For years, North American companies have been sending jobs offshore in order to take advantage of lower labor costs and to maximize the corporate bottom line. One of the top areas experiencing job exportation is call centers, those once ubiquitous cubicle farms that purport to provide customer service for any number of businesses.
Initially, call center jobs tended to migrate domestically from large urban areas to more rural ones. Moving from Toronto to New Brunswick, for example, could significantly reduce costs and thereby increase corporate revenue.
The thinking then was if it works well to ship jobs to poorer regions of Canada and the U. S., it should work even better to send those jobs to developing countries around the world. So long as the recipient country had a sufficient telecommunications infrastructure and an educated English-speaking workforce to draw from, the financial savings should be even greater.
Superficially, this move made sense and initially paid off handsomely for those businesses that shipped their call centers abroad. But, in my experience, this trend has its limits. What purports to work in theory does not always function well in practice.
Although my experience is limited and anecdotal at best, I strongly suspect that it reflects a more widespread reality that may lead to a boomerang effect, namely the return of some call centers to North America. Let me explain by example.
As it happens, our family's electronic services are divided between Canada's two major telecommunications providers: Bell and Rogers. We get our TV, Internet and home phone services through Bell while our cell phone service comes from Rogers.
Not surprisingly, from time to time, I have to contact one of these behemoths to sort out some billing, contractual or technical issue. Over the last few years, the quality of customer service I have received from these two companies differs significantly and the major underlying reason, I suspect, is the location of the respective call centers.
When I call Bell for a billing or contractual issue, I am invariably connected with someone in the Philippines. The person I'm in touch with is polite and English-speaking but oftentimes cannot deal with any but the most basic questions.
Invariably, the Philippines-based customer representative is unable to adequately deal with my issue and usually will not or cannot transfer me to a supervisor. Even when I do get transferred to a supervisor, it rarely helps.
My experience regarding technical issues with Bell is similar but not quite as frustrating. Whenever I call, Bell technical support employees tend to be located somewhere in Central America. Again, they are pleasant and conversant in English but not always as expert as I would like. For routine issues, their knowledge base is adequate but anything beyond the routine seems to tax their abilities.
Rogers, on the other hand, appears to have taken a different approach and has kept their call centers in Canada. The results for a customer like me are noticeably different. It is far easier to communicate my issues to someone in Sussex, New Brunswick or London, Ontario and they are far more willing and able to solve my problems.
Apparently I am not alone in my experiences as there is a slow but marked trend by Canadian companies to bring their foreign-based call centers back to Canada. The drop in quality of service, the decline in customer satisfaction and the high employee turnover are only three of the reasons foreign call centers are not necessarily the money savers Canadian corporations once thought that they would be.
Hopefully, more and more Canadian customers will make their frustrations with foreign call centers known to the corporations using them. Once those corporations see that a blinders-on approach to their bottom line is ultimately not profitable, it will become a win-win-win situation for them, Canadian consumers and Canadian workers.
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