Published on 19th June 2014 by Gemma Harding
The ‘Offshore Vs. Onshore’ Call Centre Debate: Onshore Is Still the Winner with Customers!
The offshore call centre industry has taken quite a bashing over the past few years. Repeated surveys and reports have shown that the British public remains highly critical of how offshore call centres perform and sceptical about their ability to safeguard customer privacy.
In this guide, we take a look at exactly what offshore call centres actually are and examine whether or not these recent criticisms are justified.
What is offshore outsourcing?
As the name suggests, offshore outsourcing is a business strategy that involves hiring external companies that are based in other countries to carry out a specific task. When it comes to customer services, the most common form of offshore outsourcing involves foreign call centres. In theory, by outsourcing a call centre to a foreign country, businesses can take advantage of a range of cost savings. Depending on who and where you choose to outsource to, this could include cost savings on labour and facility overheads, for example.
Offshore vs outsourced UK-based call centres: what you need to know
If you are interested in outsourcing your phone-based customer services, but are not fully comfortable going offshore, outsourced UK-based call centres are the alternative. Domestic call centres are still managed by external organisations, but are located within the UK. This means that although costs may be higher than offshore alternatives, the quality of service and customer satisfaction levels are also typically higher. This is generally because UK-based centres tend to be staffed by a much higher percentage of native English-speaking advisors who are more familiar with the UK’s culture and customs, meaning better communication and rapport-building is achieved.
On the other hand, offshore call centres can be based anywhere in the world. Countries such as India, the Philippines, and other developing countries are common choices in this regard. While the quality of service provided by offshore companies can be excellent, this is not always the case. Cultural differences and language barriers can lead to communication problems between customers and customer service advisors, which can result in frustration and a negative customer experience.
Recent revelations about data theft from offshore centres have only made matters worse and, given the choice between using a UK call centre and an offshore one, the vast majority of people will naturally choose one based in the UK. This has led quite a few companies to move their operations back to the mainland to avoid all the negative publicity.
While firms who can promise customers UK-only-based call centres may benefit in terms of PR, the additional costs involved – as well as problems of staff availability, recruitment and retainment – makes it infeasible for many firms to give up offshoring entirely. So how far would customers be willing to go in covering the extra costs involved? Will they pay more, wait longer or accept more automated services?
The company call-centres.com set out to answer these questions in a recent survey. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their results revealed that UK-based call centres were far more popular among the British public than foreign-based ones, with most respondents saying locally based services were either good or average. Call centres based overseas, on the other hand, were regularly described as poor or very poor.
Customers Willing to Pay More for Onshore
In a follow-up question, the survey asked respondents if they would be willing to use a foreign-based call centre if it meant paying 10% less for the service. Interestingly, three times as many people said they would still prefer to use an onshore service in such a case. This shows that people are willing to pay more if it results in better service for the customer. In fact, respondents were more likely to be influenced by other factors than cash incentives. For example, while automated services are an increasingly common feature of UK-based call centres to help offset the higher costs, marginally more people said they would prefer dealing with a live overseas agent than going through an automated service back home. While there will be some people who prefer to use automated services, call centres must recognise that a large number of customers will always prefer the option of talking to a real person.
Live Agents Vs. Automated Services
The chance to talk to a live agent actually makes more difference to most customers than waiting times. Another question posed by the call-centres.com survey was whether customers would prefer to have their call answered immediately by an offshore centre or wait an additional 3 minutes to talk to a UK-based agent.
A full 71% of respondents said they would prefer to wait if it meant they could speak to a local agent at the end. This is an important point for firms to consider, despite the problem of high labour costs and limited staff availability that has affected the ability of British-based call centres to deliver services promptly for customers.
Even with extra costs and additional waiting times factored in, most customers want to deal with UK-based live agents when they contact a call centre. According to call-centres.com’s survey, the main reason for this is not about protecting British jobs or even data security concerns but, instead, the lower quality service that is delivered by offshore call centres.
Until companies are able to address this highly negative perception of offshore call centre performance, they may have to accept that cheaper offshore services may cost companies far more in terms of negative PR and customer dissatisfaction. Recognising the long-term value of forging good customer relations is a key reason why so many companies are moving call centre operations back to the UK.