Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reinventing Call Centre Management

Just a quick post regarding an upcoming conference I am speaking at, Reinventing Call Centre Management on March 18 & 19 in Toronto. Now you have fair warning to either attend or book something else to save you from attending.

I will be speaking on Leadership Strategies for High performance call and contact centers. This is a meaty topic and I looking forward to it. For more information on the conference you can visit http://www.federatedpress.com/pdf/RCCT0803-E.pdf

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Challenges in Employing Research Reports to Make Purchase Decisions

The Challenges in Employing Research Reports to Make Purchase Decisions

There are a number of sources where call and contact center operators can gain insight into the offerings of contact center telephony vendors. The majority of these are provided or sponsored by the vendors and as such are suspect to greater or lesser degrees. There are a few research organizations that research and provide assessments of the vendors though even these are not perfect as many are based upon vendor submissions and interviews and can only be as good as the research analysts’ questions and depth of research completed.

In reality each call or contact center is unique and has unique requirements, while whitepapers and research studies can be helpful in assessing which vendors may be able to deliver the solution for your center there is no substitute for conducting a detailed assessment and analysis of your own requirements.

Selecting a purchasing a call/contact center telephony is a significant purchase and for organizations that rely upon their center as a primary customer interface, and who doesn’t today. A bad purchase decision can have significant financial, not to mention career limiting impact. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see organizations relying on ‘research’ from big name firms to validate their own findings and in some cases as the primary basis of a purchase decision.

Before committing to a business decision based upon a research study, it is important to understand the methodology and objectives of the study. For example Gartner in describing their methodology for their ‘Magic Quadrant’ research studies states that their study provides “snapshots of markets and their participants[1]”. Further Gartner also states in explaining their methodology, “is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of every vendor in a market”.

A look at the methodology employed by Gartner may be cause to examine more closely the suitability of their study as a basis for a business decision. The Magic Quadrant scoring is broken down into two components “Completeness of vision” and “Ability to execute”. On the surface few would argue about the value of these two assessment criteria in an assessment, but a deeper dive surfaces more than a few questions. The research is heavily weighted to information provided by the vendors through briefings, product documentation, and client provided references. This approach increases the likelihood that the vendors are able to secure a superior review due to the effort they devote to disclosing and managing information provided to Gartner. This is likely more often the case in “completeness of Vision” which deals to a large degree with the product roadmap and future development. The “Ability to Execute” by nature is focused on the information and references provided by the vendor. Every vendor has clients who love them and will provide a positive and flattering point of view.

While the results reflect the results generated by the process, it is not without challenges and all potential purchasers would be wise to keep a few relevant points in mind:
1. The vendors assessed are not all inclusive. Some organizations do not participate in the process. The vendor may be too small or simply not focused on the contact center market space.
2. Magic Quadrant results may not be representative of the real world. For example, Cisco ranks very high in the Gartner assessment, below.
Figure 1. Magic Quadrant for Contact Center Infrastructure, North America, 2007
Source: Gartner (August 2007)

Yet Cisco implemented in spring 2007 their new ‘A2Q’ (Assessment to Quality) process which requires all resellers and integrators (this includes their top tier ‘Gold Certified Partners’) to allow Cisco two weeks to review all code before it is deployed. This is certainly a positive step given the inherent complexity in the Cisco solution, to provide a superior end result, it can also be seen as a response to significant stability issues that Cisco has had with their contact center product. In one case that TRG is familiar with a client was unable to complete call routing and reporting for almost six months following a change to their auto attendant messaging. Yet in the 2007 Magic Quadrant Cisco received the highest marks for ‘Ability to execute’. Cisco is not the only example: Oracle touts their Oracle Seibel hosted CRM as being recognized as a leading platform, yet it has been plagued by stability issues, unresolved help desk tickets and an ineffective offshore help desk. In this case Gartner identified Oracle as a ‘visionary’. A less flattering label may well be that of vaporware, because the solution doesn’t deliver what it promises.

The Magic Quadrant assessment does not include all vendors in the market. Some are too new, some are too small and some simply elect not to participate in the process. One example of an omitted vendor is ShoreTel. ShoreTel is a publicly traded IP telephony vendor (SHOR) which was a late entrant into the call and contact center market space. The company deployed their first IP PBX solution in 1998 and did not have a fully featured call/contact center offering until 2004. ShoreTel however has an advantage over many of their competitors in both the IP PBX and Contact Center markets in that they developed their solution from a blank page. ShoreTel is not encumbered by legacy equipment and a desire to ensure compatibility and future migrations from a legacy base, nor have they assembled their code based upon acquisition and the inherent integration of thousand of lines of code to complete specific or discrete tasks and activities. Freedom from these restrictions has allowed ShoreTel to develop and deploy a good call/contact center platform. While the ShoreTel solution may be in somewhat less robust than other solutions on the market today, depending upon the user requirements it may well be the best alternative for a significant percentage of contact center operators.

The following chart outlines the results of TRG call/contact center vendor selection engagement that was completed for a Fortune 500 company with more than 650 agents in numerous centers across the country.

Figure2- TRG- Commissioned Assessment

Specific user requirements were developed (41 mandatory and 14 future requirements were identified) and bids were solicited from 14 firms including all of the major players in this sector including: Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, NEC, and Interactive Intelligence, as well as Mitel, ShoreTel and others. TRG short listed Cisco, NEC and ShoreTel. At the end of the process it was ShoreTel was number 1 in the TRG rankings ahead of Cisco who was ranked as #2.

The results above are not to suggest that ShoreTel is the best solution for every company, nor that ShoreTel has the best functionality for every application, it doesn’t, but it does suggest that when companies examine their needs and look for the vendor that best meets those needs they may be surprised, with the result. ShoreTel for example offers a competent call center solution, with many of the enhancements organizations are seeking today.

Clearly while the Gartner Magic Quadrant is very informative and does provide an insight into the vendors selected it is, at the end of the day a “snapshot” that is skewed based upon Gartner’s vendor selection and assessment model. This research is a good point of reference for understanding the vendors, but by its very design is skewed to those vendors who invest the greatest amount of time and resources to managing this process. This should be a point of caution for any organization that bases their purchase decision on Gartner of any other similar reports, thinking that “nobody gets fired for buying IBM” (or basing their purchasing decision on a well regarded research report).

So what is the preferred method for making a purchase decision? As we have stated previously, each call or contact center is unique and so should be the best solution to meet its needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The best solution will be the solution that best meets to company’s’ needs today and expected future requirements. Employing an independent consultant can assist an organization is clarifying and weighting the functional requirements for today, the ‘nice to have’ and functionality expected to required in the future, though this may also be completed internally if the resources and competencies exist. Developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) that sets out these requirements is a logical next step in the process. Scoring the responses against the predetermined criteria will ensure that the best vendor to meet your current and future needs is identified. Lastly, complete due diligence to prove the ability of the vendor to deliver the desired functionality, and to do so in the manner desired, completes the assessment process. Follow the above steps will ensure that you end up with the solution you need and not just one that has received research accolades. You will own this decision for a long time; make sure it is the right one for you.

For more information about The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. please visit our website at http://www.thetaylorreachgroup.com/ .

[1] Gartner -Magic Quadrants and MarketScopes: How Gartner Evaluates Vendors Within a Market

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gratuitous self promotion

This has been an exciting fall for us at TRG; we have secured a number of new clients and launched some new services. In particular we are excited about two specific service offerings: Managed Service and Pay for Performance consulting.

TRG Managed Services may not fit with your view of contact center consulting, and frankly, it didn’t fit with mine until I realized the number of calls and emails I would get from clients as they prepared to go into planning, quarterly, and performance or budget meetings. Before they shared their performance, strategies or goals they wanted a litmus test. They wanted to ask our opinion about how they were doing…. Were the results good? Were their goals reasonable? How did these stack up against others in their vertical? What would we add?

These may seem like small questions and in fact they generally didn’t require a great deal of time to answer, we simply needed to understand the organization, it’s goals and aspirations for the contact center and had to have a historical view of the center to put the information in context. What did surprise us was the frequency of the questions. We began to see a market opportunity here.

So we asked our clients what they felt they got from the process and received answers such as “we wanted an independent view of how we were doing” and “We wanted to see if our goals were reasonable” or “ We wanted a dry run to review the numbers and ensure we could answer senior managements questions” and lastly “did we include everything we should have in the budget, are our assumptions reasonable?”

Based on this feedback we were sure we did have a service opportunity, not traditional or large projects, but rather small micro projects in 1 to 2 hour blocks of time. For less than a $1,000 per month our clients could have 10 hours of our time and use TRG as a sounding board, an advisor or a reality check.

The second service offering: Pay for Performance Consulting came about after discussing with some current and former clients the barriers they had encountered in retaining a firm like TRG. The single biggest challenge they had to overcome internally was the risk…”We pay a lot of money and we don’t really know what we get for it”. Having spent many years on the client side we understood this issue and while we do guarantee a 300% ROI on implementing our Recommendations, that doesn’t really help us get in the door in the first place. So we decided that the only way we could make it easier for companies and organizations to engage us was to eliminate their risk, by taking the risk ourselves.

The result was launching our Pay for Performance consulting services where we provide an estimate for a project based on a detailed scope of work and then execute the project with the client’s agreement. But it is the client who determines what value they received from this exercise and they decide what to pay.

