Britain is ending its long-distance love affair with foreign call centres. However, this has raised the long-standing issue of high costs in the industry.
Gary Williams, Director of Sales and Consultancy at Spitch explores how onshore call centres relative costs can be addressed with technology.
The biggest problem affecting call centres is constraints on budget. 80.6% of centres reported this as an issue affecting them in 2018. There is one major reason for the universality of this problem, and that is wage costs. The large numbers of employees involved in running an effective call centre operation means that this is a perennial problem affecting businesses in the sector.
The offshore move – and its return journey
Beginning in the 1990s large businesses began outsourcing their call centre needs abroad, most notably to India. Lured by cost reductions of up to 40% it seemed a natural fit for many operators. However, one of the biggest trends over the last decade is the return of call centres to the UK.
This has occurred for two primary reasons, the first being that the emergence of India as an economic superpower in recent years. Since the beginning of the 1990s India’s GDP has risen from 316.7 billion USD in 1990 to an estimated 3.202 trillion USD in 2020, an increase of over 1000% in 30 years.
The sustained economic growth of India has in turn led to rising wages in the country which have themselves approximately doubled since 1994. This has meant that the cost savings associated with moving operations to India has been reduced substantially in recent years.
This has been coupled with examples of increasing customer dissatisfaction with the services provided by foreign call centres. Issues associated with overseas call centres such as difficulties in being understood by staff and a perceived reduction of jobs in the UK as a result of outsourcing has meant that it has become a public relations and brand reputation issue as well as a financial one. As such, companies have been moving their call centres back to the UK, helping to generate positive coverage in the media.
The move by call centres to bring their operations back to the UK, however, has happened in conjunction with an upturn the employment market in the country as it emerged from the 2008 financial crash. The power, therefore, no longer rests solely in the hands of the employer. This has meant that in order to secure the best talent for their centres, businesses have had to offer increased wages.
The costs associated with the running of call centres has been further affected by increased regulations in the sector. Stricter regulations have raised the level of auditing necessary for call centres to perform as a part of their everyday operations.
Auditing calls, to maintain adherence to regulations, is a costly endeavour for call centres. In some instances, agents can be kept away from talking to new customers whilst they transcribe previous calls for auditing services. In other cases, centres have to employ specialist services to take on the transcription requirements. It is, therefore, not only a cost to a business but also reduces the capacity for the centre to take calls.
How can call centres today expect to balance their costs with the need to provide a good service for customers?
A third way?
With budgeting being such a universal problem for call centres, business leaders have often looked to technology in order to help reduce their costs.
One innovation that has the ability to immediately reduce costs for operators is Voice Driven Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Voice Driven IVR merges voice recognition technology with artificial intelligence (AI). The voice recognition software interprets what the customer is saying, allowing AI algorithms to direct them to the correct agent based on their query. This reduces the processing time per call by 20% on average.
This, in turn, increases the number of calls agents are able to handle, with the robot taking on the role of the administrative operator. This increase in productivity has the ability to significantly reduce the costs of running a call centre as a result of the technology used.
Another benefit that can be achieved as a result of the use of IVR is an improvement in customer service. An automated system takes many of the administrative tasks away from operators. This means that the call centre can focus on hiring or moulding staff that specialise in specific areas of the business. This increases their ability to respond positively to customers’ enquiries as their knowledge increases around their specialist subjects.
Through specialisation, operators become more valuable to a company as their ability to respond to customers improves. Their relative cost to added value is therefore improved as a result. IVR, therefore can increase both the productivity and value of a call centre staff, improving its relative cost to businesses and making onshore centres more viable.
Even with IVR, the costs of maintain compliance are still an issue for many call centres. Automated compliance monitoring is the way forward for businesses to combat these increased costs. A monitoring compliance solution automatically checks call adherence to the corresponding script and flags any deviations. This means only calls with deviations need to be checked and even then, only the deviations themselves. This reduces the resources needed to audit calls, reducing costs and increasing value for the call centres.
About the Author
Gary Williams is Director of Sales and Consultancy at Spitch. Spitch deliver precise Natural Language Processing as a part of Artificial Intelligence to improve customer experience.