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Call centre jobs

 
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Fewer call-centre jobs soon, anywhere ?

Bad employees are the call-center industry's most famous problem. "Absenteeism is a huge issue," says Tiffany Riley, of Blue Pumpkin Software, which markets scheduling software that, in a call center with 2,000 ringing telephones, might be used to make sure that enough Spanish-speaking agents are on duty during the hours when Spanish speakers tend to call. "Or they know how to trick the phone switch, so they get fewer calls."
And "turnover in the contact centers is worse than in the fast-food industry," says Matt McConnell, founder of e-learning firm Knowlagent. In most call centers, that means anywhere from 50% to 150% turnover per year.
As a result, many firms are looking at call centers in far-flung and typically struggling economies. This year's gathering was the first to devote an entire corner of the convention floor to "offshore outsourcing," with 52 countries represented in some fashion. Many executives and foreign-investment-promotion types talk in predictable, cheap-labor terms. "I started a call center in the United States in a women's prison," says Ronald Bell, whose small firm, Bell Systems, now operates four facilities in India. He grins. "There are a lot of similarities, in terms of having a captive workforce."
Other companies are pushing high-tech fixes. Two firms, Nuance Communications and SpeechWorks International, have rolled out a new generation of voice-recognition software that handles mundane requests as well as any live operator would -- really, it does! -- without the wait and at a fraction of the cost. Take "Claire," an alternative to touch-tone menus that Nuance developed for Sprint PCS. "She's about 33, attractive, loves her job, and you never have to worry about her. She works 24-7," says Lynda Kate Smith, Nuance's chief marketing officer.


Is captivity a desirable trait now ?
regards
[ August 06, 2003: Message edited by: HS Thomas ]
 
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Originally posted by HS Thomas:
Fewer call-centre jobs soon, anywhere ?


Is captivity a desirable trait now ?
regards
[ August 06, 2003: Message edited by: HS Thomas ]


Absolutely. Some of the big selling points for offshore call centers:

  1. Employee loyalty
  2. Low turnover
  3. Employees don't see job as stepping stone
  4. Lower salaries


  5. Well, those days are gone. Indian call centers have banded together and announced that anyone changing employers more than 3 times in 2 years is blacklisted because people were hopping for higher salaries and it was getting out of hand. There have also been complaints that Indian CC employees don't see the job as a career, but as a stepping stone.
    I'm afraid that I don't know if the rot has reached places like the Phillipines, though unconfirmed sources tell me that employees in Mexico and Costa Rica have been gaming the system.
 
HS Thomas
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Oh no! That means I'll have to give up Ajith , my oh-so personal call manager who's oh-so persistent in trying to sell me some American Life insurance just in case I get crushed by a massive air-liner dropping from the sky. The probability of this happening is on the increase. And I'll have to get used to "Claire".
Given , a toss-up , I much prefer Ajith.

I suspect Claire will be listening to such inane remarks that the waiting times might be hours!
regards
 
HS Thomas
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Can't delete this duplicate. What happened to the Delete post check-box?
[ August 06, 2003: Message edited by: HS Thomas ]
(I deleted it for you. A temprary restriction required because of some "pranksters" that are plaguing us for a while < sigh >. - Cindy)
[ August 06, 2003: Message edited by: Cindy Glass ]
 
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I have applied for several call centre jobs already and I got rejected for all of them, some just ignored me.
 
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If I here a deley on the line when calling a call centre, I just put the phone down. That's the only way to keep jobs in your country. I have nothing against India, but I live in England and I want to work too.
Maybe Karma is working itself out.
 
Tony Collins
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Originally posted by Tony Collins:
If I hear a deley on the line when calling a call centre, I just put the phone down. That's the only way to keep jobs in your country. I have nothing against India, but I live in England and I want to work too.
Maybe Karma is working itself out.

