, and the management abilities to control a program worldwide.  This way their client can take advantage of the specialization of the country and the labor costs, but not have to deal with managing multiple vendors.  But, as we know the list of companies who can support this environment is limited, and many organizations steer clear of them.  This then leads me to subtle, but impactful shift.

Subtle, But Impactful Shift:

One of my favorite sayings used to be, “No one ever got fired for hiring/buying IBM.”  In the call center market you could replace IBM with Convergys, West, Aegis, Stream, or a few other global juggernauts of the call center market.  But, looking forward I can see this saying, like in the IT world beginning to break down.  These companies do offer a great international support solution to their customers, but what they miss is the ability to be “boutique.”

In an era of customer service departments beginning to take on a look of marketing, IT, customer service and help desk; the old models are beginning to become extinct.  Today companies want a contact center that cannot just support their client’s but become their company and culture.  As any BPO executive knows this is MUCH harder than it may sound.  To take on a culture, you must have a culture in your organization that allows for sub-cultures to be introduced and allowed to grow.  This is something many of the big BPO companies have not been able to master, and honestly may never be able to.

So the subtle switch I see coming quickly is the introduction of the new IBM approach.  LOL!  I even chuckled when I had to write it, but it is true.  IBM a few years back finally realized that they really are not the experts at everything, and that there are people and companies who do things better than they do.  So their approach has become to focus on what they are best at, and to bring in other organizations that are even better at other aspects of the project to help.  What this means to the BPO market is the introduction of contact center management companies who can piece together and manage multiple centers for client’s to build the ultimate solution.

Just imagine the ability to run your DRTV program with a DRTV specialty center near shore, your web chat and email with a center in India or the Philippines, technical support through a boutique specialty center in the U.S. with escalation in India and finally customer service in a center in the U.S. and near shore to keep costs down, but provided that next level support.  Now imagine all this being managed by one company for you, so rather than making 5 – 6 calls to vendors you just make one.  This is the future in my opinion, and something we are already starting to see take place.

To Your Success & Prosperity!

Originally Published on Creative Business Mind Blog

Image Courtesy of http://www.SuperStock.com

Top sales executives will tell you that the reason they are successful is because while they are hunting their next big deal (Whale Hunting), they do not forget to continue to pick up the small accounts (Fish) along the way.  This practice is very well laid out in a book by Tom Searcy appropriately titled, Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company.  In it he explains how the mixture of small deals and large whales is how you build stability in your organization and make sure your hunters stay fed while on the hunt.

 

These practices are typically well understood by sales executives, but all to often lost on many business leaders.  What happens is a company will land one or two whales, then they get complacent or sometimes worse, get super picky about the deals they will take on going forward.  Now, I am not saying you should not be selective of the business you take on, but it is a fine balancing act that you must be ever evaluating to make sure it is inline with the continued success of your sales team and overall organization.  

 

Unfortunately many business leaders realize their need to readjust their threshold for new business to late, and watch their top sales performers move on to another company or find out that one of the fish they turned away became a baby whales for a competitor.   Both scenarios hurting their organization, because they stopped allowing their team to fish while they were on the hunt.

 

Remember fishing is like practice for the big hunt.  It sharpens the spears and skills of your sales executives so when a whales comes along your sales executive has the sharped tools and practice to drive their harpoon into the whale and make sure it sticks.  Without that practice their tools may get dull and their skills weak, so when they go for the close they miss and your team loses the whale.

 

So as your team begins to sit down to review Q1 sales results and look to Q2 and beyond.  If you see your top performers not being consistent with deals, you need to evaluate how much business you have refused.  If it is more than 1 or 2 deals, you may need to sit down and revaluate your threshold for new business so you are not missing those chances for your team to practice closing, or those future baby whales that look like fish.

 

To Your Success & Prosperity!

