Contact centres urged to look offshore for staff

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Contact centres urged to look offshore for staff

Australian contact centres need to look offshore to solve staffing issues, claims customer service outsourcing agency, Convergys.

Convergys’s statement comes on the heels of the 2008 Australian Contact Centre Industry Benchmark Study, which highlighted high levels of employee attrition in the contact centre industry.

Conducted by ACA Research, the study found staff turnover, difficulty in recruiting and inadequate headcount to be the industry’s three greatest challenges.

Staff attrition was ascribed to the fact that only one-third of contact centre staff view their job as a career, while other survey respondents described their job as part-time, gateway, and transition gigs.

“In Australia, a lot of industries just don’t see a contact centre job as a career,” said Max Tennant, Senior Account Executive of Convergys.

“Top that off with the highly transactional functions in most contact centre jobs, and it just doesn’t make it [contact centre work] an appealing job for young people,” he said.

Tennant suggests that contact centre operators move some functions offshore, where the ‘highly transactional, monotonous functions’ that are required may be considered appealing.

He named the Philippines and India as prime offshore locations due to the language and customer service skills that are available.

“Culturally, the offshore agents are a lot more open to these transactional tasks that Australian agents may find monotonous,” he said, describing ‘hierarchical’ tendencies in the Asian culture, and adding that offshored contact centres tend to pay three times the minimum wage in host countries.

Contact centre operators could direct specific customer requests to locations with staff adept at those functions, Tennant said, noting that while Indian contact centres have been found to excel in backoffice functions, staff in the Philippines traditionally provide a better customer service experience.

“If you ask your customers, ‘would you prefer an offshore or onshore agent’, they will ask for onshore, because that’s what they’re culturally used to,” he noted.

“But if you say, ‘look, here’s our situation -- you can wait 45 minutes for XYZ and our operating hours are 9-5 -- would you like 24/7 service and all these other options if we provide offshore agents?’ They will say yes.”

“It’s important that offshoring needs to be a part of an organisation’s overall strategy and is not just a cost savings thing,” he said.

Teleworking and process automation previously have been heralded as solutions to staffing problems in the Australian contact centre industry.

However, Tennant said that there are some transactions that once automated, do not provide a satisfactory customer experience, and expects there to be insufficient Australian teleworkers to provide the required headcount to satisfy customer demands around the clock.

Convergys maintains 84 contact centres worldwide, which house a total of 45,000 agent stations -- most of which are staffed around the clock, Tennant said.

A majority of Convergys’s facilities are located in the U.S., where the business originated. The company plans to direct more of its clients to its 9 contact centres in India, and 14 in the Philippines.
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