How to Field Overseas Calls (633 words)
By Lisa Yorgey Lester
Logistics and language skills are two reasons why it often pays to establish an overseas call center responsible for taking calls from international customers. The real question is whether to set up your own shop or outsource.
To decide if outsourcing your global call center operations is your best solution, consider your strategic focus and how your company is organized.
If the call center is the essence of your operation, you may want to establish your own overseas facility. This requires a hefty capital investment coupled with different, and often strict, labor laws, but may be worth the effort if you are fully committed to international direct marketing.
On the flip side, if you tend to outsource everything beyond your core competencies, you may want to outsource part, or all, of your operation overseas. It may also pay to outsource this function to a third party, if you are just beginning to test international markets or plan to proceed more slowly and with a limited investment. It's often far more cost-efficient to outsource.
By outsourcing your call center operation to a third-party, you alleviate the burden of investing and maintaining hardware, infrastructure, site rental and management time. Also, you don't have to gauge the volume of calls for which you'll need to staff up, which can be difficult at first.
A third-party call center also is adept at handling any "bureaucratic red tape" you likely will encounter, offers international direct marketing expert James Thornton. "It's easier to have your local service provider handle this, as well as local labor laws and other restrictions," he adds.
Thornton says a third-party call center also will be able to secure better telecommunications costs by pooling resources on behalf of many clients.
What's your criteria?
If you decide to go the outsource route, you'll need to develop a criteria of services before you send out a request for quotes from vendors. Sharon Melamed, senior vice president of global CRM solutions for Prestige International, says you need to be prepared to answer the following questions at a minimum:
> What is your estimated call volume? This will determine the number of staffers needed.
> What is the purpose of your operation? Will it act as a call center only, or will it also handle customer service and returns?
> Will you offer a toll-free number? This needs to be decided well in advance as a universal, free phone number takes approximately two months to order.
> What are your system requirements? A frame relay connection is needed if reps are to tap into your U.S.-based system in real time. This connection can take as long as two to three months to set up and will require the involvement of your IT team.
> What are your language requirements and in which media will reps need to communicate? Multimedia customer service agents require a different set of skills from that of telemarketing sales reps handling just calls in a multilingual or overseas call center. Not only must they be fluent in the required languages, but they also must possess written communication skills in the desired languages.
> What type of service will the reps perform? This will determine the level of skill required by the rep. For example, a software helpdesk requires skilled reps familiar with the software, capable of solving problems, who speak the desired language.
> What are the hours of operation? If you are a cautious start-up, you may not need round-the-clock service, which can save money.
Critical to the success of your outsourced call center operation is that you view your vendor as a partner, says Melamed. "You will still need to manage and train the vendor," she says. And, always visit the call center you plan to work with in advance.