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Global Call Center Development Print E-mail

Integrating outsourced customer service operations in countries such as China, India, Costa Rica, Canada, South Africa and the Philippines is a challenge for global service organizations. ITAP International offers services to improve customer experience that is rooted in our understanding of customer experience from a cross-cultural framework.  Cultural values define customer experience. There are some things that are nearly universal. No one enjoys waiting in a queue for a long time, but expectations regarding the urgency with which cases are handled vary greatly from one culture to another. This, as well as a long list of differences in customer experience expectations, should influence things such as selecting the location for your call center, matching agent competencies with customer experience expectations, developing agents to meet the culturally defined customer expectations, managing and coaching with full understanding of what customers want, and understanding call center quality with a deep cross-cultural understanding of what customers want.

ITAP provides the following call center services to improve these essential aspects of creating positive customer experience:


1. Location Selection
Beyond language and labor cost, culture is essential in determining the best location for your call centers. The good news is that the degree to which one culture differs from another is measurable using data from ITAP's Culture in the Workplace Questionnaire™. What is more, some dimensions are more relevant to short telephone conversations due to the nature of the situations that tend to occur during such interactions.  For example, the degree to which the customer and agent differ in the Power Distance dimension greatly impacts expectations of a superior-subordinate relationship versus a peer-to-peer interaction style.  ITAP can improve your location selection decision making simply by analyzing your customer footprint and basic demographic data in the context of our cross-cultural research. ITAP understands that cultural values are not the only location decision-making variable, but it is indeed one of them.     
2. Agent Selection

Most customer service contracts are structured to let the vendor handle agent recruiting and selection activities. While this is generally appropriate, ITAP believes it is in the buyer's interest to define the selection criteria (success factors or competencies) of customer service agents. ITAP's work in this area involves creating a competency model that is culturally suited to both customer experience expectations and the agent attitudes and behaviors. ITAP uses its proprietary competency software for all aspects of agent assessment and selection.  ITAP's competency tools are the only competency tools that allow for developing culturally appropriate competency models.

Next, ITAP puts in place a process for applying the competency model. For example, while traditional interview techniques ask questions such as "Tell me about yourself" or "What are your strengths?", ITAP designs interviews based on Behavior Event-based Interviewing (BEI) or Targeted Interviewing (TI). The BEI approach is important because the best indicator of future performance is past behavior.  ITAP designs interview questions that uncover what the candidate actually can do — not what the candidate believes or wants the interviewer to believe that he "would" do.

3. Agent Development

Orientation training in the offshore call center setting usually includes accent neutralization, language usage training, and some general training on cultural differences between the agent and the customer. ITAP's experience is that many such programs are incomplete. Agents can improve customer interactions through a deeper understanding of cultural differences. This is only possible by introducing an instrument such as the Culture in the Workplace Questionnaire™, an assessment tool that reveals personal cultural preferences along Hofstede's dimensions: Individualism, Power Distance, Certainty, Achievement and Time Orientation. By framing the culture training around the participants' results, defining the dimensions, introducing the differences in customer country/culture scores and the agent's individual score, the otherwise abstract and obscure topic of culture becomes relevant and tangible. To learn more about the Culture in the Workplace Questionnaire™, click here.

Simply transferring existing training programs overseas is not recommended, even in countries where English is commonly spoken (such as India, Canada, the Philippines and South Africa). In cases where this has already happened and damage  has already occurred (as is often the case), ITAP recommends a full cross-cultural learning audit. Conducting the cultural audit and adapting workforce development accordingly is important for several reasons:

A) Agents are likely to relate very differently to your products and services compared to your customers. For example, for credit card call centers, use of banks and attitudes about credit and debt can be fundamentally different from one country to another. Usage patterns of common items such as mobile phones and computers also vary, meaning learning materials and process documentation can include gaping assumptions. 
B) People from different cultural backgrounds have different learning styles. Simply adapting the training to the trainee's learning style is not the whole answer, however. A more effective approach is to make the learners aware of their learning styles and then design the lessons to be both familiar and unfamiliar. Unfamiliar lessons are productive in that they can introduce the learner to culturally different communication styles and expectations, taking agents out of their comfort zones and preparing them to interact with customers.
C) All learning for call center agents needs to include experiential learning (and not learning at the expense of your customers).
D) Due to high turnover levels in overseas call center trainers, the quality, clarity and consistency of your learning lie in the learning materials themselves as well as robust trainer certification processes.
E) Learning materials have to be mapped to both competencies and quality scores so there can exist a full understanding and definition of performance and how to improve it. 
4. Management and Coaching

Managing the performance of the offshore vendor is clearly a high priority. Beyond legal agreements and tracking metrics, cultural variables are perhaps even more important in management effectiveness. Cultural differences show up in areas such as how priorities get communicated, approaches to conflict, and desire to engage in personal conversations. The role of the coach as the person who rolls up his sleeves and says 'let me show you how to do it' is important everywhere, but the role is nuanced differently in different countries.  In some countries, the concept of the coach is so different and difficult to create that you might have to consider different management structures and practices. 

Using ITAP's tools and methods, managers assess employee performance with ITAP's competency tools.  For more information about ITAP's competency tools click here.

5. Quality Processes

The quality team must also benefit from the cross-cultural knowledge that now exists at the production level. ITAP will work with your quality professionals to add depth of understanding behind the quality scores and reporting practices in your operations.  Quality professionals, as the referees in the customer experience process, should help identify culturally rooted issues in partnership with managers, trainers and coaches.  Lastly, executive cross-cultural awareness allows C-level service officers to interpret and adjust quality reporting appropriately.

Contact ITAP now to schedule a meeting with one of our call center experts.   

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