For more information on TRG’s Managed Services or Pay for Performance consulting please call us at 416-979-8692 or email us at info@thetaylorreachgroup.com

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dumb Outsourcing Mistakes Bright Contact Center Executives Make

Dumb Outsourcing Mistakes Bright Contact Center Executives Make

We recently wrote an article outlining ‘Ten dumb things, bright contact enter mangers do’ and we were surprised by the response from readers and by the number of downloads and forwards we received. So we decided to follow up the general contact center management, with some more specific guidance for center manager as they look at outsourcing.

It is amazing that otherwise bright contact center executive that often make planned and considered decisions in other areas of their business, somehow seem to have their grey matter neutralized as they charge headlong into outsourcing.

The following is a list of regular challenges and mistakes we have seen bright contact center executives do while assessing and evaluating outsourcing and offshoring.

Don’t establish why outsourcing is being done or considered in the first place. After all outsourcing must be a good idea if our competitors are doing it.

Don’t investigate alternative solutions. If you have already decided that you need to outsource your contact center then looking at alternatives can be downright inconvenient. What would happen if you found a better solution?

Outsource for the sake of following the trend. It was in Fortune, Forbes or Business Week, so it must be right. The magazine said everyone else is going to India, so we don’t want to wait too long and miss out.

Travel to the offshore location and check out the hotels and amenities, after all if the bigwigs want to visit they will need somewhere nice to stay.

Don’t get competitive bids, why do we need them, they just delay the process. Besides a contact center is a contact center and we know we will save 80% so why quibble and delay over a few percentage point of savings.

Don’t establish objective criteria for evaluating outsourcers and the proposals. Criteria, such who have we heard of, who do our competitors use? Why make it any harder than it has to be

Don’t underestimate the power of psychic training. I just think a thought here in my office and my offshore outsourcer knows…scary.

Don’t bother to customize your staff training materials, they’re fine, besides the outsourcers has an extensive training program built around accent neutralization.

Don’t be concerned that your offshore partner doesn’t understand your customers. Really what aspect of your customer relationship can’t be addressed by watching 26 hours of Friends?

Don’t worry about what your customers will think, they may like the challenge of understanding new accents, words and phrases. Heck, they probably won’t notice the change.

Just send everything to the outsourcer; they will sort it out at their end…after all they are the experts.

Don’t involve the outsourcer with marketing/sales meetings that will just confuse and distract them from serving our customers.

Just get on a plane, you can find an outsource partner when you land. You can use the time in the air better to figure out how to spend your bonus for saving the company so much money.

Don’t visit their contact center, why take the trouble, after all they have nice pictures on their website.

Don’t plan to have to manage the relationship, they are the experts anyway, right and if there is a problem they will call me…at 3 in the morning.

Don’t budget additional expense to manage the relationship. How much can it really cost anyway to manage a few hundred folks dealing with your most important assets halfway around the world?

What mistakes would you add to the list? Let us know by email at feedback@thetaylorreachgroup.com

Of course there are many excellent outsource firms domestically, near shore and offshore. Many of these top flight companies have saved some of our otherwise bright executives from making these very mistakes. But like with everything else where there a good partners there can also be bad ones and it is the executive that makes the decision that must be vary.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pay for Performance Contact Center Consulting

I have always been a firm believer in the old adage that "you get what you pay for", but it is also true that just because you paid a lot for something doesn't always mean you get a good result.

I think that generally products and services are priced based on their value and based on how the markets have valued them in comparison to alternatives available. But there always are charlatans out there who will charged big bucks and deliver little value. The technology and technology services realm has been rife with these occurrences...think vaporware. How many times have we heard how good something is going to be. How often have these future capabilities been presented or implied as being available today. All to often the truth only comes out after the purchase has been made. This experience is widespread enough to have lead to the creation of another adage specific to the technology space, "nobody gets fired for buying IBM". The upshot of this message is clear, the only safe choice is to buy what you know you can trust.

This whole purchasing premise is based on agreeing up front to price based upon a set of expectations and then seeing what you get. Well known and well regarded firms generally deliver what is expected, though this is not always the case. The less well known companies represent risk for the buyer, "what if they can't deliver?", 'what if it doesn't work?". We all avoid risk and clients are no different. Less well known firm and start ups have to overcome the perception that they are asking the customer to 'buy a pig in a poke', the clients' skepticism and natural risk avoidance can lead all to often to 'buying IBM', which is great if you are IBM and not so great if you are the unknown company with a great product or service, but can't demonstrate that without the client agreeing to buy your offering.

So what is a company with a good product or service to do? Well this is a situation that is common in the consulting space where I operate. The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. (TRG) a call and contact center consultancy, may possess a leadership team with hundreds of years of Strategic and Operational Management experience, serve clients organizations that read like a who's who of the corporate world. We may have won awards for the work we do and have offices in three major cities (Toronto Atlanta and Sydney, Australia) and operate globally, but we are certainly not a household name.

I have seen prospective clients elect to go with IBM (or in this case IBM Global), or PwC and other big 5 consulting firms based upon their skepticism and/or to avoid both personal and professional risk. Yet instead of getting a senior consultant with 20+ years of experience they may get a twenty-something year old MBA grad who has completed a six week training program. Now I ask you which approach do you think is more risky?

So the challenge we face is still the same...How do we overcome the skepticism of buying 'a pig a poke' and eliminate the associated risk?

Our approach is to let the client decide. It sounds simple, let the client decide what a project is worth at the end of the task. Rather than agreeing up front to a cost with a set of expectations but no guarantee of the quality of the result we let our clients determine the quality and how much value they believe they received from an engagement of project. Our Pay for Performance Contact Center Consulting model gives the client control over what we get paid. Of course this doesn't eliminate risk it simply transfers the risk from the client to TRG and we have the confidence to know that we can add value and are comfortable giving control over our remuneration to our clients.

So how will this venture work out for us, I can't see the future, but I am confident. I will keep you posted.

The Trouble with Consultants...and Clients

There is an old adage that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch and tells you what time it is. Some times this is truer than we would like it to be.

The reasons for an organization to employ a consultant are many and include:
1-Need for specialized knowledge not available within the organization,
2-Desire to have a 'fresh set of eyes' look at and examine the business or the contact center,
3-The need for additional 'bandwidth' to complete a task or project,

In the first instance above the organization will learn from the process and if the consultant provides effective knowledge transfer then the company will have developed a new capability and competency.

In the second scenario the expectation is that the company "can't see the forest for the trees" and that they are too close and too biased, based on history, experience and how thing have always been done, to see alternatives. The consultant can facilitate a new view of the issues and present new alternatives not previously identifed by the organization. This process can remove the 'blinders' from the organization and create a new method for viewing issues, challenges and opportunities.

It is in the third scenario that we can see the 'borrowed watch' come into play. This is a situation where the organization has the knowledge and skills to complete a task, but not the 'bandwidth' in people or resources to get the job done. In this situation the consultant has the highest degree of risk as the client will often have an expectation of the outcome, based upon their ability to have completed the project if they had the time. The client will often project this outcome to the consultant. The less ethical consultants out there might just set about to develop evidence to prove the clients desired outcome rather than complete the work required to meet the original mandate. While it is obvious to me that the only option is to complete the project without bias, this can pose numerous problems. Clients who beleive they could complete the project, may in fact lack some of the knowledge, skills or experience to actually do so. And when they have a stated expectation of the result it may be very difficult to convince that another result is possible or desireable, let alone superior. The meeting where the consultant finds a different result can be very difficult, yet can prove to be very rewarding when we suceed in demonstrating the superiority of an unexpected result and sucuring the clients buy in and support for this new vision.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

IP Telephony RFP template available

Lots of folks are looking to upgrade their phone systems and many are intimidated by the process. Well we have helped many companies select a new phone or call center system and we have developed a pretty darn good RFP template that ypou can use to request quotes anproposals from vendors. Its free just ask us for it.

Follow this link for more information

Monday, October 1, 2007

New Issue Customer Reach

The October issue of Customer Reach is now available.


In this months issue we examine 'Ten dunb things that Bright Contact Center Executives Do', this is a cautionary tale, that reminds us of just how easy it is to lose focus. We also take a look at 'Contact Center Site Selection' with labor markets tightening up and many markets at 7% or more of the total workforce being employed in contact centers, it behooves us to make the best decision when we are looking for potential locations. This article will help you to identify what the important aspects and elements are for your organization. The Survey of the Month looks at the increase of electronic communication within contact centers and we see that many centers and budgeting on increases in emails and web chats. And of course we have news and views from local to international sources, case studies and more.
This issue of Customer Reach is being read by 5,000 senior call and contact center executives around the globe and we encourage you to share the wealth. Please pass on you copy to your friends and colleagues or better yet suggest they subcribe to recive their own copy.
As always we welcome your feedback, suggestions and comments. Let us know what you are thinking about, how we could improve the publication and what you challenges, successes and opportunities are. Drop us a note to feedback@thetaylorreachgroup.com .
We hope you enjoy this issue.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Site Selection for your Contact Center

Site Selection for your Contact Center

The boss has just asked you to head up the search for a new location for your contact center. You are flattered by the confidence that the boss has in you, you are confident that you can accomplish this task, just as soon as you figure out what to do. The business of site selection has changed considerably in the past decade.

Ten or fifteen years ago we worried about moving our call center off the subway line and today we worry about relocated the center internationally. In both scenarios the key to finding the best or ideal location was tied to finding or keeping staff. In a intra-city move you are concerned with where you can locate and retain most of your staff. In a search to find a location outside of the urban location you previously occupied the focus become where can we locate a center and have access to potential staff.