 
HS Thomas
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Thanks Cindy. People might have thought it was another deley.
regards
 
Tim Holloway
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http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1104_2-5061438.html
This is a story I've been hearing from more than one source lately. I don't give it full creedence, since I've never found it that hard to shift accents for extended periods of time (around here a Lynyrd Skynrd accent can come in right handy at times). And since working a night shift has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Rotating shifts are the real killers.
OTOH, I know from my spies that even American call center workers are subject to a daily barrage of stress/abuse from people who've just spent the last 45 minutes being told by a robot how important their call is, and no few will exhibit hostility at even the suspicion that the person on the other end is "some dam' furriner taking good Ammurican jobs".
 
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Hi,
My experience with them is that the rept have no clue what are they saying. They just read off from a knowledgeware clips. The rept do not copying westerner accent, but have westerner name other ethnics also have this kind of behavior. They can not handle the difficulty as smooth as westerner because probably they have not raise in the culture "right to sue and right to defend."
Regards,
MCao
 
Tim Holloway
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Originally posted by Matt Cao:
Hi,
My experience with them is that the rept have no clue what are they saying. They just read off from a knowledgeware clips. The rept do not copying westerner accent, but have westerner name other ethnics also have this kind of behavior. They can not handle the difficulty as smooth as westerner because probably they have not raise in the culture "right to sue and right to defend."
Regards,
MCao


Employers don't want people with a clue - that'd cost more money (you did see my Dilbert reference earlier this week, right? ). Actually, right after I posted that, I ran across a USAToday article dedicated specifically to the cluelessness of reps and how they were often used as part of a scheme to get the customers to do the Beta testing (on production products, no less! No wonder software testers can't get paid jack!)
Support call centers are viewer as a pure cost item by most companies - use the cheapest people, turn them over often so they won't get longevity raises, keep them stupid, squeeze them into coercing the client to use the support website (it's cheaper). Use cheap, defective knowledge-base software in place of intelligent tech-reps. It's a pretty sordid business, on the whole.
Much has been written about "charm schools". But it's a lot harder to remember to do the reflexive cultural things. I've heard reports that Indian reps are prone to sit and wait for the user to state their problem. US users apparently are expecting the rep to ask what their problem is. Both sides get irritated.
Ironically, some of this may be because the reps are warned not to do the normal socializing things, since much of what passes for business ice-breaking in India (and, for that matter, parts of the US in simpler days) are grounds for complaints and lawsuits these days.
 
HS Thomas
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cluelessness of reps and how they were often used as part of a scheme to get the customers to do the Beta testing (on production products, no less! No wonder software testers can't get paid jack!)


Do you mean that the cluelessness of these reps was seen to be a huge advantage? So keep them clueless ?
If I were looking to make a career in Call centres (or manage one
) I'd expect a Call-centre rep to operate like a salesman. They'd be trained in the products , possibly in product development giving feedback what they love or hate about the products. The reps chosen should reflect the interests, cultural values , income bands of the population (or aspiring to the higher income bands and fit somewhere on the ladder). Salaries should be proportional to income generated (bonuses). Most of the time , you get the feeling when cold-called that the rep would sooner rather the conversation ended as much as you do. That seem such a waste of everyone's time.
Waiting for the story where a call-centre rep becomes Salesperson of the year. In for a very long wait !
regards
[ August 09, 2003: Message edited by: HS Thomas ]
 
HS Thomas
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The award may just be won by a bot , a vRep!