This article was originally featured on http://creativebusinessmind.blogspot.com/2013/02/remember-to-fish-while-you-whale-hunt.html

Mike McMillan:

It is so amazing to see a true gold “OIL” rush be represented on this picture.

Originally posted on Quartz:

The picture above was taken by NASA’s Earth Observatory, which orbits the planet twice a day some 512 miles up. This view of the continental United States at night is fairly stunning, showing the brightly lit population centers. But what are we really looking at? Maybe it would help to go back in time:

Oil-fields-at-night

That new constellation of lights is evidence of a major shift in the American—and global—economy. They come from the fire of natural gas burning as companies work all night to extract petroleum from the Bakken formation under North Dakota, a place whose citizens now refer to it as “Kuwait on the prairie,” according to NPR’s Robert Krulwich.

This is “fracking,” the controversial technology using water and chemicals pumped into the ground to shatter bedrock and gain access to the surrounding oil and natural gas. While some drillers are specifically tapping gas reserves, others that…

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Call Center Commodity

Call any contact center and get into a conversation about call center services and you will quickly find the person you are speaking to referring to their agents as “FTE” “Dedicated Staff” or my personal favorite “operators.”  For years the BPO industry has worked hard at removing faces and names from our operations team, and without knowing it, or maybe on purpose, made the contact center space seem like a commodity to the outside world.

But, how can you make human beings be a commodity?

The answer is simple, YOU CANNOT!!  Agents are real people, they have real bills, and funny enough are typically the primary consumers or the products and services they are supporting at the contact center.  So, how does the BPO industry begin the long hard battle of removing the idea of “Commodity Call Center” and get back to the days of looking at agents as people rather than an “FTE”?

The first step is for all of us to agree that customer experience and employee experience must be #1, and that profits cannot come before people!

Yes, I know this may sound insane, lowering our profits to make peoples lives better, are you nuts?!?!?!  No, I am not nuts, just understand that when people who work for you are happy, they are willing to go the extra mile for your business, which in turn will help you grow even larger than you are today.  So yes, sacrifice a little profit today, for MUCH more profit tomorrow.

So this is step one, and it is a step that we are already seeing being implemented in the business world.  Just look to Zappo’sAmazon, and a long list of other very successful businesses putting people first and reaping the benefits from it.

So why not in the BPO contact center space?

Some will immediately say, “we do not have the margin needed to do that!” or “businesses will not pay the rate to make that happen!”

My response is “YOU ARE RIGHT AND WRONG!”  LOL!  Got to love the salesmen/politician response.  

What I mean by this is that yes, businesses out of the gate will not be willing to pay more for a service that most of the BPO space charges much less for.  But, they would be willing to pay more for a service that is at a different level than what your competitors have to offer when you can prove it.  The hard part is that one word, “PROOF!”  To do this right you must be willing to try it at the potential cost of your profitability on a program.  But, by doing this you will then build the proof needed to show other businesses why this approach not only works, but must become the new standard in the world.

It goes back to the oldest sales teaching there is, Quality Before Price!  If you can prove that your BPO sees agents as Frank, Tammy and Edward instead of “FTEs“, and that this view of employees will help make your customer more money.  Then guess what, you can get the price needed to build an amazing new way of performing BPO support services!

Once these first steps are taken, you have to commit to stay the new path you have designed.  This way your employees do not see it a fluke, but the way things are and can become part of your new solution.

Forging a new path all begins with taking the first step.  Are you willing to see what lays beyond the well known beaten path?

To Your Success & Prosperity!!

For additional posts about this and other Call Center subjects visit: http://creativebusinessmind.blogspot.com

This is my presentation deck from my keynote at APOE 2012 in Wuhu, China.

 

As I am making final preparations for by speaking engagement in China next week, I realize I forgot to ask my host what their Twitter handle and #Hashtag is for the show. A very normal question in the states, and abroad, but in China that question was a little more tricky than I thought.

