A certain television commercial for Discover Credit Card always amuses me. You know the one. If you haven’t seen it, here is a short synopsis.
The commercial opens on a scene with a little building located somewhere in Siberia. Inside, a bearded man in a sweater sits amid dozens of ringing and blinking older model phones. He answers the phone in a heavy Russian accent, “Thank you for calling USA Prime Credit, my name is Peggy. What is problem please?” The caller, who is calling from his home in America says, “Peggy? Sure. Well, suddenly it looks like a main charge of $35, an annual fee has been added to my account. Tell me this is a mistake.” Peggy says, “Yes”. The caller says, “Are you saying yes or are you asking yes”. Peggy seems at a loss for words and gingerly hangs up the phone. The caller says, “Peggy?”
While the commercial is an exaggerated example of what can go wrong when functions are outsourced to foreign countries, it is a very realistic example of the kind of response a typical customer would have. If you’ve ever called a company and found yourself on the other end of the line with someone whose native language is not English, you’ve probably had a similar reaction.
Of course, the commercial ends before we see what the customer does next. We can only guess. He might just give up and chalk it up as one of those frustrating life experiences over which he has not control. Then, again, he could decide not to do business with this company anymore. And, I suppose many companies who choose to outsource to foreign countries are willing to sacrifice customer satisfaction and loyalty if they can save enough money. However, unhappy customers can do a lot more damage than taking their business elsewhere.
Within minutes, unhappy customers can broadcast their bad experiences to millions of people around the world over the internet through social media. This type of bad publicity can do irreparable damage to a company’s reputation and brand. Therefore, when weighing the pros and cons of outsourcing, companies need to look beyond short term financial gains to the type of long term damage it could cause to their brand.
In a previous article on this blog, “Customer Complaints Are Good for Business”, we reviewed Pete Blackshaw’s book, “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World” which reveals the dangers of underestimating the damage unhappy customers can do.
However, there can be a silver lining in the cloud of customer complaints. Research indicates that your unsatisfied customers, when satisfied, are ten times more loyal than happy customers. Eventually, they could become some of your most vocal brand ambassadors. Therefore, it is critical that you identify unhappy customers early and do everything you can to satisfy them because a complaint is actually a great marketing opportunity.
Let me share a recent personal experience where I became an unhappy customer. I had been planning on getting a smart phone for quite some time. After doing considerable research and due diligence, I already knew which phone I wanted to purchase. The only remaining questions were when I would purchase it and how much I was going to have to pay for it.
So, when the phone I had been using began to automatically switch me over to incoming calls and cut off whatever call I was on, I knew it was time. After receiving advice from a very reliable source (someone who always buys the best products at the lowest price possible), I decided to purchase my new HTC EVO 4G at RadioShack and get my cellular service through Sprint. Since all the stores were closed and they were offering a $50 savings, I went online. That’s when my nightmare began.
I couldn’t do what I wanted to on the RadioShack website because I needed to update my husband’s account to a family plan and add my line to it. So, I had to call the toll free number to make it happen.
Right from the get-go it was clear that English was not the first language of the sales representative who answered the phone. When I asked him to repeat something he said (which I did often) he would repeat verbatim what he had just said, which reminded me of the Chatty Cathy doll my daughter had when she was little. The doll had a string that played several pre-recorded phrases when you pulled on it.
He must have received training on how to out people at ease by saying their name because every time he started a sentence, he said my name. However, after hearing my name repeated at the beginning of every sentence for over an hour, it had the opposite effect on me. It was downright annoying.
Now, it is important for me to state that I am completely sympathetic to the plight of people who work for outsourcing companies in India and other countries. On top of obvious language and cultural barriers, they sometimes have the handicap of long delays in sound transmission due internet traffic (yes, most all calls are transmitted through the internet). As an added challenge, many foreign workers employed by outsourcing companies work out of their homes. Such must have been the case with my sales representative because I kept hearing the sound of children in the background.
When my foreign-born sales representative launched into a series of queries about my personal life, my irritation escalated with each question-Now, Susan I am going to ask you some questions before I can process your order. Susan, do you have children? Susan, how long is your commute to work? Susan, what is your social security number? That triggered an alarm. But, when I asked him why he needed my social security number, he replied-Susan, we need to have your social security number in order to process your order, as if that explained everything.
By the end of the call, the only thing worse than my frustration wasmy anxiety about how tempting it might be for a worker living in a country with widespread poverty to steal my identity. According to a 2005 World Bank estimate, 41%f India falls below the international poverty line of US$ 1.25 a day. And, if my worst fears were realized, what recourse would I have?
The following morning, the nightmare that had begun the night before resumed when I received an email from the RadioShack subcontractor asking for much of the same information I had given the sales representative the night before. To add insult to injury, when my phone arrived, a copy of the invoice was included showing the $35 activation fee that my sales representative had promised me I wouldn’t be charged!
This prompted an immediate call to customer service at RadioShack. Now, what do you suppose was the first language of the female customer service representative who answered the telephone? Whatever it was, it wasn’t English. In fact, she seemed to have memorized a whole d a whole new series of Chatty Cathy phrases. This time, I stopped the aborted attempts at communication before I completely lost it and asked to speak to her supervisor. Ironically, while English seemed to be the supervisor’s first language, he worked for an outsourcing company in India. This seemed like an exercise in futility since I was calling to complain about the outsourcing company in India.
In response to my concern about the $35 activation fee, the English speaking supervisor told me I had to wait until I received my first bill from Sprint and they would remove it. However, when I contacted Sprint, they told me I had to work it out with RadioShack. So, once again, I tried to contact Radio Shack headquarters. But every phone number I called was answered by an outsourced worker or subcontractor. So, what do you think the chances are that Radio Shack will ever hear about the problems I experienced? My guess is slim to none unless they are listening on the internet and pick up this post.
My take away from this situation is that the lousy $50 I saved by going to RadioShack was not worth the aggravation. What I concluded about RadioShack was that either they have no idea or don’t care about the bad experiences their customers have when dealing with them. One thing is for sure. As a result of this experience, they’ve lost me as a customer. Perhaps even more serious, because I shared my experience on this blog, hundreds or even thousands of other potential customers may have second thoughts about doing business with them.
In summary, I am not suggesting that outsourcing or subcontracting is bad. If fact, it can be the most economical and practical way for a company to perform functions where they lack the competence and/or can’t respond effectively to peak demands.
However, when the outsourcing or subcontractor is located in a foreign country, it is imperative that they implement quality control measures to eliminate as many barriers as possible to a great customer experience such as language, culture and/or technology. It is also critical that these companies make it as easy as possible for customers to connect with them and provide feedback as to how well their outsourcing or subcontracting company is doing. Otherwise, the company will risk negative publicity in articles like this.
I would love to know your thoughts and experiences relative to outsourcing. Please leave your comments at the end of this article. If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at email@example.com.
Posted by: Susan Fronk