Monday, March 30, 2009

HSBC redundancies and their call centres

It's always sad to see bad news on jobs and HSBC's announcement last week was no exception.

The BBC report is that while the bank says that 1,200 jobs are at risk, the unions are talking about up to 3,000 jobs potentially going. The jobs will go at an operation centre in Leamington Spa, (for about 280 positions), London will loose about 150 jobs and a call centre in Newport, south Wales, will be shut down according to an HSBC spokesman. The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that 70 of the job losses will be at HSBC's direct banking arm, First Direct.

What's particularly sad is that the Newport contact centre announced in June last year that it was creating 250 new jobs (I covered it here on the blog "HSBC creates 250 UK call centre jobs & offshore in decline") and presumably these will go as will all the existing jobs.

What is better news (and I've only seen reported discretely on the CCF website), is that the bank will be creating 200 jobs at a centre of excellence in Southampton and hopes many of the workers will re-locate.

Although the Unite union is angrily warning about the dangers of offshoring, I suspect that this is something of red herring. Most of the banks are moving IT and back-office offshore (see Lloyds TSB here or Barclays here on Finextra) and there is little sign that this will change. In the contact centre space I do detect that the march back onshore continues.

Although it is expensive to run a UK based contact centre, and the credit crunch is hurting many organisations badly, it is becoming clearer that the real problem in contact centre is broken processes rather than simply the cost of agents. Add in the brand damage that a bad move off-shore can do, and I suspect only the lower end of the market may continue with a push to offshore their contact centres. Of course, consumers can't see where their web-page was coded, so the chances are that IT will accelerate its push offshore.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Indian Call Centre Fraud and the BBC News

The BBC was very excited about its story "Overseas credit card scam exposed " that it ran on the Thursday night news bulletin.

While they did make some good points, they played too much for my liking on the fear around offshoring. the BBC were correct to highlight that India has no equivalent of the UK Data Protection Act and that consumers dealing with an overseas call centre need to appreciate UK legislation may not apply to their data.

The problem is that the main thrust of the report was on what appears to be the theft of data (ironically enough) from the call centre of the security firm Symantec. Data theft is an extensive problem, but it's not one that just happens in India. Only last week, CCF (the UK contact centre news site) was reporting that a British Airways call centre employee had been jailed for two and a half years for data theft. Similarly CCF also reported at the start of March that a Barclays call centre worker had been jailed for obtaining money by deception.

This isn't just a recent phenomenon - this blog has written on thefts at RBS and Barclays by call centre staff (see posts "Call centre worker gaoled for data theft" and "Security, Call Centres and Fraud "). In short theft by employees is a problem in call centres, as it is in many other businesses, but it's not just an Indian problem.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting a good cold call ...and from a utility company too!

I was amazed yesterday to be on the receiving end of a telemarketer's call that worked ...and from a utility company too!

I'm at home on paternity leave (hence why the last post was 24th Feb - apologies), so I don't normally get these kind of calls. I normally hate telemarkets because it is done so badly (see blog posts from last year like Banks criticised by BBC for automated calls" and "Further thoughts on outbound in the UK....." ), so I was surprised to find it done well.

This call worked because it was done by a person. A lot of outbound telemarketing is now done by pre-recorded messages now. I hate that. My view is that if you want a customer's business, then show them that you value the customer by having a person make the call. At this point, advocates of the pre-recorded outbound message point to how cost-effective it is for high-volumes and low response rates. My suggestion would be to understand and target your customers better, otherwise you're still wasting money however cost effectively you are doing it.

The outbound call was from my utility company and highlighted the difference between their offers and British Gas when it came to additional services. Now British Gas have had their customer service problems (see my post last year "The British Gas, the utility industry, customer service and consultants" for an overview of their efforts to sue Accenture over a Siebel implementation), but I've always been pleased with their service.

What the agent did on this outbound call was to highlight pricing differences that related to me and the specific type of services I needed. She then offered to send me all the details by e-mail, so that even if I wasn't prepared to sign-up over the phone, I could look through the specific offer she had worked out with me at my leisure. I was impressed, as this was what I wanted and and how I like to buy things - I don't like to sign up to things without having all the details laid out clearly. The call used multi-channel appropriately (telephone for relationship building and discussion, e-mail for presenting a detailed offer) and that was good to see.

Perhaps the previous research last year that suggested utilities were the worst call centres in the UK (see post "Are utility companies really the worst call centres? ") will need to be revisited!