Being a very well traveled person, I thought I had heard and seen most anything. But, when I was informed that Twitter is illegal in China, well lets just say that it took me a few minutes to process that information. I mean, most of us here in the U.S. have had some type of disagreement about censorship for some small thing, but never have we had to deal with something this large. It really just made me realize how cut off China really is to much of what is going on around the world, and not by their Great Wall

…but, instead by a simple Firewall blocking citizens from reaching “restricted” websites.

(Way to good of a comparison to pass up…LOL!)

The reason I share this experience is not to start some debate around if this is right or wrong. Rather I wanted to share my question of, how big of an issue is this law going to cause China’s expansion goals in the BPO Contact Center marketplace?

I just am curious how you would grow contact centers in China, when it is an industry that demands multi-channel support, which includes “all” of the social media channels.

So today’s post is both to inform, but also look for ideas for our China contact center friends. So here are the questions:

1. How can a China based contact center work around this major hurdle of not being able to access the major social media channels?

2. Do you believe this hurdle will essentially remove China as a potential major player in the BPO contact center space?

I look forward to your answers and comments on this post!

To Your Success & Prosperity,

Michael C. McMillan

Mike McMillan:

It is amazing how many organizations have worked hard at removing the “Relationship” from business. Take for instance the use of a Procurement or Sourcing department. These departments are professional buyers of goods and services, whose entire mission is to extract as much value as possible from a new vendor. (i.e. – get the best service for as cheap as possible) The issue here, as the article describes is that by starting a relationship in this manner places the “Relationship” secondary, and forces the new vendor to already be on the defensive because of tight margin to provide the goods/services requested.

So my question is simple, does procurement and sourcing teams help establish sound business relationships, or does it simply create a transactional business environment?

Originally posted on Mitch Lieberman - A title would limit my thoughts:

Co-creation emphasizes the generation and ongoing realization of mutual organization-customer value. Historically, organizations spent too much time and effort to extract as much value out of a relationship as possible. Unfortunately, customers are now more knowledgeable, connected and interactive than they have ever been. This was one of the themes in my Evolution of the Contact Center post last month, I subtitled this ‘Governance’. In trying to play catch-up on my reading, the June issue of Harvard Business Review took a similar stance.  They called it “Pricing to Create Shared Value” (by Marco Bertini and John T. Gourville).

While my focus was (and still is) customer service, the HBR article in the June 2012 issue focuses much more on pricing strategies. There are some great examples, ones many of us have heard before. The airlines (yes, the poster child for doing things wrong). Do everything they can to extract value…

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It has always amazed me how contact centers, and businesses in general, forget to use the best feedback resource they have available to them, their agents!!!  Think about it for a moment, who else in the entire organization has a better understanding for what your client’s needs really are?  Agents are the only people who are interacting with your customer’s customers RIGHT NOW.  All of these interactions will result in ideas the agent has to help better improve the experience those callers, emailers, web chatter, social media people, etc… are having each time.

Why?

Simple, because agents do not want to make the process hard, just as much as the person looking for help does.  When the process is easy, the agent, your customer and most importantly the customer’s customer is very happy with their experience.

So next time your team is looking for ideas to improve your service quality, turnover, etc… Give some serious thought into inviting a few front line agents into your senior meeting to share their ideas unfiltered.  I can guarantee you will be shocked just how great some of the ideas will be, and typically how easy and cheap to institute.

Michael C. McMillan

SalesKing

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Listen to Your Frontline Employees

by Anthony K. Tjan  |  11:05 AM April 4, 2012

http://blogs.hbr.org/tjan/2012/04/listen-to-your-frontline-emplo.html?cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-management_tip-_-tip071112&referral=00203&utm_source=newsletter_management_tip&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tip071112

A basic prerequisite for business success is to know — really know — your customers. There’s a variety of traditional research methods aimed at better understanding customers: usage analysis, conjoint analysis, cluster analysis, roundtables, panels.