Of course the connection between labour and location is not and cannot be the only consideration, or if salary cost was king we all would have off-shored our call centers long ago. No, labour, labour availability are critical factors but not the only ones. Other factors that require attention. At Watts we developed a center location matrix that considered 134 factors on a weighted score basis that created a range of more than 500 basis points from the worst possible to the best possible scores. It is important that you develop your own matrix for evaluating and assessing potential locations. Some of the factors that you should consider would include not only staff or workforce issues ( what is the population, what is the employment/unemployment levels, workforce participation, college, university or military base presence all speak to potentially available labour which could be potential recruiting targets for the call center. Assessing the number, type, function and staffing levels of existing call & contact center can provide guidance related to the level of saturation that call/contact center represent in the local workforce. It is important that we locate in a market where we can identify potential sources of employees and identify that there are enough potential workers to support the center, but we also nee to look at how many of them are presently employed in call or contact centers. In my opinion the lower the saturation the better, though you can no longer find locations without contact centers you can find locations that have low saturation levels. We recommend to our clients that markets with more than 6% of their workforce presently supporting call/contact centers will represent on-going recruiting and retention issues, while under 3% can tend to be stable and much easier to operate within. Given that labor is the single greatest expenses in a call center and the cost to recruit a single agent exceed $3,000 finding a stable and easily maintained environment is highly desirable. Other factors for general site consideration would include:.

Population local
Population 45 minute draw area
Workforce Local
Workforce 45 minute draw area
Unemployment %
Under-Employment %
Participation Level
Military Base
Other Call Centers
# Type of Centers
Total Call Center Seats
Call Center Saturation
Call Center Saturation
Proximity to airport
Available Real Estate
Estimated Operating Rent
Estimated Leasehold Improvements
Build to Suit' Options

Population Growth %
Average Income
Average house price
Level of Education (% of Pop)
Quality of Life
Public Transit
Infrastructure- Public
Infrastructure- Electricity
Infrastructure- Telecom
Severe Weather Occurances

Available Incentives
Right to Work State
History of Union activity
Starting Call Center Wage
Median Wage Customer Service

Some of these suggested criteria are straight forward and others require some explanation. Infrastructure is critical to call center operations. We expect the call center to operate regardless of external factors. Of course we can provision for business continuity through back up power, redundant telephony connectivity etc, but the single largest factor influencing operational survivability will be the location and its pre-disposition to: floods, power outages, hurricanes, snow etc. Of course we must remember that some locations such as the Canadian Atlantic region may get a great deal snow each season they are used to this and have built buildings and infrastructure in expectation of these conditions. Businesses in the State of Virginia lose more work-days to snow than does Prince Edward Island.

Real estate in any considered location is alos critical. If you have found a great market with no available real estate that is suitable, then you options become delaying the project in hopes that something suitable becomes available (unlikely in a small market) or to delay the project and build to suit. This is often a longer and more capital intense option, though can proven to be have the lowest total cost of ownership/operation over a 5-10 year operating window.

The prevalent wages in the target market, associated level of education at that wage level, prevalence of union activity are all valid considerations and ones you must assess and incorporate in building a budget.

If you are considering a US location you will find some additional considerations: Right to work states, which ironically really reflects that the opposite of the right to strike. Right to work states tend to be significantly more favourable to business than non-right to work to work states. The second key factor can be one party versus two party states. This refers to the number of parties that need to be informed that a call is being monitored or recorded. Of course a two party consent state will require that the customers consent be secured whereas in a one party state this is not required.

Incentives opposite job creation still exist though the salad days of governments handing out millions without any real basis for accountability or reconciliation. Today the available incentives are closely tied (where present) to long term employment and are generally available as tax credits in the US and training grants within Canada. In both countries this is positioned as ‘recoverable’ meaning that the government can recover these dollars should the company fail to deliver the agreed employment levels.

Finding a new call or contact center (or any back office function can be very challenging) and that is why a number of firma and organizations have come into existence to serve this market. They generally fall into two camps: real estate driven companies, often spun off from commercial real estate firms that see call and contact center as desirable tenants, who seek new tenants for suitable vacant space. The second type are consulting firms who approach this from a form & function perspective. There are a number of excellent firms within each of these groups and your determination of which is better for you often comes down to the level of specialization and uniqueness your center possesses. The more specialized in terms of staff, space requirements and the smaller the size the less interesting it will be to a real estate based firm.

Before you do anything to find a new location, assess what has worked well and what has work less well in your current location and start to compile a wish list for your new location and the either start to contact potential jurisdictions you feel align well with your goals and objects or begin to interview and external firm that has the experience and capabilities to assist you in this endeavour. In my experience building, operating our own centers and assisting client to source more than 40 center locations I have employed all of the above approaches and no one is the best. Your choice will be , as mine have been based upon the specific goals, objectives, timelines and budgets of the project. So long as you do your homework you can succeed in creating a productive, efficient and cost-effective location for your new call center that will remain so for many years.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Contact Center Industry Stats

Industry Size
There are presently 60,850 contact centers (with 10 seats or more) in North America, representing 3.3 million agent positions[1]. Those centers with less than 100 seats represent more than 44% of all contact centers and 1.36 million agent positions.

Gartner has valued the Customer Interactions Services Industry (contact centers) at $28 billion dollars per annum within North America, with 30% or $8.4 billion) of this figure representing outsourced activity Outsourcing service agencies (both inbound and outbound) represent 5.1% of the total number of contact centers equating to approximately 2,900 centers. These centers have a disproportionate representation in agent positions (AP’s) with approximately 313,000 AP’s. The average Outsource agency footprint is 108 agents per center (versus the overall average of 54 agents per center across the industry), or 10.2% of all North American agent positions.

In Canada, the outsource vertical represents 8.9% of the approximately 4,000 Canadian contact centers. There are over 41,000 outsource agency AP’s in Canada, representing 14.2% of AP’s. This equates to an average outsource contact center footprint of 118 agent positions.

The shift from US domestic call center locations to offshore and near shore locations will continue for the foreseeable future with US outsource agency seats declining an estimated 8.5% from 2004 to 2008[2]. Contact Babel has forecast that the number of AP’s in the US will shrink by 2% between 2006 and 2010. While the number of Canadian AP’s will grow by 8.6%. The majority of the estimated 40,000 AP’s lost over this time will be a result of move to nearshore and offshore locations. The largest USA AP reductions are forecast to be in the outsource space with a 6.6% reduction. This is followed by Telecom and Finance declining 6.0% and 4.4% respectively. These two verticals alone represent Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employment loss of more than 75,000 jobs over this period. Strong growth in other verticals, Public Services in particular offsets the overall declines to a degree. Retail support, catalogues, shopping and logistics will remain the largest verticals each with more 480,000 AP’s.

The following table presents the McKinsey perspective on the outsourced suitability and risk. While this was published in 2004, it remains accurate today.

[Contact Author for full content]
Figure 1: McKinsey 2004

If we examine specifically the call and contact center industry the following hierarchy exists in relation to suitability of work to be outsourced and/or off-shored. As the chart below illustrates the key considerations revolve around the complexity of the transaction and the value of the underlying business relationship that the transaction is a part of.

[Contact Author for full content]
The lower the transaction complexity, and the lower the underlying relationship value, the greater the likelihood of the task being outsourced or offshored. The likelihood of success, from a clients perspective, of the outsourcing endeavour also increases the lower the complexity and relationship value.

The US contact center industry by region
Agent Positions
Contact Centers
Working Population
% Employed in Contact Centers
Average size (AP’s)


Contact center density, the percentage of the workforce employed in call and contact centers as a percentage of the total workforce, ranges from a high of 6.2% of the population employed in contact centers in New England to a low of 2.3% in East South Central (Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama). Higher density equates to higher wages or turnover and higher operating costs for the center. This density also results in the majority of new center construction occurring in areas where the center density is under 3% (East South Central, South Atlantic and Pacific). Over time this trend will continue to drive up wages, turnover and operating costs and increase the density in those areas.

[1] North American Contact Centers Report- Contact Babel
[2] Contact Center Outsourcing in the United States - Datamonitor

Sunday, September 16, 2007

IP Telephony Seminar in Toronto

If you are considering deploying VoIP or IP telephony in your organization, then this seminar will be of interest to you. The seminar on Oct 3rd at the Toronto Board of Trade is being hoosted by Premcom who have just opened up a Toronto office. Premcom is based i n Buffalo NY and hasbeen one of ShoreTel's top resellers for a number of years.

The seminar will include on overview to VoIP and specific details on the ShoreTel approach and architecture. There will also be a full demonstration of ShoreTel IP telephony.

ShoreTel is the only 'pure' IP telphony manufacturer. Other manufacturers have compromised their architecture by dragging extensive legacy requirements or have compromised their architecture through acquisition. The architecture is what sets ShoreTel appart and is one of the reasons it has been rated #1 in user satisfaction four years in a row by independant research company Nemertes.

Pure IP architecture, Ease of use and low TCO are just a few reasons you should attend this seminar. You can register by calling 416-979-2130 or send an email to me at ctaylor@premcom.com and we will send you and invitation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

10 Dumb Things Smart Contact Center Executives Do

Ten dumb things smart Contact Center Executives Do

There are a lot of smart, very smart individuals managing and directing call and contact centers today. Yet, these bright, bright people still manage from time to time to do things that defy understanding. This is my top ten list of really dumb things that smart call and contact center executives do. If you have any dumb things to add to the list let me know by email at ctaylor@thetaylorreachgroup.com .

1- Don’t invest in training or professional development.
We spent enough money to train them when they were hired, why would we want to keep them current on changes in the company our processes our customers or technology. They’ll figure it out. Besides we can always use the dollars allocated to training for other areas like executive retreats.

