Overseas call centres aren't as bad as they say
A few years ago, there were a number of reports and surveys coming out about negative public perception about overseas call centres. The rather basic conclusion was that people preferred their call centres to be based in The UK as opposed to offshore. I felt that if the benefits of offshore could was being passed on to customers, then some would be more preferable to offshore call centres. We all know that overseas call centres are cheaper and if they employed more agents, then calls would be handled more quickly. Therefore, one of the questions we asked was whether people would rather wait 3 minutes to be answered by an onshore call centre agent or be answered immediately offshore. The results were pretty evenly split and were far more favourable to overseas call centres than I'd given credit for. Around the same time, a number of companies in The United States were trialling high profile campaigns to offer customers domestic call centres if they paid a premium. The results of these trials were pretty clear that customers weren't prepared to pay to use a domestic service in any significant numbers for this to become the norm.
This all leads us on to the latest idea from EE who want to charge a 50 pence premium for your call to jump to the head of the call centre queue. There has been a swathe of negative publicity surrounding this but I personally believe that it's far more likely to be successful than the offshore premium service which so dismally failed. We live in a world where we hate to wait especially on the telephone. On Friday, tickets to my favourite football club (Coventry City) went on sale for our long-awaited return to Coventry. I became so frustrated with the failure of the internet to cope with the demand and the constant engaged tone from the phone lines that I took a 60 mile round trip to stand in a queue waiting for tickets. If I had been given the option of paying to jump a queue, then I would definitely have taken it. After all, it cost me at least '5 in petrol before I even consider to value the cost of my time. Of course, this was an extreme case and if I wasn't so excited about being part of a piece of my football team's history, then I probably would have waited. However, there are other examples when we pay to jump queues such as 'Fast-Track' at Alton Towers which my friends are always so keen on. The big question is 'Would we be prepared to pay for regular customer service when we may consider that the reason we're calling is the fault of the company?'. The rather confusing answer to this question is 'it depends'. It depends on who we are, how valuable we rate our time and what the issue is. It also depends to some degree on our views of this change. There are many who believe (and possibly quite rightly so), that they've already paid for customer service and so why should they pay again. Of course, this doesn't stop people buying fast-track tickets at Alton Towers or for priority boarding at the airport but it does need a change in mind-set even though it's only 50 pence and will barely show up if your phone bill is as large as mine. I remember the first ever pay-per-view boxing match on Sky TV. The talk in our office was about how we shouldn't pay '10 to watch a fight when he already subscribed to Sky Sports. In the end, the person who had been the most adamant about not paying was the first one to pay the money and he wasn't alone. These days, premium boxing matches are all pay-per-view and nobody bats an eyelid and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case with EE's new pricing. One other fact that we often overlook is that for many things, service (or its cost) is not something we consider when we choose a company to buy from. If it were, then price comparison sites would not be so popular. I therefore don't expect EE to suffer from this. The next point about this new pricing structure reminds me of a comedy sketch from the BBC show 'Come Fly With Me'. The 'ladies' on the check-in desks were selling priority boarding passes and at the end, it turned out that they'd sold one to everyone on the flight. The point is 'what happens if this is very popular?'. Do EE provide extra staff and will all these additional 50 pences cover this cost?
I personally believe that this will be a success for EE. There will be plenty of people who use this service and before long, it will simply become the norm. For me, this will prove that people are more concerned about being answered quickly compared with being answered in a UK based call centre. The biggest threat to EE is from the negative publicity it has and will continue to attract. When there is a cost attached to something, people's perceptions of what they should expect changes. Imagine if a customer paid 50p to use the speedy service and then the agent couldn't resolve their issue, would they feel more aggrieved than if they had not paid. I expect they will despite the relatively low cost. EE are renowned for excellent service but their customers might now be expecting something more.