For over two decades, the ability to outsource certain business processes to maximize profits has been an attractive feature to bottom-line-focused organizations. And rightly so—the cost savings can often be as much as 50% over US-based providers. Call centers make up the vast majority of this move toward offshore labor, and in that regard, the Philippines is the undisputed worldwide leader. As of 2017, 1.3 million Filipinos were employed as call center agents, generating US$22 billion dollars in revenue, which is expected to reach almost $28 billion by 2022.
“Many organizations looking to integrate the services of offshore call centers in the Philippines make the incorrect assumption that all offshore vendors are created equal. Nothing could be further from the truth. By focusing primarily on cost, at the expense of all other factors, they are setting themselves up for compromises on all levels of service and quality. A skilled, well-trained workforce, quality processes, cutting-edge technologies, and contemporary facilities all require investment. In essence, you get what you pay for,” says Ralf Ellspermann, CEO of PITON-Global, one of the Philippines’ leading mid-sized call centers.
For years, people have reported bad experiences with low-cost offshore call centers. First, there are the language issues. If customers feel that it’s a struggle to communicate, they will quickly lose patience, which can lead them to feel unimportant or even disrespected. Those are not emotions you want your customers to associate with your company. Although most Filipinos have a decent grasp of the English language, just knowing how to speak the language is not good enough when it comes to delivering a world-class customer experience. Only about 50% of English speakers in the Philippine BPO industry are considered proficient enough to be qualified for employment with premium Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) providers in the Philippines. These premier third-party outsourcing providers, as well as captive operators, understand the value of a well-trained and language-proficient workforce. Industry-leading call centers such as PITON-Global in Manila provide high-quality customer service at higher rates, typically charging around US$12-14 per agent hour. To the uninitiated, this may seem high for offshore services, but is still a 40-50% cost savings over standard onshore vendor rates.
“Superior English proficiency is not the only element that sets a premium provider apart from low-cost alternatives. Premium call centers in the Philippines invest heavily in training for their agents, which is a significant contributing factor in the quality of the service provided,” says Ellspermann. This includes weeks of training to ensure a flawless customer experience; these agents can communicate easily with people from a multitude of backgrounds. And mastering accents from the US, UK, and Australia isn’t the only goal. They also learn about other countries’ histories, current trends, and popular cultures.
So, who would you rather have talking to your customer—these highly trained and culturally fluent agents or those with merely functional levels of English?
Another aspect of investing in call center outsourcing that must be considered is your offshore partner’s investment in technology and quality facilities. Premium call centers in the Philippines don’t just revel in higher operating margins because their prices are slightly higher. They reinvest those capital expenditures into superior technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, omnichannel support, and interactive voice response (IVR), to name a few.
Facilities are another important distinction between premium and low-cost contact centers. Different facilities can have vastly different capabilities—especially when outsourcing overseas. Premium call centers in the Philippines, whether a third-party provider or a captive operator, invest heavily in well-maintained facilities and workplaces. This results in a safer work environment, less downtime or gaps in service due to building or equipment issues, and reduced energy costs. Quality facilities also go a long way toward attracting and retaining top talent, resulting in a happier workforce with higher morale and productivity.
“When doing the necessary due diligence on contact centers in the Philippines, service buyers should be aware that the hourly rate a provider charges often correlates directly to the level of service they can be expected to provide. Ask yourself, what is the cost of lost business when dissatisfied customers take their business elsewhere? What’s the cost of low productivity when people are not trained properly? What’s the cost of downtime when inferior technologies or facilities contribute to gaps in service? These are the types of questions that must be considered when choosing offshore contact centers in the Philippines or elsewhere.
Low-cost call centers in the Philippines are forced to make sacrifices across the board in terms of quality. This results in less qualified labor, poor processes, antiquated technologies, and substandard facilities. Premium vendors may charge a slightly higher rate, but they have the resources and capital to invest in the most skilled, highly trained workforce, excellent training and management, and first-rate technologies and facilities. All are needed to deliver a truly world-class customer experience. Outsourcing to call centers in the Philippines works, but the approach has to be right,” says Ellspermann.