Friday, October 12, 2007

On-shore Call centres in decline.... is that the whole story?

It is very easy to think that call centres in high-cost Europe are an endangered species. Very easy, that is, if you read only the more sensational media.

A good example is this week's story 'Call Centre Jobs Under Threat' from the Sunderland Echo, Now this isn't to say that the prospect of 150 job losses isn't a very real threat for those on receiving end and it certainly isn't good news for a poorer region to loose jobs, but that isn't the whole story.

It's important to appreciate that this is 150 job out of 1,000 in the call centre. It's also that this is a home catalogue shopping business where the amount of business coming in from the telephone is static or reducing while the amount coming in from the web is generally increasing. The BBC has a decent overview of the challenges mail order companies have faced, and estimate that Littlewoods probbly now gets 33% of their traffic from the web rather than post or telephone.

These jobs aren't going offshore (at least as far as I can tell), instead they are probably going because of either better automation or because the company has got better at serving it's customers (that industry measure of 'first call resoloution'). This is partly because one agent can handle several e-mail concurrently, but that sort of multi-tasking is not such a good option for telephony. It's also important to bear in mind that Littlewoods is a company that has very tight margins in it's chosen market, the lower end of mail order. Crucially though, bad news makes headlines.

By comparison, 'beCogent wins House of Fraser Deal' may only mean 30 extra call centre jobs in Scotland, but it is a clear example of a retailer (as is Littlewoods) recognising the value of on-shore service. It's also not a bad news story, so gets much less coverage.

In the end, service will remain on-shore wherever there is a requirment for it to do so, and that includes language, value, branding and a whole range of other factors beyond cost.