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A couple of years ago I wrote a draft article about off-shoring and the reasons why, ethically, it makes perfect sense and should not be condemned. However, it languished in the recesses of my hard disk until a couple of weeks ago, when a phone call I made to Telstra was directed to a call centre in Philippines and the poor voice quality of the connection provoked me to instantly announce my disdain via Twitter.

Since writing the original article my views have developed a little and, although I hold to the same basic tenet, it has become glaringly apparent to me that the decision to outsource can be a rocky road for many businesses, strewn with potential potholes. The ethical and direct financial benefits are easily justified, but harder to assess is the impact on your customer service and brand image.

As this topic involves a number of separate considerations I’ll provide a brief outline of the issues as I perceive them in this article, and delve deeper into some of these issues in more detail in subsequent articles.

Call Centre Staff

As a business owner looking for improved efficiencies in my business I’ve often considered offshoring and tried to decide whether it is beneficial for us. The quoted rates from offshore vendors are on the surface highly attractive, so I’ve been tempted. However, I’ve also struggled with whether it’s ‘un-Australian’ and ‘unethical’ to ‘send jobs offshore’. After grappling with this issue in great detail, I’ve reached the conclusion that there is nothing inherently unethical in sending work offshore. (Don’t shoot me yet! Ready my more detailed exploration of this topic in an upcoming blog!!!)

But aside from whether or not it’s ethical, there’s also the question of whether it’s prudent for my business. What tasks should I offshore? Will those contracted staff have any contact with my customers and/or other stakeholders, and if so, what impact will this have on my business and brand image?

As a consumer I frequently experience frustration and angst when I call a major ‘Australian’ company and encounter a customer service agent located in a foreign locale with whom I have considerable difficulty communicating due to cultural, language, and accent issues. Perhaps the two most striking examples were when I had to deal with an Australian Taxation Office employee who’s English was so stilted that I had to ask him to repeat himself time after time after time and still struggled to understand him; and on my recent phone call to Telstra when the quality of the phone connection (which was being transmitted to/from Philippines over VoIP) was so poor that the customer support staff sounded like Darth Vader, and he eventually had to phone me back twice to try to get a better connection. This type of experience undoubtedly damages the brand image of the organisations concerned.

Basic sales training teaches you that a key factor in sales success is the ability to establish rapport with your prospects and clients. Rapport is achieved through minimising the differences. I would propose that if you want to have strong relationships with your key client base, it is important to ensure that the customer-facing staff who interact with them can engage with them in a similar manner culturally and linguistically. Therefore, if your customers are primarily Australian-born English speakers, customer service staff should be fluent in English and preferably with non-intrusive accents at the very least. If your business targets a particular ethnic segment within Australia, then your requirements will differ. For example, the Asian-born population within Australia is growing steadily and provides lucrative business opportunities — if this is your target audience, you will fare well if your customer service staff can connect with your prospects using their own languages and cultural norms.

Other areas of your business don’t require customer contact and may be far better suited to offshoring. In Aktiv Tactics, we use the services of contract programmers/web developers, and I’m just now trialling the use of a Virtual Assistant who will manage a range of administrative tasks I currently undertake personally. I’m working with Philippines-based contractors because of their strong English skills and also the fact that I regularly travel to Philippines.

In my next few posts, I’ll look at:

  1. Why offshoring is ethical and humanitarian
  2. How does offshoring affect your customer service?
  3. Implications of offshoring for your brand image

Any thoughts? Please respond with your comments and ideas!