When analyzing call center productivity – or researching call centers at all – it’s always tempting to make “call center” and “cost center” black and white terms. After all, aren’t there only two options in business … make money or lose money? Well, notwithstanding non-profits or human services (happy to break even), those two directions are pretty cut and dried. Problem is: presuming a call center is an island unto itself deforms the question in the first place. Business operations involve a dozen departments, and each of those is usually a moving target. So, “do I want a call center or a cost center” is not the right question. (Spoiler: You’ll find out here that there’s such a thing as Cost Center ROI.)
Who’s Your Customer?
One suggestion would be to begin with the customer and end with the business. You’re making decisions that will have long-term revenue, brand, and reputation imprints. Pretending there’s no “white space” between your revenue and your call operations would be an MBA 101 mistake of dramatic proportions. How many companies have brought back control of their contact centers to the United States? Although Citi, Neiman Marcus and Nationstar Mortgage are among the larger notable companies that have moved back to the U.S., it’s widely known that Dell and Intuit (technology), Merrill Lynch and HSBC (financial), and Delta and United (airlines) have moved back – but not “officially” and for all time, as these companies might reverse course or do some offshore later.
Whatever the case, an unhappy customer is not a good place to look for repeat business. FI Group concluded that customer support agents that can be understood clearly were able to resolve 88 percent of their problem calls. When customers report that the agent was difficult to understand, the calls are only resolved 45 percent of the time. In those conditions, it would be hard to prove that you’re “putting the customer first,” let alone having any effect on cost center ROI. Plus – and just as bad for the business – the costs of unresolved problems and angry customers offset savings in salaries. The most complex calls (also known as “contextually sensitive” calls) require a comprehensive understanding of language and cultural awareness. So, as always, cost center ROI (or any ROI) comes back knowing your customer.
The Bad Reputation of the “Cost Center”
Every business operating to make money, whether for profit or not, that is using a contact center, or considering one, for inbound customer calls should not be thinking, “call center or cost center.” Why? Cost center ROI doesn’t have an impact on profits, right? Maybe. At first, your tendency might be to agree; there’s no cost center ROI because a cost center cannot generate revenues. In the traditional, “old school” sense, you’d be right. But try getting rid of your HR department and see if that affects your ability to generate profit. Most company’s cost center ROI does not have a “direct” impact on big sales.
With this line of thinking, it’s hard to make a case for the reality of cost center ROI in lean times, but where would you go without public relations, R&D, customer service, and investments in new equipment? That’s not how smart organizations work. We’re talking about generating revenue, seeing ROI, not leaving money on the table. Choosing to operate a call center or accept it as a cost center is essentially the difference between choosing more avenues of business income or merely maintaining a center with predictable costs where managers are rewarded for “underfunding” their units. That’s enough to make any CEO light-headed; “you mean I have to lose money to make money?!?” That pushes against many “academic-based” basic strategies learned about growing and maintaining healthy businesses.
Business Process Outsourcing
Once a business has committed to making their call center a means of revenue and not a costly “necessary evil,” the next decision revolves around the logistics of doing so. Outsourcing to companies with skills that are matched and specialized to a business’s objective can be a significant first step toward success. Call center or cost center start-ups and changes require smart BPO, which must include carefully analyzing the cost savings of U.S. call centers. Business executives owe it to themselves to closely examine the benefits of these savings as they directly relate to increasing ROI – using SMB specialized call center outsource companies who pride their centers on productivity.
Cost savings of U.S. call centers? That’s right — savings and U.S. in the same sentence. The trend in recent years of outsourcing call centers or cost centers to offshore companies has unearthed a fair share of challenges. A much deeper examination of real costs is in order. Superficial monetary figures may seem favorable at first, but those savings will dwindle quickly if said challenges exist. How can a call center be effective at performing tasks that increase ROI if they are unable to establish a satisfactory service transaction for the item the customer called in about in the first place? They cannot.
Cost Center ROI: Digging Deeper
Outsourcing to U.S. companies for the management of your call center means fewer barriers between your business, your customer, potential sales and retention. Keeping call center outsourcing with a U.S. based company can thwart many of the chief complaints that people have about customer service call centers, one of those being language confines. Is it a gross error in judgment to assume that because a person can speak the English language that they have full command over comprehension, which often impedes rationale when dealing with complex customer service issues. Thick accents can be trying for some customers, especially those who are elderly or slightly hard of hearing. Add these things together and often customers feel as though their experience is like fuel being added to an already frustrating situation rather than relating it to a simple phone call that turned a problem into a satisfactory solution.
Sometimes there is no satisfactory solution. Tight reins on offshore outsource companies often equates to limitations on the ability to make decisions, adjustments, corrections or even above the call of duty type customer service extensions. These obstacles account for a company’s inability to monitor a contractor’s daily activity or security practices. U.S. based call center outsourcing keeps the extension of business operations within easy travel distance. It also avoids language barriers and keeps this critical aspect of customer relations close to home for regular inspection, monitoring, training, and security. In short, a business can entrust a call center with critical parts of the business without feeling as though they have compromised control. The Wall Street Journal published an article in 2008, which addresses many concerns of both offshore and outsourcing in general. This article is especially helpful in determining where the land mines might be hiding with any types of outsourcing and will encourage clear and concise communication when choosing the right company to handle the job.
Home Is Where Customer Service Is
Customer service standards in the U.S. have stringent expectations among consumers, especially those living in the U.S. Naturally, outsourcing of call center activities are well suited to U.S. based and staffed companies. In addition to adhering to higher worldwide standards for service, U.S. based companies are also proponents of continued education and training. High-quality standards for equipment and communications services, fast turnaround times for issues that need to be resolved and abiding by U.S. business and employment laws are just a few more reasons to entrust your business with a U.S based call center. These facets of business become critical when assessing the bottom line. Keep in mind, whether a call center is an outsourced third party or not, your business name is being represented to the customers calling for service. Employees of the outsourced company will also somehow associate their overall daily working environment and experience as being tied to the values of the contracting company.
Cost Center ROI. Call Center ROI.
As a savvy businessperson, you’ve already decided. If your inbound call system is structured in such a way that little or no revenue is being generated, or it’s organized to do so but is not successful because customer service is failing, and clients are unsatisfied, you’ve likely identified the need to do something differently.
Establishing a call center using a reputable U.S. based outsource company can positively change both of those scenarios. Every business does something to make money and that service or product offered should resonate with every precious customer contact opportunity. Increase ROI by maximizing these opportunities with better service, better sales, more referrals and stronger customer retention. Entrepreneur Magazine published this fantastic article that overviews some of the innovative means by which companies are being served by outsourced organizations. This type of ingenuity makes it an excellent time to tailor a more productive call center for your business – and not to think of cost center ROI as something separate from any element of successful sales.
Call centers can and should be designed to generate more ROI than web leads alone, by way of bridging the needs and desires of customers with the niche of the business. Whether you name it a call center or a cost center becomes less interesting when realistic objectives are met within your corporate ecosystem – “productivity” and “customer satisfaction” become the metrics of call center success.