2- Don’t stay current on new technologies impacting on the call and contact center operations.
After all why would we want home agents, speech recognition, higher quality or better staff morale and management?

3-Don’t read trade press, blogs and newsletters.
We already know everything, and besides who has time to read when I an constantly in meetings.

4-Don’t include remote staff in your operational budget.
There aren’t very many of them out there…is there?

5-Don’t share new technologies and their capabilities with senior management.
They will just say no, so what is the point.

6-Don’t share ideas concepts and results with Marketing.
After all they never share with you.

7-Don’t consider the agents point of view when you examine new technologies.
Its just one extra open window on their desktop…they have done fine with the current 14 so what’s one more window?

8- Don’t give agents authority to make any decisions.
It is important that managers make all decisions…I know it is only a $.49 credit, but it’s the principal of the thing.

9- Don’t take a long term view of your incentive program.
Incentive programs are designed to generate short term results. I just don’t understand that while our incentive to reduce average handle time was so successful our call volume increased substantially.

10- Don’t share with HR the staff and skills/competencies work best in the center.
Turnover is a part of life in a contact center so we shouldn’t try to address it.

Each one of the above list reflects comments (or a paraphrased version) that I have heard from contact center executives. Each of the above points reflects a narrow and/or short term view of the center. Now as I said above these are clever people, so how can such ‘tunnel vision’ exist within a group of specialists? The can be many causes that can create situations of ‘tunnel vision’, these can include:

Lack of time: The old saw that “meetings are a nice alternative to work” rings true in many organizations and contact center are not exempt. Days filled with meetings, limits interaction with direct reports, free time to review news stories, white papers, technology articles etc. it also reduces time to speak with industry peers, to attend conferences or seminars. All of this leads the manager little option but to continue to rely on the status quo in operations as this is the only environment the manager is comfortable and knowledgeable about.

Conflicting objectives: Often contact centers are asked to deliver multiple objectives simultaneously: improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs, or increase first call resolution, but don’t spend anything on additional training. These examples of conflicted objectives are frequent occurrences in contact centers today. Mission Statements focus on “providing world class customer service”, but the contact center receives no budget to deliver this.

Unclear objectives: Centers are often charged with broad mandates to “deliver excellent customer care” but benchmarks and standards are not defined to allow the contact center to know how success will be measured.

Each of the above three examples leads the contact center management to revert to what they are most comfortable and those things that they can quantify without ambiguity. Further they tend to focus on the short term as there is no clear long term vision or plan. In short this is what they have done before and what they are doing now. This approach is not conducive to looking forward or acting proactively. To the contrary this approach ensures that the management focuses on the past. The end result is bright contact center executives then make dumb decisions.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Busy Summer

We it has sure been a busy summer...

Lots of consulting projects:
- helped a large not-for-profit: integrate 2 call centers, source a new IP Telephony system and designed and help build an enterprise knowledgebase system,
-helped a publisher assess outsourcing, option, costs and ROI,
-Helped a sports equipment manufacturer measure the satisfaction of their channel partners with the organization
-Opened an Atlanta office http://www.thetaylorreachgroup.com/news.php?item=20070814_075955.txt

In addition we grew Teleffective ( www.teleffectiveinc.com ) our B2B telesales organization with new contracts selling high end projectors ($15,000 units), high end large format printers ($12,000), online directory advertising, online recruitment sales, waste removal services.

TRG has also joined forces with one of the most successful IP telephony resellers, network servi ces companies, based in Buffalo NY, Premcom, www.premcom.com . TRG will assist Premcom in establishing a Toronto office. This move will open up Canada to ShoreTel the number 1 rated IP Telephony system for the 4th year in a row according to Nemertes Reasearch http://www.shoretel.com/resources/industry_research/nemertes_report.html

We'll keep pou posted on future developments

Monday, August 6, 2007

Don't buy a phone system until you read this

The folowing press release represents a great opportunity for any company in Canada considering a new telephone system. I have worked on numerous telephony RFP's and have been consistently impressed with the ShoreTel syste. Quite frankly it is the only pure IP telephone system designed from the ground up. Superior architecture, lower total cost of ownership and the highest customer satisfaction, make ShoreTel a must to review before you purchase any new telephone system.

For Immediate Release

Press Contacts:
Peter Proulx – CEO – 716-629-3099

IP Telephony, Network Services Company expands to Canada

Peter Proulx, CEO PremCom Corporation, a Buffalo, NY Reseller and Integrator of Enterprise IP Telephony Solutions and Network Services announced today the establishment of a new Toronto office.

“Our new office will allow us to expand our reach and service base beyond New York State”, said Proulx, “and allow us to offer Canadian customers the best IP telephony and network services solutions available.” PremCom sells ShoreTel IP Phone Systems, ShoreTel is the fastest growing IP PBX Company worldwide and the leader in customer satisfaction.

“We are excited about PremCom’s expansion into the Canadian market.”, said Peter Agricola, Northeast Area Sales Manager for ShoreTel, “PremCom has a proven track record for successful deployment of complex and large Enterprise IP phones systems. They have a proven track record with installations worldwide.”

Proulx also announced that PremCom has retained the telephony centric consulting firm: The Taylor Reach Group Inc. (TRG) to assist and support the new office launch. Colin Taylor the CEO of TRG said, “The establishment of a PremCom office in Toronto represents a giant step in terms of IP telephony options to Canadian companies.
PremCom is one of the leading ShoreTel partners and can now offer ShoreTel solutions to Canadian customers.”

The Toronto office is located at 19 Mercer St. Suite 300 in downtown Toronto. You can reach PremCom Canada at 416-979-2130. You can visit PremCom on the web at www.premcom.com. More information regarding ShoreTel can be found at www.shoretel.com . Immediate inquiries regarding PremCom services may be directed to Colin Taylor at the above number or at 416-276-9068.

About PremCom:
PremCom is an award winning provider of ShoreTel Voice over IP Telephone Systems. Established in 1992, PremCom is a single source provider for the design, installation and support of Communication and Data Networks, allowing organizations to optimize their information systems. PremCom has clients and installations across the USA and internationally. PremCom is a complete network services company providing VoIP Phone Systems, Network Servers, Network Communications Equipment and Cabling Infrastructure. PremCom is the Official Telephone Service Provider for the NHL Buffalo Sabres. www.premcom.com – 1-800-886-9267 – 85 Northpointe Pkwy. – Amherst, NY 14228

About The Taylor Reach Group, Inc.:

The Taylor Reach Group Inc. (TRG) was established in 2001 to assist companies and organizations improve their corporate and contact center services by focusing on telephone centric interactions. TRG award winning approach has assisted numerous companies such as Republic Services, Mercedes-Benz and Habitat for Humanity to improve their phone centric sales and service capabilities.

About ShoreTel, Inc.

ShoreTel is the fastest growing IP PBX Company worldwide and the leader in customer satisfaction. The company has shipped its groundbreaking solutions since 1998 and continues to outpace the rapidly expanding VoIP market with technological advances and sales that are doubling year over year. ShoreTel voice systems are designed to make businesses smarter, setting new standards for usability and manageability while reducing telecommunications costs. A uniquely distributed architecture extends enterprise-class voice services to every office and outpost, keeping employees fully connected wherever they go. A select, worldwide group of channel partners provide top-notch service and support. For more information, visit http://www.shoretel.com/ or call 1-877-80SHORE.

For more information about PremCom please contact:
Peter Proulx at (716) 691-0791.

For more information about TRG please contact:
Colin Taylor at (416) 276 9068

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Revenue Generation: Profit from Pain

Revenue Model- Profit from Pain

One of the biggest challenges facing contact centers today is supporting Managements’ goal to shift the contact center from a cost center to a profit center. This can often be akin to pushing water uphill for Center managers who are under resourced and lack an understanding of the basics associated with up-sell, cross-sell and ‘save’ campaign effectiveness.

The following article sets out the parameters, drivers, sequence and value associated with the model hierarchy and its development.

There is a progression and hierarchy associated with the implementation of a revenue generation process within any call or contact center. This progression or process must begin by identifying where the center is, what the drivers for change are, the pre-requisites and sequence in which those activities must be accomplished and what the impact is of those activities have on the success and profitability of the revenue generation initiative.

Broadly stated the drivers would include:

Adequacy of current staff,
Availability of current staff,
Skills & Competencies related to sales versus customer service,
Level and type of training received,
Competence or proficiency level,
The complexity of the processes required,
The speed of process completion,
Replication and error rate of the process,
Database access, vision and robustness,
Scripting and sales support tools,
Virtual agent,
Relevance to customer
Affinity to customer,
Perceived value & relationship,

These broad areas will each perform at differing levels dependant upon the combinations of the above in relation to Offer percentage (the percentage of callers that receive an offer) and conversion percentage (the percentage of callers that agree to an additional transaction). The Offer percentage in most contact center is controlled by the agent or CSR: they determine if it is appropriate to extend and offer to a customer. The latter point will be influenced by the offer the affinity to the customer and the perceived value by the customer.

The following chart illustrates the sequence of activities related to maximizing revenue generation.

Each of these elements builds upon the previous ones. It is possible to operate without following this hierarchy, but the results will suffer.

Against this hierarchy we can classify operations across four bands, which we have categorized as: Base, Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. These bands represent and categorize the activities and results achieved in the center related to the progress achieved moving up the hierarchy.

