There’s a term used to describe companies that don’t maintain clear and open lines of communication with their customers: out of business. Staying in touch with the people who buy and use your products is essential to any company’s survival. Unfortunately it can also be pretty expensive.
Call Centers Go Abroad
One way that companies have reduced those costs is through outsourcing call center operations.
Starting around the turn of the 21st century, India became the most popular destination for American companies seeking to maintain call centers but keep costs under control.
By 2011, the Philippines overtook India, largely because Filipinos, while still demanding much lower wages than their American counterparts, speak with a far less pronounced accent, and are more immersed in American culture.
But outsourcing has its own set of problems, and legislation is currently churning through state and federal legislatures to reduce the flow of American jobs overseas. Savvy American companies are starting to bring jobs home. They are realizing that the real choice is not between American and foreign call centers, it’s between efficient and inefficient knowledge management strategies.
Customers Prefer Good Online Materials
A 2012 report from Amdocs estimates that up to 40% of calls that would otherwise need to be handled by expensive (increasingly expensive, given current trends) call centers could be deflected to online services. Simply put: it’s a lot cheaper to pay writers and programmers to create good online knowledge management resources for customer access than it is to pay call center operatives to answer the same questions over and over.
That report included analysis of a consumer survey regarding their preferences in obtaining information about the products and services they use. Only 37 percent said that they attempted to use self-service options, while 75 percent said they would prefer to use online support but perceived it as incomplete and unreliable. When asked if they would make use of an online knowledge base tailored to their needs, 91 percent said they would.
Online Information = Control over Knowledge Management Systems
Another advantage to making written online materials the preferred knowledge management tool in favor of call centers is the degree of control you have over the knowledge management system. If your customers rely primarily on speaking to call center representatives, perhaps in India or the Philippines, there is an opportunity for miscommunication and a bad customer experience with every single call. Are you confident that every one of those customer service representatives is positively reflecting your company on every single call, even at the end of a long shift, even when they’ve had a bad day? The old cliché that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is especially applicable, and relying on call centers is akin to using a very long chain with a lot of potentially weak links, as opposed to a short chain over which you have far more control.
Even if you are confident that the people answering your phones are all consummate professionals, always on their A-game from their first call to their last, the fact remains that the knowledge you are managing is constantly changing. Updating a website is easy. Ensuring that dozens, hundreds or perhaps even thousands of call center operatives all get the memo about the latest updates and changes and are giving out the most current and reliable information to your customers is exceedingly more difficult.
Well written and accessible online materials represent the future of effective knowledge management solutions. Don’t call us. Seriously, have you seen the website? Yeah, we thought you’d like that.
Andrew Breslin is the author of two novels, Mother’s Milk, published in 2005 by ENC Press, and Practical Applications of Game Theory, currently being published in serial form at Imaginaire, the Journal of Mathematical Fiction. He blogs and reviews books at Goodreads. Some of his short fiction can be found on his website. When he isn’t writing he enjoys playing the banjo, chess, idolizing his cat, and thinking about math.