Wednesday, April 8, 2009

When Johnny Come Marching Home - The Return of Support to the US

Jason Lackey

The service industry is a tough one, and providing technical support of any kind, much less mobile, is a challenge under the best of circumstances. We have also seen a bit of a sea change, where the real winners have shown that it pays big to resist the temptation to view support as a cost center but rather to look at support as a strategic differentiator. Another sea change is the reversing of the outsourcing tide and the return of customer care to North America. Some examples of this in the media include WXYZ's story on Chrysler bring back call centers to the US and Peter Whoriskey's article in The Washington Post. Even lender Sallie Mae is getting into the act.

If support is nothing but a cost, an expense and unwanted burden, then obviously fobbing it off on the lowest bidder makes sense. If, on the other hand, support is a critical touch point, one of your main interfaces with the customer and a powerful service differentiator, then quality rather than just cost, should be a key factor in sourcing support.

Looking at support, customers tend to complain about a couple things with outsourced support. One is language and the difficulty effectively communicating with those who may not speak an entirely familiar form of English. The other is effectiveness in resolving issues - did the problem get fixed or did the customer burn time and get frustrated with no positive outcome to show for it. With outsourcing, as the labor market has tightened in places like India and as the whole cost cutting mindset behind outsourcing has encouraged overseas call centers to cut corners with training and qualifications, all too often the end result has been to leave the customer unhappy while still spending money.

Of course, challenges create opportunity and this sea change is no exception. Organizations looking to stay with an outsourced model will be under increasing pressure to deliver better results in order to compete with the locals. While accents and dialects are somewhat challenging to deal with, upgrading the tools available to support reps is less so and may actually deliver more in terms of satisfaction. One example of tools that could be used in this manner would be mobile device management, where mobile phones and other wireless devices can be configured and updated over-the-air. Technological solutions such as this can dramatically shorten call times and also provide a better chance of a FCR - first call resolution, the holy grail of customer care.

Another opportunity is where the company has decided to return call centers to the US (Canada too, eh!) - a move which is often very popular, particularly now in these uncertain economic times, as many customer support the generation of jobs in the local economy. However, regardless of how people feel about where jobs are going, the bottom line is that someone is going to still care about how much it all is going to cost. In an environment like that, many of the costs associated with higher hourly labor costs, higher rents and more expensive utilities can be recouped with greater efficiency and if that greater efficiency can be topped off with greater customer satisfaction even better. Here too mobile device management can play a powerful roll. With greater insight into the device and the ability to manipulated configurations and settings over the air, CSRs are provided a powerful tool that can shorten calls while delivering on the FCR promise sooner and more often.

Change and upheaval, regardless of whether or not they are moving in a direction we like, are often painful and stressful. However, this does not mean that even in the face of pain there are not opportunities to be taken advantage of. Any revisiting of customer care should involve a look at the tools that front line care personnel have at their disposal and any honest look at those tools should not only involve things like IVRs and CRM packages but also tools like MDM, which allow not just better tracking of info, but actual over the air delivery of help and fixes.

Customer care, welcome home. It's good to have you back.

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