The following table illustrates this progress:

As shown above at the Base level the existing staff is generally customer service staff that has been hired to handle customer inquiries. These staff members in service focused centers often were not selected or assessed based upon their sales focus or sales (potential) competencies. The staff will have often received little if any training opposite up-sell cross-sell activities and as a consequence they rate 1-3 on a scale of 1 to 10.

The organizational processes have in most cases been designed to process orders and sales in a one-off fashion removed from the call/contact center. There may be no processes in place to manage add on orders or shipments within the fulfillment operation. In some cases no policy exists for partial shipment rules (ship partials versus hold for complete). The processes are adequate and effective for the business as it has operated but are not optimized, nor necessarily aligned with supporting an up-sell cross-sell environment. The processes at the Base level are generally in 3 – 5 range on the 1 to 10 scale.

Technology in most organizations has not been designed to support up-sell and cross-sell initiatives. Often it is campaign centric and not customer centric. The systems have been designed to support mass selection of names for mailings or other campaigns and not on an individual basis. The result is the database can often not display much detail regarding the actual customer: their history likes/dislikes or affinities. Similarly most inbound customer service support applications feature access to customer records for billing and account status inquiries, not to offer or support specific scripting for offers etc. As a result technology suitability for up-sell, cross-sell initiatives in the Base band is generally between 2 to 4 on a scale of 1 to 10.

As staff selection improves: skills, competencies and sales ability the base values for staffing and People improve. The addition of specific and detailed sales skills training, role playing and use of the existing technology improves the values for Training. As does refining and aligning the operational processes to support up-sell and cross-sell activities also improves the Process values.

As the elements outlined as Drivers above the overall scores will improve. With the skill/competency improvement the center will see improvements in both the Offer % and the Conversion %.

As outlined on the table the Conversion % in most centers converting from a customer service environment will be in the 3-5% range and suffers from a low Offer % as well. In these centers the decision to offer or not to offer an up-sell/cross-sell is usually left to the discretion of the agent. It is common that their fears, concerns, lack of training, knowledge of the customer and support negatively impacts their perception of up-sell cross-sell programs and leads them to find reasons to rarely offer the up-sell.

A structured, planned and consistent approach can move the center up the effectiveness curve and begin to achieve superior results is required.

The proof is in the results, employing this approach has already helped a number of organizations move from cost focus to revenue success. This is always a challenging journey, but can be the difference between success and failure for the center manager.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Job Opportunities - Toronto- Senior Account Exec,

From time to time I get asked to assist friends and clients in recruiting staff in call center related activities. This is just such an occasion. The positions below are great opportunities for the right people and have significant upside potential for growth and advancement.

If either role is of interest to you send me your resume via email to ctaylor@thetaylorreachgroup.com

Job Description
Senior Account Executive

General Description
Introduce and sell Client’s core services to potential medium to large enterprises in the Greater Toronto market. Client’s is a leader in the deployment and installation of Turnkey Data Networks and Voice Over IP PBX systems. While initially being primarily responsible for sales you must have the ability to multi-task in the areas of marketing and general management. You must have a successful track record in meeting/exceeding targets in selling enterprise solutions to senior and `C' level executives. The successful candidate will have a strong track record in direct technology sales, be a self starter and be motivated to achieve.

This is a ground floor opportunity and as such this position has definite potential for the right individual to become a key player and share in the growth of the organization. Clients’ initial push is to develop this market leading with a leading Voice over IP PBX product. General knowledge or experience selling and promoting VoIP PBX products is a definite plus as a qualifier for this position.

Duties and Responsibilities
Sales Prospecting
General development of Toronto Market
This will be supported by direct marketing, tele-prospecting and direct mailings
Daily use of Goldmine CRM
Call reporting
Sales Forecasting
Weekly sales planning
Weekly, Monthly and Quarterly Reporting
Development of individual sales plan on a quarterly basis
Field Demonstration of VoIP equipment
Sales Training and Demo Certification will be provided
Conduct monthly seminars
Supported by marketing plan
Help develop marketing plan for territory
Identify verticals

Job Qualifications:
Related Experience:
· 2+ years experience as a in Enterprise Sales focused on Networking and or Telephony
· Experience working with service providers to obtain pricing for end users
· Working level knowledge of Telephony and Data Networks.

Formal Training or Education:
BA/BS education preferred

The compensation plan will be a combination of base plus commission on sales. Base compensation will be commensurate with experience.

Job Description
Network Engineer

General Description
Manage and maintain network, systems, telecommunication services, provide customer installation and support. Client company, is a leader in the deployment and installation of Turnkey Data Networks and Voice Over IP PBX systems. While most of the duties of this job will entail post sales installation and support some presales engineering support will also be required. The successful candidate will have a strong track direct technology support, be a self starter and be motivated to achieve.

This is a ground floor opportunity and as such this position has definite potential for the right individual to become a key player and share in the growth of the organization. The client’s initial push is to develop in this market a leading Voice over IP PBX product. General knowledge installation and maintenance of VoIP PBX products is a definite plus as a qualifier for this position.

Duties and Responsibilities
The following is a partial list of expected day to day duties the position of Network Engineer may be required to perform. It is by no means comprehensive and additional roles, responsibilities and tasks are expected to be preformed at the direction of management. Some weekend, off hour and travel will be required.
LAN/WAN troubleshooting
VoIP PBX troubleshooting
Multi vendor firewall and router programming - Multi vendor switch programming
Intensive Cisco router and switch programming
Cisco PIX and ASA programming
Design LAN and WAN topology
Visio diagrams of logical and physical data flow
Access control lists
Multiple protocol routing
Routing protocols such as – OSPF, RIP, BGP, EIGRP
Live cut-over support
Circuit troubleshooting
Server troubleshooting/Desktop support/Application support
Server installation/SQL/Citrix/Terminal Services

Job Qualifications:
Related Experience:
2+ years experience as a Network Field Engineer or a Network Operations Center Technician/Engineer
In-depth knowledge of the seven layers within the OSI model and detailed familiarity with industry protocols.
Extensive experience with IP Addressing to include sub netting
Experience in troubleshooting router, switch and fault-tolerant redundant environments, configuration, troubleshooting and hardware maintenance
Experience working with service providers testing and troubleshooting

Formal Training or Education:
BA/BS education preferred

Compensation commensurate with experience.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Whats new

Well it has certainly been a busy spring. In the past six months we at TRG have gone from solely providing call and contact center consulting to managing the consulting practice as well as three other companies. These companies are Teleffective, Inc an outbound B2B tele-sales service provider, Telepoll a data gathering and research company focusing on Third Party Quality Monitoring (3PQM) services as well as Customer satisfaction and Employee satisfaction services and Scheduling Staff Inc. that offered hosted staff scheduling services employed by call center as well as restaurants, municpal governements and emergency service organizations.

I wanted to share some of the recent news related to all of the companies ane welcome your thoughts and comments regarding these service offering and the exciting challenges of manageing rapid growth.

Teleffective Growth
Teleffective has grown and prospered in the just over three months since the company was launched. Today we are operating three campaigns running: one is securing appointments for a computer peripherals company, securing appointments and completing direct sales for a waste collection company and up-selling directory listings for a large business to business media company. Our tagline is “The Sell, Phone Company”, and we selected this because it accurately reflects what we do. To see what Teleffective can do to help you improve your sales pipeline and sales performance contact Colin Taylor at ctaylor@teleffectivinc.com or visit the Teleffective website at www.teleffectiveinc.com

Teleffective adds to our team
Teleffective has added to our team with the addition of Nancy Philippou as Project Manager. Nancy with more than 5 years of tele-sales experience brings a track record of success and achievement to Teleffective. Nancy will oversee all program completed by Teleffective and will work with the staff to ensure success of each and every project. Please join me in welcoming Nancy to the Teleffective team. You can reach Nancy at nphilippou@teleffectiveinc.com .

TRG secures a new agreement to provide Third Party Quality Monitoring
TRG has recently secured a new agreement to provide Third Party Quality Monitoring (3PQM) services to large financial institution. More than 175 agents will be assessed at least three times per month against the criteria established by TRG and the Client. This agreement was secured following the completion of a six month pilot project. The client characterized the results of the pilot as allowing them to focus more effectively on coaching and developing their agents and helping to improve the overall quality and service delivered to their clients. For more information on TRG please visit our website at www.thetaylorreachgroup.com .

Telepoll and TRG secure new Customer Satisfaction Survey Program
Telepoll, a TRG company has secured a new Customer satisfaction research program to assist an established sports equipment manufacturer to assess their customers and channels satisfaction with the company and its sales and services processes. This program will be executed utilizing outbound telephone interviews with assessments and analytics being provided by TRG. For more information about Telepoll and their Customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and/or 3PQM services please visit our website at www.telepoll.net or email John Cockerill at jcockerill@telepoll.net .

Scheduling Staff Inc. continues to grow
It has been less than one year but Scheduling Staff Inc. (SSI) has already developed a strong following of organizations who rely on SSI to help them to quickly and easily schedule their staff. Today more than 141 companies, representing more than 3,275 individual users and reflecting scheduled shifts that total more than 87,000 days are using SSI. The companies that use SSI represent a broad range of service organizations from Call centers and market research companies to restaurants, emergency services and governmental services organizations across North America. For more information on Scheduling Staff Inc or to set up your own 30 day free trial please visit our website at www.schedulingstaff.com or email Mary Jones at mjones@schedulingstaff.com .

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What is the value of Customer Service?

What is the Value of Customer Service?
Can we quantify it?
Can we get senior management to understand it?
We all know what good customer service is when we experience it, but few organizations can translate this into profit or margin at the end of the day.
Why is the value of good customer service so elusive?