A Chat with a Virtual Customer Service Rep
By Beth Cox
April 27, 2001

How far are we from virtual customer service reps -- bots, if you will -- that are absolutely indistinguishable from human sales clerks? Bots that could pass a Turing Test -- leaving you unaware if you are conversing with a human being or a computerprogram. I got to thinking about that the other day when I came across something called NeuroServer 3.0, just released by NativeMinds Inc.
San Francisco-based NativeMinds markets a suite of products and services to create automated virtual representatives called vReps for e-business customer service, sales and marketing.
The vReps are designed to answer customer questions (typed in a dialog box) via natural language dialog and rules-based display of a variety of information systems, including Web search, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and other customer-facing databases.
The heart and soul (if you will allow me a little latitude here) of a vRep is the company's NeuroServer product suite, which acts as the brains for the vReps. The patent-pending software matches patterns, elects "best-fit" responses, understands conversational context and selects actions automatically from the natural language questions customers ask.
The company Web page has a vRep called Nicole available for a dialog. She looks a little like Diana Rigg back in the days of the TV show "The Avengers."
When I asked Nicole who is the CEO of the company, she told me: "Walter Tackett is the CEO and President of NativeMinds. Please tell me your name."
Me: "Why?"
Nicole: "I need your name for no other reason than to make our conversation more pleasant. Please tell me your name."
Already I didn't much like her tone (maybe I spent too much time in New York City in my formative years), but I typed in my name anyway: "Beth Cox."
Nicole: "Hi Beth! I would be happy to answer any question directly or you can click on any of the following questions.
These were links:
Show me what a vRep is.
Show me your Services.
Can you show me your products?
Me: "Is this a public company?"
Nicole: "It's likely that we will go the IPO route, however we can't discuss any specific plans or competitive strategies with the general public. Please watch our Web site for updates."
Me: "How do I get to your offices from the Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco?"
Nicole: "Here are the driving instructions to our Headquarters in San Francisco." (Up popped a window with directions and a map.)
Me: "What is the price for NeuroServer 3.0?"
Nicole: "The cost of our products depends on the needs and scope of your project. Our enterprise customers have found that the software usually pays for itself in about twelve to sixteen months. For more information, please email sales@nativeminds.com or contact a sales rep at (800) 968 1002.
Me: Aren't you a sales rep?
Nicole: If you would like to talk to a Sales Rep or obtain information, please email sales@nativeminds.com or you can reach our Sales office toll-free at (800) 968 1002.
Me: "Apparently not."
Nicole: "When I hit something I don't know how to respond to, I log it to a file. This is one of those times."
Me: I see.
Nicole: "Our Professional Services group can help you create, maintain, and implement a vRep!"
About here is where my patience ran out, but I have to admit I was impressed.
Clearly this app is not good enough yet to pass a Turing test. The test was introduced by Alan M. Turing (1912-1954) as "the imitation game."
When talking about the Turing test today what is generally understood is the following:
The interrogator is connected to one person and one machine via a terminal and therefore can't see her counterparts. Her task is to find out which of the two candidates is the machine, and which is the human only by asking them questions. If the machine can "fool" the interrogator, it is, ipso facto, intelligent.
Clearly there are other measures of intelligence and this test has been subject to different kinds of criticism and has been at the heart of many discussions in AI (artifical intelligence), philosophy and cognitive science for the past 50 years.
I asked Jody Ferrara at NativeMinds if their app has ever passed a Turing test. Here's what he e-mailed me:
"Good question. You are actually the first to ask me about the Turing test.
NativeMinds vReps are designed to be 'almost human' and very conversational, without trying to fool anyone that they are indistinguishable from real people...
The companies that are using NativeMinds for customer service really see vReps as a way to manage customer interactions online, helping not only to answer questions but also to get info that people might need from a variety of sources (i.e. Web pages, order tracking and CRM systems, back-end databases, etc.).
If the vRep cannot answer a customer's question, the virtual service agent can triage into various channels of support (live chat or call center, for example) so that the conversation doesn't end there."
Fair enough, and no doubt useful -- NativeMinds clients include Ford, GlaxoSmithKline, Oracle and Deutsche Telekom, among others.
Ferrara said the company's competition includes Ask Jeeves, which also markets a natural language technology.
"When it comes to giving customers fast answers, NativeMinds is really competing with call centers full of live agents on headsets," he said.
My take: We're not there yet, but vReps could be very useful to some e-commerce sites and we're getting awfully close to the day when you'll be able to hire a piece of software that's as good as a human being.
By the way, if you are interested in the Turing test, here's a good place get an education.
In 1991 Dr. Hugh Loebner started the annual Loebner Prize competition -- a $100,000 prize offered to the author of the first computer program to pass an unrestricted Turing test. When I e-mailed him to ask if the money was ever claimed, he responded: "It's safe to say they haven't even come close!" The funds are on deposit with the Cambridge Center and The London Museum of Science.


[ August 09, 2003: Message edited by: HS Thomas ]
 
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I think an interesting question is whether human telemarketers can pass a Turing test!
I've talked to some who probably wouldn't.....
 
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