NBC's "Outsourced" Perpetuates 5 Call Center Myths

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Anyone who tuned in last Thursday for the premiere of NBC's comedy Outsourced about an American company that outsourced its call center to India, was treated not only to some Indian stereotypes, but some contact center misconceptions as well. Ben Rappaport is Todd Dempsy, who returns from a management training seminar to find that the entire call center at Mid America Novelties has been laid off. He moves to India to manage the new contact center where he encounters a group of call center misfits. He has his work cut out for him, and begins training them on crafting American accents and upselling "fake pooh."

Anyone who tuned in last Thursday for the premiere of NBC's comedy Outsourced about an American company that outsourced its call center to India, was treated not only to some Indian stereotypes, but to some contact center misconceptions as well.

Ben Rappaport is Todd Dempsy, who returns from management training to find that the entire call center at Mid America Novelties has been laid off. He moves to India to manage the new contact center where he encounters a group of Indian call center misfits. He has his work cut out for him, and begins training them on crafting American accents and upselling "fake pooh."While these issues came to the forefront in contact centers about a decade ago, the show also helps to perpetuate some other call center misconceptions. I spoke this week to call center outsourcer Sitel's Andrew Kokes, vice president of marketing for the Americas, who helped to debunk some of the show's myths.

Myth #1: Outsourcing=offshoring. Outsourced customer service doesn't exclusively live overseas. "This idea of outsourced offshoring goes back to the presidential messaging that John Kerry made...that outsourcing meant you were offshoring," Kokes said. For Sitel, the majority of contact center work is done in the U.S., with only a third done offshore.

Myth #2: India is the outsourcing capital of the world. Wrong. Kokes said that places like Nicaragua and Panama, which have a stronger affinity and proximity to the U.S., have actually become more popular for offshoring destinations. And the Phillipoines is still the hottest offshore market, given its labor quality and diverse mix of skillsets. "This idea that outsourcing automatically sends your work to India is a bit of a misnomer today," Kokes said.

Myth #3: Call center training involves crash courses in verbal skill. Kokes said that contact centers--whether they're outsourced or not--focus more today on listening skills and understanding customers. "Ten years ago training was around, 'I'll train you on accents and how to talk like a southerner,'" he said. "Training today has evolved to more than that."

Myth #4: The phone is the only agent tool. Today's agents work with email, chat, phone, SMS, and now social media. "The call center agent as a whole is really evolving," he said. And because of self service, what gets passed on to the contact center are more complex issues so there is a greater need for highly trained agents.

Myth #5: Americans are irate when they call India. Kokes believes that customers don't get angry when they hear a foreign accent; they get upset when they encounter a low level of comprehension and when their issue is not resolved. "I don't think anything about the customer getting irate has anything to do with where they are calling."

In summary, much of what the show addressed happened 10 years ago. "The show was out of date and behind the curve," he said. "The industry has matured and moved beyond that."

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