Near-Shore versus Offshore: the Call Center dilemma

Near-Shore versus Offshore: the Call Center dilemma

There are numerous options for businesses looking for a contact center partner: not all of them are created equal.

Contact centers are dotting the globe. From India to the Philippines, South America to Mexico, for businesses and nonprofits, the options are vast. What’s the right approach? Should you opt for a near-shore or offshore contact center?

To some, the answer might appear obvious: You pick the most affordable option.

Businesses typically select a contact center partner based on cost, location, cultural considerations (like language), or a combination of the three. Most often, however, price wins the battle. But, as is the case with many things, from your coffee maker to your call center, the cheapest option isn’t always the best.

What if the least expensive option damages the value of your brand?

Brand equity is priceless, it is the intangible value earned through years of hard work. And, it can be damaged in minutes. Think of your favorite brand, they’ve spent considerable time and effort (as well as money), to develop a relationship with you, earn your trust, and keep you coming back. At some point, we’ve all been let down by a favorite brand, or any brand, for that matter.

When a business lets you down, the process of earning your trust again is an uphill battle. The bad taste lingers beyond the poor experience, and sometimes, there’s no coming back.

The hard work and money you’ve invested in building a successful brand, and the trust you’ve earned with your audience, can be eliminated with just one bad call. While the cheapest offshore (or onshore) contact center is an attractive solution, the probable harm negates any potential gains (this includes saving money).

Brand equity is difficult to earn and easy to lose.

Why is near-shore the best solution.

Enculturation:
Noun
The gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a culture or group by a person, another culture, etc.

Enculturation is one of the most significant factors to consider when selecting a contact center partner for your business or nonprofit. According to Wikipedia, “Enculturation is the process by which people learn the dynamics of their surrounding culture and acquire values or norms appropriate or necessary in that culture and worldviews.”

Yes, while the offshore contact center in India or the Philippines you’ve selected offers English-speaking agents, those agents likely lack the knowledge and first-hand cultural experience to relate to your customers. From a philosophical standpoint, meeting your customers where they are, i.e., having the ability to empathize, understand, and connect to them from a cultural perspective, is a factor critical to success.

“Enculturation is the process where the culture that is currently established teaches an individual the accepted norms and values of the culture of society where the individual lives. The individual can become an accepted member and fulfill the needed functions and roles of the group. Most importantly the individual knows and establishes a context of boundaries and accepted behavior that dictates what is acceptable and not acceptable within the framework of that society. It teaches the individual their role within society as well as what is accepted behavior within that society and lifestyle.” Conrad Phillip Kottak, American Anthropologist, in Window on Humanity

We learned this the hard way.

ListenTrust operated a contact center in beautiful Belize. Our agents were highly trained and spoke English masterfully, as, for most of them, English is their first language (it is the official language of Belize). We assumed, incorrectly as it turns out, that a mastery of the English language is the only component necessary to hire and train a team of exceptional agents.

Take it from us speaking perfect English isnt the only factor for determining a successful call.

Our agents in Belize, skilled as they are, were unable to make a connection with American customers. It isn’t easy for the average Belizean to travel to the United States. As a result, they were unable to relate to the kinds of conversation unique to American callers. For example, topics related to sports in the United States, American films or television, or references unique to an American audience, went over the head of our culturally unfamiliar representatives. Our agents grew frustrated, we became frustrated and, most significantly, customers were unhappy.

We learned, through trial and error that language alone does not make up for lack of cultural understanding.

Conversely, agents stationed at our Hermosillo, Mexico contact center, many of which have spent time living and working in the United States, possess a mastery of the English language and understand the subtle (and not-so-subtle) cultural nuances of an American audience. Where, in Belize, building rapport with an American caller was nearly impossible due to a substantial cultural barrier; in Hermosillo, we’ve witnessed the opposite.

Our Hermosillo-based contact center agents excel at building rapport with a U.S-based audience. This is almost entirely due to their familiarity with the United States from both a cultural and language perspective.

We’re not too close to the border.

It’s worth pointing out, Hermosillo, unlike Tijuana which plays home to many contact centers, has proven to be an ideal location for agent success not too far from the American border and not too close this is a distinction we should discuss. Turnover within call centers in Tijuana is disproportionately high when compared to Hermosillo. Tijuana is home to a transient population of workers just passing through. This makes it virtually impossible for border-close contact centers to build a base of skilled workers with the kind of professional experience that can be established only through tenure. It also means contact centers in Tijuana are populated with agents unfamiliar with the deeper characteristics of an American audience and they won’t be able to relate to your callers.

We should discuss accent.

There is a common perception that agents in a Mexico-based near-shore contact center, will turn off a U.S.-based audience due to their accent. We’ve never found this to be an issue; our highly-skilled, expertly trained agents sound no different than any number of Hispanic individuals you’re likely to encounter in your own workplace. The likelihood that an offshore contact center will be unable to compensate for issues related to accent, however, is high.

ListenTrust is the ideal near-shore partner for your business or nonprofit.

If you’d like to learn more about our team of skilled, culturally aware agents, and how ListenTrust can help to enhance the brand equity of your business or nonprofit, please contact Tom Sheppard, VP Business Development, at: tsheppard@listentrust.com.