With Polish workers now making up very significant numbers in The UK, it is time for your call centre to have a policy specifically to service them, target them and even recruit them?
With widespread immigration in the 60's, it took a long time for companies to realise the potential of the 'immigrant pound'. Of course, call centres didn't exist in the UK in those days but it's only in recent years that we have started to see banks offer Islamic financial services products. Even the 'mainstream' supermarkets left it to Indian entrepreneurs to offer food more palatable to the Indian consumer. Today's businesses are much more consumer-focussed and we have already started to see the supermarkets offer a wide range of Polish sausages, cheeses and breads. So does this mean that British businesses are now much more likely to meet the needs of this latest wave of immigrant and how does this impact on the call centre market? Will companies look at offering customer service in Polish or other Eastern European languages? Possibly even more important, is the question as to whether UK call centres will now actively look at the Polish migrant population at filling gaps in their workforce.
Of course, the first question is whether even you need to have an approach for servicing the Polish market at all. There are some industries where the 'Polish Pound' is far more important. In 2007, we will start to see more and more companies differentiate themselves to capture the 'Polish market'. The decision as to whether to target the Polish market is likely to be made outside of the call centre. However, most of the decisions are likely to have a significant impact on the call centre with centres recruiting Polish speaking agents, team-leaders and adapting QA and validation processes to deal with this.
Industries which do have a high proportion of Polish consumers:
1. Travel. Especially low cost airlines and all forms of public transport since car ownership are lower amongst the Polish community.
2. Pay as You Go Mobile Phones. The preferred choice of communication while in The UK. Many Poles do not have credit history here for contract phones.
3. Low cost phone services and Prepaid phone cards. To call their friends and family back home.
4. Money transfer services such as Western Union. Many A8 migrants intend to return home one day and prefer to keep their money in Polish bank accounts. Many also send money home to support their dependents.
5. Government Services. Imagine moving to a new country where you know little about how the country operates. You would need lots of assistance. This includes a whole range of services from NHS Direct to registering for Inland Revenue Self Assessment for the many Poles working in the construction industry. A BBC report recently showed that various Government Departments already spend 'Million's each year on translating documents into a wide array of different languages.
6. Supermarkets/Reward Points. Poles are like me in that they like something for free and wouldn't dream of failing to take their Nectar card to Sainsbury's.
Industries which don't have a high proportion of Polish consumers
1. Sky and satellite television. If my informal survey is to be believed, Poles tend to bring satellite dishes over from home. This allows them to pay considerably less than a Sky equivalent and also receive Polish language programming.
2. Financial services. Poles don't tend to have UK based pensions, savings or mortgages. However, they usually have current accounts to receive their wages and handle local expenses.
Quite simply, the answer is to speak to them in Polish. Some might say that this is a time consuming and expensive idea. However, DVLA offers a Welsh speaking service and The UK now has more people who speak Polish as their first language than Welsh. In Hong Kong, less than 1% of the population speaks Mandarin as their first language but many HK based centres have Mandarin speaking agents to speak to them.
Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit Poland or the other A8 states will probably have seen that their attitude to customer service and sales is different to the UK. Some might say that it is considerably worse in Poland. Of course, this could be a language barrier or is it true that Poles have a different way of communicating to Brits. As a nation, The UK is now very demanding when it comes to customer service and if surveys are to be believed, these expectations are rarely delivered. On the other hand, it appears Poles neither expect nor receive good customer service or at least what we would term good customer service. This is the perception but in reality, each culture has its own way of communicating. Survey after survey shows that British consumers prefer to communicate with British call centre agents and this is almost exclusively to do with language and communication differences. So why would the same not be true for Poles? If this is the case, why not employ Poles to handle calls from other Poles living in The UK?
The easy option would seem to be to outsource Polish calls to Poland. There is a blossoming call centre industry in Warsaw servicing the English speaking market and with mass-unemployment still stifling the Polish economy, employees aren't hard to find. Of course, some companies are averse to outsourcing or offshoring and so may well look to include a Polish element within their existing call centre.
Many years ago, I ran an outbound telemarketing campaign for the now defunct Mercury Communications. One evening, a girl on the team made 10 sales in 3 hours in sharp contrast to her typical tally of 2 sales. Intrigued by what I could learn by her newfound performance, I decided to examine it more closely. This was in the days before call recording, so I looked at her statistics. She had made over 300 call-backs. On examining each record, I realised that she simply wouldn't have had enough time to call of the records. When she came to work the following evening, I sat her down to ask her about her strategy and it soon became clear that she would only dial people with an Indian-sounding name and set everyone else as a call-back. As a second generation Indian, she was able to speak a number of South-Asian languages fluently. In fact, when we went through her previous 2 weeks statistics, we discovered that her nightly tally of 2 sales had been made up exclusively of Indians where she had conducted all of her calling in their native tongue. So, we decided that we should buy a database of people who would speak in Hindi, Gujarati or Urdu and found agents who could speak those languages. While the English speaking team was still trailing behind on less than 1 sale per hour, the Indian-Pakistani team was doing over triple that figure. We then decided to target the Italian, Cantonese and Mandarin speaking communities and the results were better still.
The fact is that consumers react more to emotion to the facts. If a company has put themselves to speak to you in your own language, the results will be positive.
If we look at other mass-employment industries such as catering or farming, they have become very dependent on the Eastern European labour force. Some industries have even been given special dispensation to employ a limited amount of people from new entrants Bulgaria and Romania.
The call centre industry is very different with few Eastern Europeans working here. Any HR Manager would tell you that they want call centre agents who are hard working, clever, professional and have good communications skills (in English). If stereotypes are to be believed, the Eastern Europeans put very large ticks in the first 3 of those boxes but they don't necessarily have the English skills. It is for this reason that call centres are not taking a pro-active approach in recruiting Poles.
Back in Poland, the English language schools are brimming with young Poles looking to improve their English before coming to the UK or Ireland. Once they are here, they can't fail but improve their language skills. Even those who live with fellow Poles are exposed to speaking English every day at work or while out socialising or shopping. As we progress through 2007, we will see an increasing number of Eastern Europeans who speak very good English. In fact, many Poles already do speak very good English before they come to the UK and their time here just perfects it. And if my unscientific survey is to be believed, the Lithuanians and Romanians speak better English still.
It may not be apparent yet but 2007 is set to become the most active year in the British call centre industry since the turn of the millennium. Disillusionment among many with offshoring coupled with an ever increasing demand from consumers will lead to the number of UK based agents rising dramatically this year. At call-centres.com, we are already aware of 30 sizeable new call centres setting up in the UK this year. Even with the rise of offshoring over recent years, many call centres have still struggled to attract and retain a sufficient volume of agents. If demand increases significantly as we predict, the supply must come from somewhere and the young, enthusiastic workforce from the East seems to be the only short-term solution.
2007 is the year that having an 'A8' policy in your call centre will become very important for many call-centres where the company has decided to target this market heavily. The number of migrants from Eastern Europe who are staying here continues to rise and will do so until the UK hits an economic downturn or the Polish economy improves dramatically. Neither of these seems like a near-time reality and so don't be surprised to see a corner of your call centre full of agents speaking in a strange language and with keyboards which produce strange letters.
The rise of the number of Polish agents servicing English calls does not seem to be quite as imminent but this could easily be pushed forward if demand continues to rise and call centres fail to stop their attrition rates.