But there are a few reasons why traditional research sometimes fails to deliver: 1) Customers don’t always say what is really on their mind; 2) Customers often don’t know what they don’t know; and 3)Those conducting the research may bias results with the types of questions they are asking (wrong questions mean wrong answers).

During a recent hotel stay I was reminded of these limits by a shower that splashed water on the bathroom floor no matter what I did to try and prevent it. The problem was poorly positioned shower controls and shower head. Every day the bathroom floor would get soaked as I turned on the water. Don’t the people designing these things think about this stuff?

A more anthropological approach to customer research might have helped here. There’s a variety of ethnographic consulting firms that use observatory data-collection methods ranging from video to “day-in-the-life” immersion with a targeted user. But most executives don’t take advantage of the best anthropological consultants already employed — their frontline employees. It’s the employees who are closest to serving and supporting the customer who get an unfiltered view of how customers interact with a product or service.

These frontline workers tend to sit at the lower end of the organizational totem pole, meaning their views are often overlooked. But if you take a moment to think about it, some of the best sources of observatory research can come from those at first point of customer contact or first point postcustomer contact: waiters and bus boys (e.g. most frequently asked food items and most frequently unfinished food items); sales floor personnel and customer service reps (e.g. where people first go to in the store and what frustrates the customer the most); receptionists and cleaning staff (e.g. who is happy coming and leaving).

With the faulty shower in my hotel room, I wondered if management spent any time asking housekeeping for feedback. It’s the housekeepers who know which bathrooms are the biggest pains to clean — and which bathroom mats are consistently soaked A wet bathroom floor surely frustrates the housekeeper, too, not to mention increasing the hotel’s service costs. Would it have been helpful if the hotel’s cleaning and maintenance personnel had a process to voice their observations and recommendations to management? You bet.

Relying on the insights and observations of your frontline folks is good business. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, the lifestyle apparel company Lululemon stations its clothes folders next to the changing rooms not just because it makes logistical sense, but because it gives them an opportunity to hear customers expressing their clothing likes and dislikes.

As I discussed this post with a colleague, he said it reminded him of some of the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM). I did a quick Google review of TQM, and sure enough, it includes a focus on quality and customer satisfaction at every level of an organization. Whether it is part of a formal TQM program or simply a key input towards better understanding your customers, find the time to listen to the voice of your frontline employees. If you don’t, you’ll know less about your customers than you should.

More blog posts by Anthony K. Tjan
Anthony K. Tjan

ANTHONY K. TJAN

Anthony Tjan is CEO, Managing Partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, vice chairman of the advisory firm Parthenon, and co-author of Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck (HBR Press, 2012).

For many years small and medium-sized businesses have used contact centers to help extend their business hours so they can always be available to their customers.  But, as you can read in the article below, all businesses need to look at how to extend their business hours, and all the mediums they are available on for their customers.

This is where a good BPO Contact Center support company can come in.  Most of the leading Contact Centers now are supporting all the traditional communication channels and the new ones like, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc…  This way instead of trying to reinvent the wheel with your internal support team, you can use the experience that these contact centers already have to expand your service abilities.Now before you jump in feet first and outsource all of this there are a few pieces of advice I would offer:

1. Just because a company says they do social media monitoring and response, does not mean they actually do it.  The best test is to tweet or Facebook a post mentioning them, and ask a question.  If you do not see a quick response (1 hour or less) they are not the company for you.

2. Ask for the hiring profile for social media based support agents upfront.  If the center is really in the space this is something they should be able to send over right away.  If you hear hesitation or there is a big delay (over 1 business day) then count this as a red flag.  Also, read over the hiring profile very carefully and look for these key items:

- Typing speed at or above 75 WPM

- Grammar and Spelling proficiency testing at or above a 95% accuracy requirement

- Blogging or Social Media experience

- Journalism experience (a plus)

These items make up a great foundation for a support agent who will not be supporting any or very little live call volume.  Remember a phone agent can not be a non-live agent 99% of the time.

