Category: BPO

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


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:

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

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?

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.


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



Listen to Your Frontline Employees

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

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 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).