The studies are clear 92% of consumers base their opinions of an organization based upon their call/contact center experience (Purdue), 54% of consumers have a higher opinion of an organization before they contact center than after (transversal). So what is the value of customer service? Does it affect lifetime value? if so how? Does change loyalty, repurchase, RFM analysis? If so how? Can we stop speaking of customer service as we do the weather...everyone talks about it, but nobody does anything about it? Come on weigh in, lets get your point of view.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Help Desks...so why can't we get help?

Help Desks…so why can’t we get help?

So why it is that today the helpdesk is derided almost universally, by the people they are there to help? Why that is the help desk has been renamed in many organizations as the ‘helpless desk’. Is the culprit the design of the help desk, the management, the tools deployed or is just that the users are beyond any form of help? To answer these questions we first need to review and understand the function, design, and management that are elements of any help desk.

According to PCMag a help desk is defined as “A source of technical support for hardware or software. Help desks are staffed by people who can either solve the problem directly or forward the problem to someone else. Help desk software provides the means to log in problems and track them until solved. It also provides the management information regarding support activities.” That sounds simple enough, but as with most things the devil is in the details. Users in most organizations will have 25 or more different software applications on their desktop, other software on their laptop and others yet on their pda. These applications include both company provided and user provided applications. IN addition to the software, they may have a desktop, laptop, pda, printer, scanner and network connections, wired and wireless. As you can see it very quickly becomes a very complicated mash of files, applications, hardware and network elements. Keep the users running is the role of the helpdesk.

IT is the owner of all company sponsored applications, as well as the provider of the network connectivity and hardware, so it is left to IT to manage the help desk and make it as efficient as possible. Of course to the uninitiated this sound fairly straight forward; IT knows the applications, hardware, software and networks after all they selected, purchased, configured and installed each of these elements. In addition the IT group has developed a process to manage help desk inquiries that generally runs as illustrated in the graphic below.

A nice linear process. This is way a help desk is intended to work. Make a request, send it to dispatch, it is assigned a case or ticket number, entered in the queue, dispatch assigns a rep to investigate and respond (fix) the problem and once fixed the case (or ticket) is closed.

Of course few things in life actually work as they were originally designed to. This is certainly true of help desks. Even with the experts who know the technology, its configuration and who are equipped with a logical and straightforward management process, help desks are often hopelessly doomed. Why you may ask? Well with the focu on technology; hardware/software, networks and process one critical element has been omitted, People.

Remember to old adage “to err is human, to really mess things up requires a computer”? We I would suggest that today the inverse is closer to the truth…internet viruses notwithstanding. People and specifically the users tend to be the single largest cause of issues requiring help desk support. Now let me be clear people cause most problems, but they do so often in such ways that we do not see ourselves as the culprit when we have a problem. Let me give you an example, Bob contacts the help desk because one of his Microsoft programs crashed and now will not boot up. He has tried rebooting his pc and has closed all other windows. Bob is in a panic, he needs to get a report done and that can’t happen if he can’t get the software to load. The help desk responds and even they are stumped at first and need to research the problem. The map all of the programs and applications on Bob’s pc. They review all of the files within those applications and finally the ah ha moment. There are two programs that employ a file called “abcd.dll” one in his Microsoft application and one in that new golf game software Bob recently installed to provide some entertainment on those long flights he is required to take. Bob in his haste to install his new game, did what we all do when going through a similar process we click ‘yes’ to any and all ‘replace file x with newer file x’ queries and in doing so Bob replaced the file that was needed to boot his MS file with a snazzy new that works great for golf,, but so good with Word.

We are all Bobs’, we all have software application, instant messaging, media players, sound players, games and other goodies on our machines that IT not only doesn’t know about, but that they have experience troubleshooting. The result is longer time to research and repair a help desk request. But besides the software we have installed we can create other problems…the virus the came when we opened that joke, the synchronization software for the pda we got for our birthday, the new business card scanner we purchased as an efficiency tool (not knowing we could actually crash the mail server). Face it people are the problem, not intentionally, but we are just the same. People do not view a pc as tool to just do spreadsheet, report writing and presentation preparation and to access the company CRM database, but rather we view computers as tools that can do thousands of wonderful and entertaining thing to inform and entertain us besides doing all of those functions and tasks that IT has designed and equipped them to do. In developing specifications and configurations for our pcs and networks etc. the IT group will ensure that we have compatibility and that the systems will function as designed…but they can’t even imaging all of the other things we will try to do with our machines.

So all the havoc wreaked by you and I and Bob has an impact on the help desk. They receive more cases and tickets needing attention than forecast, with more requiring research in order to fix. All the while the user is popping blood vessels wondering how they will get the report to the VP by 2pm. The net result of this becomes longer delays in the help desk queue and a general feeling amongst users that the help desk isn’t very helpful. So faced with a 2 pm deadline and the belief that the help desk isn’t very helpful, what is a manager to do? What we always do in times of challenge and crisis, we innovate. Remember that neat and tidy linear process we reviewed above? The one that sets out the process of managing a help desk case? Well enterprising users can turn that on its ear very quickly. Have a look at the graphic below which is actually far more accurate of most help desks.

Being innovative we all understand the concept of work-arounds, but in relation to our help desks many of us have become masters of this. We have cultivated relationships with the helpdesk reps individually just so we can by pass the dispatch and queue steps to speed our fix. We discover the secret queue email address and naming convention and try to jam a bogus case into the queue, we butter up the folks who dispatch to seek preferential treatment, we call our buddy asking for 5 minutes on the phone to see if we can get a quick fix and bypass the whole ugly process. This whole process is often greased by glad-handing, feigned friendship and doughnuts for the Help desk staff. Of course soe help desk staff will try against all logic to actually follow the process they have been instructed to do and forward a work-around request back to dispatch where it gets entered into the queue much later than it originally would have ( I guess we know who didn’t get the doughnuts). While much of the above is ‘tongue in cheek’, the activities and work arounds are not.

Now try designing an effective help desk with people who are always and with little if any consideration of the consequences adding ‘stuff’ onto their computers and a process that often doomed to work-arounds. A daunting task isn’t it? Daunting yes, impossible no. To get a handle on your help desk operation you need to get a handle on the primary cause of help desk cases…people. In practice it makes little sense to try to get people to stop adding stuff, because it is unlikely to work. A better approach is to look at what people do add and determine which ones ( there is a multitude of choice for most of the add ons we install) and determine the ones that are least likely to cause problems and share this with the users. This sharing process is one of education, there likely will be applications that you will forbid text chat and Voip are two of the most common banned applications, but tell them why; security, hackers, viruses etc. Train your people to ask before they install and not to mindlessly click yes to everything. This should be part of your staff induction training and part of the process whenever anyone gets a new or upgraded machine. This will reduce demand for the help desk are reduce the average time to repair, thereby reducing the queue.

Once you have you people and their pc’s under control, or as much control as we can reasonably expect next we need to turn our eye to our help desk staff. Doughnut aren’t good for us anyway so work with your staff to follow the process and be rigorous about it. Set up measures and reports on each of the staff: track mean time to repair, review their tickets/cases and determine what percentage followed the process and call them on it. Of course the senior VP may still get preferred treatment from time to time, but the overall incidence and use of work-arounds and back doors will diminish. This will of course further improve the through put of the help desk and improve their responsiveness both actual and perceived.

The truth of the matter is that most help desk challenges and those that lead us to label the help desk, the helpless desk have much, much less to do with technology and much more to do with people, both within and outside of the help desk.

To view this complete article (including graphics) please visit the TRG website ans subscribe to receive Customer Reach each months, follow the following link http://www.thetaylorreachgroup.com/register.php and join 5,000 + senior call/contact centers executives from around the globe.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Contact center research

Recent TRG research studies
In “Outsourced Quality Monitoring: Emerging Market or Outsourcing Core Competency?” TRG studied more than 160 organizations and their views regarding the outsourcing of quality monitoring. Every Contact Center senior manager knows that agents require coaching, training and guidance to become more effective and more efficient, unfortunately in most organizations Supervisors spend a significant portion of their time completing non-agent related activities. The question becomes how can we improve the supervisors’ efficiency in completing all of their tasks and still ensure we coach and develop our agents.

In “Assessing Outsource, Offshore and Domestic contact center operations”, TRG examines the opportunities and challenges associated with processing live agent voice calls, email and whitemail processing internally and outsourced. In addition the study examines advantages and disadvantages of Domestic near shore and offshore locations.

If you would like to receive a complimentary copy of either of these reports please email your request to info@thetaylorreachgroup.com .

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Canadian Call Center Business Opportunity

A South Western Ontario based, 60 seat call center, in business for ten years is looking for a buyer. The company has a high quality reputation for providing serious technical support and customer service to clients across the US and Canada. Also capable of outbound lead generation, surveys and sales. Current contracts in place are producing over 1 Million CDN per year. This company has state of the art technology, low employee cost per hour and very low facilities costs of $10 /sq. ft.. Telephony is an Asterisk VOIP PBX, built internally so there are no license costs and all programming is done by internal IT department. In addition, this company has a 32 seat license for a Vocalcom system which includes dialers. Facilities include an additional 3000 sq.ft. which have been planned for 40 stations. Clients include Wireless ISP’s, Consumer Electronics Manufacturer, Webhosting , Web services, Wireless Hot Spot providers, Hotel Internet Provider. Previous clients have included Telco’s, fortune 500 retailers, insurance companies and a major auto industry client. This is a perfect opportunity for an organization that is looking to grow in size with a very cost effective acquisition or a company that wishes to acquire additional technical support income to add to their existing support queue.