3. Check the http://klout.com/#/SalesKingOnline score for the company.  This is a great gauge for how involved and influential the company is via social media.  Be aware not all companies are required to report to this website, so take this information for what it is worth.  I have provided you with my personal Klout score so you can see how it works.

In summary, just remember a diverse customer experience program is no longer a nice thing to have, it is required to be in business.  But, to do this you must have the buy in from your entire organization, ESPECIALLY YOUR LEADERSHIP!!  With out this you are never going to get the results that a completely diverse customer experience program can offer your business.  This will mainly be done by leadership continuing to view customer experience as a 100% cost center, rather than the revenue protector and builder it really is.

Photo credit: Mira Hartford

Every busi­ness has cus­tomers. Well, at least every suc­cess­ful busi­ness. If some­one walked into your store to ask you a ques­tion, would you tell them that you just didn’t have time to talk to them?

If you want to pro­vide great cus­tomer ser­vice, the first thing that you should know is that it’s no longer good enough to answer ques­tions in con­ven­tional chan­nels (email and phone, or in per­son) or at con­ven­tional times (dur­ing work hours, per­haps on week­ends.) Twit­ter in par­tic­u­lar is a chan­nel for cus­tomer response that’s changed the expec­ta­tions of cus­tomer ser­vice most dra­mat­i­cally, and for­ever. Your cus­tomers talk to you on Twit­ter because they feel it’s an imme­di­ate con­nec­tion to the peo­ple in your com­pany who can solve their problem.

Fine. What does that mean? First of all, it means that the expec­ta­tions for the time­li­ness and breadth of your cus­tomer ser­vice have become head­line dri­ven. Can you answer the cus­tomer, respond in the appro­pri­ate tone, and/or redi­rect the issue with valu­able con­tent in under 140 char­ac­ters? That’s what your cus­tomer expects.

Yet cus­tomers who con­tact you on Twit­ter don’t always want to have a pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion about their entire account. This shift demon­strates another way that cus­tomer expec­ta­tions have changed in our always-on world. Cus­tomers use Twit­ter because it’s fast, easy, and mobile. It’s also extremely easy for them to share their expe­ri­ence when things go right (or, when they go wrong.) And they con­tacted you because they want your busi­ness to learn the “right” way to con­tact them — which is a very per­sonal require­ment and might even change com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels dur­ing a sin­gle issue — and for you to remem­ber that preference.

The sec­ond main item to note about the change in cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is that cus­tomers can now eas­ily com­pare your brand or ser­vice to the most respon­sive and service-centric brands in the world. Should you be wor­ried? No way! You now have a direct method to learn from @VirginAmerica, @StarwoodBuzz, and @ComcastCares, and other com­pa­nies that do a fan­tas­tic job extend­ing their ser­vice cul­ture onto Twitter.

You might think that all of this online activ­ity means that you need to be “always-on” and “always avail­able.” It’s cer­tain that being acces­si­ble to cus­tomers is one way to respond to cus­tomer needs and you should def­i­nitely con­sider this as an option … if you’re ready to respond on a 24÷7÷365 sched­ule. You should also respond even if you’re not going to be around all of the time — and you should ensure that your hours of oper­a­tion in that chan­nel are very clear to your customers.

Finally, you should know one thing that hasn’t changed about cus­tomer ser­vice in gen­eral even as the ways cus­tomers con­tact you has changed: that treat­ing peo­ple well mat­ters. If you cre­ate, com­mu­ni­cate, and deliver unique value through ser­vice, your cus­tomers will respond. And in the age of Twit­ter and other social tools,  they’ll tell their friends too.

Cus­tomer Wow at Assistly (a Salesforce.com com­pany.) Social Media. Pho­tog­ra­phy. Sports fan. Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence. Connector.

Greg Meyer
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