Welcome to the new blog of Better for Everyone, the UK call centre with intelligence, integrity and initiative based in Bradford, West Yorkshire!

The traditional call centre approach has earned the industry its awful sweatshop image and reputation for terrible customer service. I knew there was potential for something much better and that creating my own company with a better, more ethical approach to call centre services was the right thing to do.

Through this blog, we’ll keep you informed of our news and let you know our thoughts on what’s going on in the industry and in management generally, so do keep coming back.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The FSA could really make a difference to the quality of service we get from the banks... but could it ever really happen...?

Currently, the Banking Code Standards Board (BCSB) monitors and enforces voluntary Banking Codes which govern banks’ day to day relationships with their customers. From November, these arrangements will be replaced by new FSA rules which all banks, building societies and credit unions must follow.

The FSA claims that through regulation, they will also ensure that the quality of customer service is maintained long after becoming a new customer. Apparently, there will be a new rule to make sure service remains prompt, efficient and fair for the duration of the relationship with the customer. And it looks like the FSA may fine firms if they fail to comply with the new rules to the detriment of their customers.

I dug a bit deeper and read the policy statement (Financial Services Authority Regulating retail banking conduct of business - http://www.fsa.gov.uk/pubs/policy/ps09_06.pdf), and was amazed to find that a few respondents to the consultation requested guidance on what is a prompt, efficient and fair level of service!!! The policy statement did not address this.

It’s a sad fact, but I really don’t think the banks know how to do this. They’ll probably respond to the rules by agreeing wholeheartedly that they need to care about their customers, and arguing that well-trained staff who are following the appropriate procedures are best placed to deliver excellent service. I should imagine then, that they’ll set in train a number of initiatives such as customer care programmes, training staff, and changing procedures to avoid the fines. Well that should improve service, eh?

Unfortunately, whilst approaches like these might seem initially to be the answer to improving service quality, none of these lines of attack will be effective in the long run, because they simply don’t address the root cause of the matter. This is because an integral part of the problem lies with the targets that are put in place by the banks to ensure they deliver a prompt, efficient and fair level of service.

Regrettably, these targets aren’t linked to the needs or wants of the banks’ customers, usually measuring things that are of little consequence to the individual customer, like call durations or average abandoned rates, time taken for each aspect of work activity and force the managers and team leaders to focus on productivity – to demonstrate they are delivering a quality service (and now we all own many of them, value for money)!

Before taking steps to using regulation and fines as a stick with which to beat the banks, the FSA needs to think about the impact of such action on customer service. They should pause to think, take stock and consider how they might encourage the banks to develop a longer term, more customer centric approach to their relationships and dealings with customers.

By encouraging the banks to work to understand what customers are saying when they contact them, customer needs and how best to meet them, and assessing aspects of service delivery that are of importance to customers, the FSA could really make a difference to the quality of service we get from the banks… but could it ever really happen…?

Unfortunately, this blogger isn't optimistic....

Friday, 24 April 2009

T Mobile should try to save money and offer a better service to their customers!!!

So, T Mobile is thinking about sacking call centre workers in Scotland and outsourcing over 400 jobs to the Philippines. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the financial attractiveness of the Philippines with its lower cost base. And suppliers argue their case by talking about better quality and improved processes, flexible work practices and pools of well-educated staff as well as exploitation of different time zones. But is it really as good as it sounds?

The benefits

The Philippines is an up and coming location for call centre outsourcing and has a workforce with many English-speaking graduates. As a general rule, large savings on salary costs are reported. For example, a call centre worker in the Philippines might earn 50% less than their counterpart in the UK. The Philippines are 7 hours ahead of GMT, which is excellent for back office processing, analysis and programming as turnaround time can be reduced in the UK as work is done ’during the night’.

Excellent financial incentives are offered by the governments of offshore locations keen to attract UK business. For example, the Philippine government is offering significant fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to attract foreign direct investment in these industries as part of the 2006 Investment Priorities Plan (IPP).

The disadvantages

Political instability in many offshore locations results in a need for special provisions for disaster recovery and force majeure events. For example, plans may need to be in place for electronically moving all data and staff out of the country to a ‘safer’ location with the same connectivity capability.

The legal systems of offshore locations are not the same as ours: for example, whilst India has contract law and copyright protection in place, the legal processes are very long and drawn-out. Furthermore, it can be difficult to comply with UK requirements.

Whilst the costs of salaries are lower than at home, total labour cost savings are much more modest. Deloitte and Touche have suggested savings are as low as 10%. This is due to ‘hidden costs’ associated with doing business in, for example, the Philippines that consume the bulk of the savings. Such costs might include travel, communications, equipment, and management of the offshore operation as well as costs of redundancies in UK managerial oversight are some of these. Furthermore, pay is increasing due to increased demand which is in turn driving costs up.

Public perception of offshoring is not good: DTI research shows that UK consumers have a negative attitude towards offshoring, with “a significant minority” that have either moved or plan to move suppliers away from those organisations which provide offshore customer service.

Many problems encountered lie with the service level agreements companies put in place to ensure they get what they’ve paid for! SLAs force the managers of the outsourcer to focus on productivity - and quality goes out of the window. Furthermore, cultural and language differences are cited by many as a major challenge for dealing with offshore locations. If work needs to be undertaken during UK working hours, this might be the night in the Philippines, which causes issues for getting staff: hot climates make sleeping during the day less straightforward than at home!

Finally, the impact of job losses on the Scottish economy should not be forgotten.

So what should T Mobile do?

In the light of a smaller than anticipated cost saving and increasing salaries, it seems sensible to suggest that increasing productivity at home would offset the cost saving advantages afforded by the Philippines and similar offshore locations. Not only that, but the issues associated with offshoring would be avoided.

So the challenge is to change the way they work… They need to find a call centre outsourcer that has a better way of doing things - delivering quality more efficiently to compete with offshore locations.

The answer is not something new – it lies in what happened in the Japanese automotive manufacturing industry over 50 years ago. Instead of focusing on productivity, T Mobile need to find an outsourcer that will focus on quality, and doing exactly what’s needed first time, every time, then their productivity will be better as a natural result.

Better quality means lower operating costs, lower prices, improved market share and company growth – without having to offshore!

Come on T Mobile – save money and offer a better service to your customers!!!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Come on RBS - rise to the challenge!

The Financial Times today has reported that Royal Bank of Scotland is cutting up to 9,000 jobs in areas such as call centres as a means of reducing costs.

If only the top brass at RBS realised that by having a different management perspective, measuring what matters to customers, and empowering call centre staff to take the time to do things “right first time”, they could reduce complaints and repeat calls. Not only would this improve service, but morale would improve, as would productivity.

Blimey! That would mean RBS could save money on recruitment, training and covering sickness absence and only make redundant the additional and unnecessary headcount they’re carrying. And while they’re doing that, they could claw back market share by being the best, which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be too arduous!

If RBS did that, it would really shake up the market and address the issues faced by the financial services industry, whilst improving the experience of end customers… come on RBS – rise to the challenge!!!