Peaks, Spikes, Valleys and Troughs- How to manage your contact center in a high change environment.

Peaks, Spikes, Valleys and Troughs- How to manage your contact center in a high change environment.
We have all experienced this moment, just when we finally seem to have all of the many and disparate elements of our center under control; the Service Level, our speed of answer, abandon rate, handle time and quality, that’s when it happens, the flood gates open and are KPI’s tumble into the cellar. It is like one of the corollaries to Murphy’s Law “If things are going well, just wait a moment and it will all change”.

Every business faces shifts in call and/or transactional volumes. Some businesses have challenges around seasonality built into their business model such as lawn care or snow removal. Others see seasonal peaks due to Christmas or summer; some catalogue companies see more volume in the fourth quarter than they see throughout the rest of the year! Still other companies experience peaks that happen based upon the calendar; the waste company that sees an increase in call volume with recognized holidays such as July 4th and unrecognized ones such as the Super Bowl. Lastly some organizations experience event driven surges in volumes such as the ‘first responders’ that experienced huge spikes in call volumes following hurricane Katrina or that any company can experience with a new product launch or marketing campaign.

Regardless of how your company experiences call spikes how you, the center manager and your team deal with it can make or break your center and even your company. Peaks and valleys are standard fare in the contact center industry. We see them every day: the mid morning or mid afternoon peak in our daily arrival patterns, the Monday peak volumes versus the slow Friday. These peaks we understand, plan and staff for, they are just a part of the business. But how can you manage peaks when they represent quantum increases in volumes? How can you handle 300% more calls for an hour, a week, a month or a quarter? These are the challenges that some companies face and in this article we will examine how companies and organizations can react and respond to these eventualities.

The starting point as always in contact center management must be the forecast. You need to know how many calls, emails, chats and transactions you will process in your center when and how many staff you will need to met your KPI’s in doing so. The forecast will tell you when you need to hire and train staff and you add these activities to your base volumes. You also add vacation time, special projects, marketing and business activities such as bill runs etc. It is here, on the forecast that you may first see the change in terrain as the line climbs upwards signifying increasing volumes.

As outlined above there are a number of very different types of peaks and each of these requires a different approach. There is no one approach that will meet every challenge or requirement, but we will examine a number of the major strategies that companies employ to address these challenges.

Seasonality: many organizations see a dramatic increase in contact center volumes associated with the Christmas rush. These companies include direct marketers, cataloguers and publishers whose products are being purchased as gifts. These companies have developed strategies that help them manage this expected, planned and essential increase in traffic. Management mechanisms include;
 Temporary staff. This is a tried and true solution. If you need 100 more staff you hire 100 temporary staff and run them through and abbreviated training. Why abbreviated? Most companies cannot recover their initial investment in hiring and training staff in just 3 months, so they will often only train the temporary staff on the most common call types, such as order taking and they may only work on a single product line. When this is done in conjunction with intelligent call routing the new staff can be brought up to speed fairly quickly.
 Seasonal staff. This is very similar to the temporary staff above, but where the temporary staff model is based upon bringing in 100 new staff, the seasonal staff model is based on bringing back as many of the 100 staff from last year and back filling and gaps with temporary staff. There are obvious benefits of this approach: the staff already knows the company, its customers and systems. Of course they will require refresher training but this is far less than temporary staff would require. The key here is to maximize staff return and retention. This is often achieved through the use of return incentives. The staff is informed before the end of the seasonal rush that you will have openings again next year and would like them to come back. This is sweetened with an incentive (cash or product based), for example a $200 gift certificate for company product or cash.
 Partnered centers. Not all companies experience the same seasonal peak. While the pre Christmas rush is likely the most prevalent it is not the only one. Tax preparation companies, banks and finance company call centers all experience surges in volumes associated with investment tax deduction deadlines and with tax filing deadline. Many contact center operators have found other contact centers that are counter cyclical. This means that staff could be shared between the gift cataloguer and the lawn care call center, with staff moving back and forth between the centers.

Event peaks: many companies experience short term often event driven surges in call or transaction volumes. These peaks may arise from a fixed event such a the Super Bowl or an opportunity event such as a very effective advertising campaign or the appearance of the spokesman on Oprah or Larry King. These events can be the most difficult to manage; the peaks may be unexpected, may last for a short duration or occur infrequently. Dealing with these challenges through traditional methods can prove expensive and ineffective. It is not always possible to add staff (temporary or otherwise), the costs of doing so can simply be too expensive. In addition to meet with spikes that are multiples of your usual volume would require similar multiples of your existing staff.

So what are the options available?
 Outsourcing. While it is true that outsource providers sell their services based upon economies of scale and the ability to handle rapid growth they are not very interested in adding additional staff to a program for a matter of minutes or hours. Some agencies offer short term support options through their DRTV teams or in a shared service group. When most companies look to outsource, they generally expect dedicated staff, that is staff that will work exclusively on their programs. This can offer the best combination from a company perspective, of value (dedicated and trained staff focused soley on their products or services). Shared staff in contrast work for a number of companies at the same time. One call for client A, the next for client B, etc. This of course impacts upon the level and detail of training that can be offered as well as the level of comprehension and recall. This generally isn’t a problem if they are simply taking order, but poses more significant challenges if a more knowledgeable and detailed understanding of the company, the customer, policies and procedures are required.
 Home Agents. Remote or home based agents can be deployed through an outsourcer an agency or established by the company. The most common approach is through an outsource provider. Home agents work a self employed contractors who agree to take the company calls. The receive training and bid for shifts often through a hosted scheduling environment. As the home agents are paid by the call and are self employed they often book short shifts and if the company cannot provide enough volume they will stop working for that company. It can require a significantly larger number of home agents to process the same volume of calls as in-house dedicated agents. This number may have to grow exponentially to meet call volume surges in volumes.

Self service provides another alternative. By developing and deploying automated service solutions (IVR, Speech Recognition, virtual agents, call back messaging etc.) a company can deflect a significant number of calls to the self service solution. By extending the same approach to the web with FAQ’s and chat even more customers can be service this way. There are downsides, most people do not like dealing with ‘machines’ and can find navigation difficult and frustrating. This is hardly the mindset you wish to instill in your customers. Automated solutions generally have a poor track record for converting leads into sales. This is a concern if the surge of calls is from prospective customers. Call back messaging doesn’t purport to solve the problem through self service but rather it employs self service and/or self selection technology to allow a customer to request a call back. This affords the company an opportunity to contact the customer once the peak has subsided. The challenge with this approach can be the difficulty then in connecting with the prospect. People have busy lives and they will not sit by the phone waiting for your call. So while this isn’t a lost opportunity it certainly requires addition time, effort and cost to chase down the prospect with a portion never reached.

A final alternative is often the most effective approach to managing peaks can be to look at the underlying processes and procedures that impact or create this peak in the first place. Peaks at one of our clients were caused by mailing hundreds of thousands of invoices out over three days each month. By spreading the invoices over the entire month the peak was eliminated.

There are a number of tools and tactics we have addressed in this article. There is no one magic solution the will fit all situations. You will need to assess your center, your company and your requirements. Good luck.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Outsourcing, Offshoring Truth or Consequences Part 2

Outsourcing, Off-Shoring: Truth and Consequences-Part 2
In our last article we examined offshore outsourcing the costs the real and perceived benefits and the steps an organization should take before embarking on an outsource and/or offshore venture.

In this article we focus on how an organization should best move forward to ensure that their outsourcing or offshoring venture will succeed and not be mentioned in the ever growing list of companies that failed in this exercise.

There is a lot of common steps and activities that need to be taken regardless of whether the service will be provided domestically, in a ‘near shore’ location (Canada) or offshore. We first examine the steps and activities that apply to all locations and then look at those that are location specific.

Following this activity checklist can prevent lots of pain and suffering for both the organization and the outsource partner. This is an essential step in building a successful outsource relationship.

The first questions you need to ask are the ones we discussed in the previous article…
 Are your service transactions a one-off or are they part of a broader on-going customer relationship?
 What are the risks to the customer relationship associated with off-shoring?
· From the companies perspective?
· From the customers perspective?
 Can these risks be mitigated?
 Are we willing to accept these risks and the worst case scenario to save approximately 15%?
 Have we optimized our existing internal operational model?
· Is our technology the best possible to support the delivery of service?
· Do we have the right people with the right skills delivering service today?
· Do we have the appropriate training and development in place to grow and develop our staff to deliver ever improving service?
· Are our operational metrics aligned with the goals and objectives of the company?
 Do we have the resources and appropriate knowledge internally to source, implement and manage an outsource provider?
 Do we possess a network and IT infrastructure that can support extension to an outsource provider?

If your answer is ‘No’ to any of these questions then you will be creating problems for yourself by moving forward with outsourcing until you can answer “yes’ to each.

Assessing the Outsourcer:
Now with your ‘yes’ answers in hand you are ready to move forward to source an outsource partner, as you move forward keep in mind that all outsourcers you speak with want your business and will regale you with how wonderful they are. The first qualification area we will address in terms of qualifying potential outsource partners is Experience.

Take all statements related to experience and knowledge with a grain of salt. Ask the vendor specific questions related to their experience such as;
o Which companies in my vertical have they worked with?
o Are they still working with these companies? (and if not, why not)
o Can they provide reference contacts at these firms?

Based on their answers you may have to ask yourself if you want to work with an experienced firm or if you want to be a guinea pig?

