For call centers, offshoring is a double-edged sword
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Head in the cloud
Fallout from using overseas contact centers has caused some firms to bring these operations back home.
"Dell, American Express, the major telco and wireless carriers — they've all brought their contact centers back to the United States," Taylor said.
The fact that these companies have done so is, to some degree, a statement of dissatisfaction with offshore contact center performance. However, the desire to save U.S.-based jobs, spurred by local tax incentives, also has provided companies with additional motivation to bring their customer-service functions back to American call centers, McDonagh said.
Still, the cost imperative has not fallen by the wayside.
"One of the biggest incentives to keep contact center jobs in the U.S. is the shift in technology that is making contact centers more affordable than ever before," McDonagh said.
"By shifting contact-center operations from traditional, premise-based software to the cloud, companies can transition from prohibitively expensive, capitally intensive spends to pay-as-you go monthly operating expenditures," she explained. "The cloud enables variability of volumes over time, so — like the offshore outsource model — it's easy and cost-effective for organizations to launch new campaigns, initiatives and programs only when they need them."
The move to the cloud means that contact centers no longer need to aggregate their workers in large telephone-equipped warehouses. And with the ubiquity of broadband, corporations now can create virtual contact centers. To the customer and the manager alike, these virtual contact centers are as well-connected and corporately integrated as any bricks-and-mortar facility. But they don't have the bricks-and-mortar costs that go with real facilities, which makes them far cheaper to run.
The irony is that cloud-based contact-center technology supports at-home agents that provide a low-cost, high-performance alternative to expensive bricks-and-mortar agents or bargain-basement offshore agents who don't understand the business or culture, according to McDonagh. In other words, IP-based technology has now made it affordable for people to once again provide contact-center service from their kitchen tables.
Granted, today they are using networked computers tied directly into company databases, and are communicating by voice, e-mail or text over commodity-priced IP connections. But the at-home model is otherwise the same, and for a very good reason. As was the case 50 years ago, it is cost-effective based on current prices and technologies.