Of course even if the outsourcer has experience in your vertical it doesn’t mean that they are good at it or even that this is a core competency. You will want to ask them:
o What percentage of their business (in terms of dollars, minutes or seats) is in the same vertical as you operate in?
o What types of services they have provided to that vertical? (they may have experience in publishing but if they have only handled inbound change of address requests this isn’t terribly relevant if you are looking to outsource outbound renewals)
o What awards or recognition they have received for their work in the sector? Of course they could do very good work and have received no awards or recognition, but if they have received awards etc., then you can know that some third party assessed their work or submission and felt that it had merit.

It is essential that you understand the staff who will be working on your project. After all it is these people who will be interacting with your customers. It is based on this interaction that your customers will judge your company[1]. You need to know the following:
· What the skills and competencies they look for when hiring staff? Be wary of anyone that only or primarily looks for call/contact center experience as this often just hires someone else’s’ problems.
· How do they test for these Skills & Competencies? The tests should be objective and independent of the interviewers’ subjective opinion. Ask to see these tests.
· What is their annual staff turnover and how is this calculated? Turnover is the percentage of staff that leaves the center each year. This can include ‘turnover’ those that leave the organization and ‘churnover’ those that leave the contact center but are still with the company. Turnover should include staff from the first day they are on the job. Be wary of companies who don’t include ‘churnover’ or who don’t include the training period or the first X days in their counts. These exclusions tend to occur in companies that want their turnover numbers to appear to be lower.
· Ask if you can interview and/or speak with some of their staff. You will get better insight to the staff and organization by speaking with them directly.

You need to understand how your potential outsource partner approaches staff training. Not just the product knowledge, but also the soft skills related to effective communication, active listening, sales and agent development.
Specifically you should ask:
· To see their agent training program (agree to sign an NDA if requested). This shows how they invest and equip new staff before they go on a program such as yours.
· To see any tests or assessments they complete to ensure comprehension and recall of trained knowledge?
· A training outline for a program similar in nature to yours? They should remove client identifiable elements.
· How will your training be done? Will they train all of the staff, will you train the trainer or will they expect you to train all of the staff?

Management Processes:
You need to understand how the outsource partner will manage your business. Specifically you need to understand:
· The key metrics or KPI’s they employ in managing their business from a macro level? They are in business to make money, so costs and margin certainly need to be present. They also should include metrics such as Service Levels, Quality Levels, escalations, First contact resolution, etc.
· What are the specific metrics they believe your program should be governed by? By asking this question before you provide your desired metrics will tell speak volumes about their perception of your project and requirements.
· Who will manage your business? Will they assign a project manager? Where is that manager located? Are they dedicated to your account? How will you interact with them: phone, email, face to face, instant messaging etc.? What are the response parameters you should expect? Ask them to provide a service level agreement to respond to your phone calls and emails. Ask to see a bio or resume for the project manager. Ask for references for the project manager. This person will be an extension of your company; you should be very comfortable with this person before agreeing to proceed.
· What reporting: type and frequency will they provide to you? Ask to see sample reports and ask if they can produce ‘ad-hoc’ reports and how quickly they can do so?
· Ask for a standard implementation project plan. This will show you how they manage projects and what tasks are required as well as how much time they feel should be devoted to each activity.

Any outsourcer you partner with will need to integrate with your systems and processes. It is important to understand both their structure and knowledge levels. Specifically:
· Ask to see their Disaster Recovery Plan. If there is a problem, you want to know what will happen and when. Otherwise your own service to your customers may be compromised.
· Are their telephony and power systems redundant and to what level? Determine if they are speaking of battery back up, on-site diesel power generation or physical connection to two power stations or telco central offices.
· How do they envision connecting into your systems? How they connect and the security around the connection are going to be very important to your own IT group

This is often the only element that companies look at closely. Those that do this, do so at their peril. Price is always important, but it should never be the only consideration. Before you select a vendor you need to understand their pricing model and how it would apply to your project. Specifically you will want to know:
· What is the basis for their pricing model? Is it per connect minute, per talk time minute, per call, staff FTE’s etc.
· Are there discounts or price breaks based upon volumes? We know that there are economies of scale as a business grows, to what degree do they share this with their customers?
· What are the set up or establishment fees and what are these charges for? Some companies charge for training, opening a file, reporting set up, telecommunication set up, data connectivity set up etc.
· What other fees are there and when would they apply? Do their rates for example include long distance and if not what is the ‘per minute’ rate they charge you. Can the long distance or toll charges be billed directly to you by your existing carrier? Are charges for additional reports and what are these fees?
· What service level guarantees are they willing to offer? Are the service levels targets or requirements? More than one company has been burned by thinking that a target service level meant that it would be consistently achieved as apposed to something to strive for.
· What is the measurement period for the service level? There can be significant variances in actual service delivered if it is measured on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
· What penalties and recovery periods will apply when a service level is not achieved?
· What contract terms are they seeking and what benefit do you receive for a longer agreement? It is not uncommon for multi-year agreements to include rate escalation clauses. It is generally in the clients best interest to not have a blanket escalation rate but rather a increase/decrease tied to an independent measure such as ‘cost of living’ etc.

Always do the following:
· Visit the contact center where your business will be completed. Seeing the site and meeting the Supervisors and staff will provide great insight into the company.
· Be concerned if they tell you they do not have a center for you today. While this can speak to growth it can also lead to delaying the project timetable if they are working out funding, have construction delays or need more clients to justify the build.
· Check references. Check a minimum of three current clients. Ask to speak with former clients as well. Find out why former clients are not still dealing with the outsourcer. Ask specifically about adherence to service levels, budgets and timeline and how easy the access was to the project manager and senior company resources.
· Do a ‘credit check’ on the company. You don’t want to risk you customers with a company that is struggling to stay afloat. If they collapse you may be down for days or even weeks.

Location specific questions:

Near Shore
Canada is the most popular near shore location for call and contact center activities. Jamaica, Mexico and Puerto Rico also host a number of contact centers. In all cases these have lower operating costs due to their location. A part of the outsource operating advantage is dollar arbitrage, The lower the exchange to the US dollar generally the lower the costs in that country. Regardless of the country you need to ask a number of questions including:
· Will the outsourcer invoice you in US dollars? This frees you from concerns over the relative exchange rates between US Dollars and the local currency.
· What taxes are charged in that country and can any of these be recovered. Local country taxes often can be applied to call and contact center services, though often you can become exempt or have the taxes refunded if you are a non resident company.
· Language skills vary from location to location based upon the educational system in that country. For US companies seeking English language services Canada often reflects the best option as Canada has an excellent educational system. It is also heavily influenced by American media.
· Culture is important in any call or contact center. All customers will employ slang, idioms expressions and phrases that are not taught in school. It is imperative that the agents representing your company can communicate effectively with your customers.
· Infrastructure can be a concern outside of Canada. Generally in Mexico and the Caribbean the telecommunication and electrical infrastructure is inferior to that seen in Canada or the US. You must ask about reliability, redundancy, failure history, recovery periods etc.
· Weather can be a concern regardless of where the center is located internally, domestically or near shore. Snow in the north, hurricanes in the south, tornadoes in the mid west all pose potential risks that need to be identified and assessed. It is interesting to note that locations with regular and significant amounts of snow loose fewer days annually to weather than locations that see small amounts or infrequent snow storms.

There are numerous offshore locations for contact centers around the globe. They include countries such as India and the Philippines but also include countries such as;
o South Africa,
o New Zealand,
o Ireland,
o Romania,
o Poland,
o Malaysia,
o China,
o Singapore,
o The Seychelles,
o Sri Lanka,
o Pakistan,

For each of these countries you must examine all of the universal and near shore questions plus the following;

· Access, will you need a visa to get into the country? This can be a factor sourcing individuals who will work providing training and managing the vendor relationship.
· How safe is the location or how safe will your staff feel when they are there. We often forget that: India is a nuclear state that is in a constant state of near war with Pakistan or that the Philippines has an on-going guerrilla war underway and that there are semi-regular riots in the streets of Manila. All of this has a bearing on your ability to get staff to travel to these locations.
· Infrastructure in many of these countries can range from poor to very good. Often service providers operate their own private networks rather than rely on the public grid. In these cases their redundancy and Business Continuity plans take on far more significance.
· Cultural Context can be very important in countries that have little exposure to the US culture. We see a phenomena call cultural context training. This is a process designed to train staff to deal with North Americans. This can range from the ludicrous (employing a full season of the sitcom Friends to teach Indians about US culture) to good (broad cultural trainings, accent neutralization training, slang, axioms and expressions training). You cannot skimp with this aspect of your assessment as this will likely be the most obvious clue to your customer that you have offshored the center.
· Time zones also play a role in the ongoing management of an offshore vendor; you need to plan to communicate at 5, 8, and 10 hours off the normal North American clock if you wish to stay on top of your partner. Waiting till the next day often means you can’t speak to who you want to and will likely lose another day before changes or adjustments can be made. When was the last time you had an internal crisis where you had the liberty of taking 3 days to fix it?
· Due Diligence is essential before you travel overseas to meet with a potential partner. Before you go, check their references, find a local lawyer, consultant and accountant or tax planner. You will need to know the implications of establishing a contract offshore. For example the laws of what country will govern the agreement? How will judgments be enforced if any are executed? How will disputes be resolved, what are the risks to any assets you send overseas etc.

The world seems to continually become a smaller place and outsourcing and offshoring are here to stay. But with the proper preparation any company can navigate these potentially dangerous waters and develop effective and meaningful partnerships.
[1] Perdue University- 92% of consumers judge a company based upon their experience with the company’s contact center.