81-Reducing the Customer’s Hassle Factor??

I’ve done it. I’m sure you have as well. In fact, virtually everyone has done it at one time or another. What is the “it”? You call for customer assistance or information and you get…India or the Philippines. Both India and the Philippines are fine countries. They both have much to admire. But their ability to speak English clearly to an American listener is, by most accounts, limited. They do speak English, though, and they ask for little in compensation in return. So, many companies have shifted their customer service, especially consumer customer service, offshore to these countries.

All has not gone swimmingly, though. Dell Computer, for one, had to bring back its business (that is, the larger customers in the market) customer service to the U.S. because of many complaints. The consumer service remains offshore. I wonder if there is a connection with Dell’s weakness in the consumer market?

Perhaps the tide is turning. Recently, United Airlines announced that it was dropping an Indian customer call center that handled customer observations or complaints. Instead, phone reservation agents in Chicago and Honolulu will be cross-trained to respond to written customer feedback. Yes, I’m sure you caught that. The customer now has to write. (See the Perspective, “Failure Shifts More Share than Success” on StrategyStreet.com.)

United Airlines has stopped publishing its customer relations phone number. That is the number that used to go to India. Instead, customers now have to send an email or a letter to complain. Of course, the United Reservation Center in Detroit, which covers United’s largest customers, will continue to take phone calls of complaining customers. (See the Symptom and Implication, “Competitors are emphasizing reliability in product quality” on StrategyStreet.com.)

Maybe the tide has not turned after all.

Posted 2/19/09


Each of United Airlines and Dell Computers now offers a number of ways for a consumer to contact the company with complaints or problems, including telephone and web support. Unfortunately, neither Dell nor United are anything better than middle of the pack in customer service in 2022.

A 2022 evaluation of the quality of customer service in airlines had the following ratings for each of the major airlines, with a possible score of 100: Delta 75.77, Southwest 67.0, American Airlines 52.59, and United Airlines 49.65.  These composite scores considered 4 measures of customer service: on time arrival, percentage of canceled flights, mishandled baggage and customer complaints.  Looking only at monthly customer complaints per 10,000 passengers revealed the following numbers for the 4 major airlines: United .42, American .21, Delta .11 and Southwest .06.

J. D. Power’s 2021 rating of airlines ranked the top 4 airlines as follows: number 1, Delta; number 2, Southwest Airlines; number 5, United and number 6, American.

Dell has call centers in 13 countries (Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Costa Rica, Finland, Holland, India, Malaysia, Morocco, Panama, Philippines, Romania and Slovakia), which is how most of their call lines are open 24/7.

A 2020 analysis of laptop computer customer support, considering both web support and phone support with a total of 100 points available ranked Dell number 8 with 68 points.  It was ahead of HP with 61 points but behind Lenovo with 70 points, Microsoft scored 74 points and Apple 85 points.

Philippines and India remain by far the largest locations for foreign call centers serving US corporations.  In 2021, the Philippines overtook India as the largest call center country.  Its growth rate, at 30% per year, is also 2 times that of India, which falls in the 10 to 15% per year range.  Driving this growth is the economic fact that US call center workers make much more than their Filipino counterparts earn.  One US based call center employee might cost a business an average of $20 an hour.  One in India would cost $12 an hour.  In Philippines, about $5 an hour.

Some of these outsourced call center jobs are slowly returning to the US with the advent of new technology.  With the proliferation of chatbots and natural language interactive voice response (IVR) systems, computers can handle routine customer calls as opposed to foreign workers, allowing human representatives to handle more complex or personal requests on behalf of consumers.

There always seems to be a trade-off between value for the customer and cost to the company. The trade-offs between the two determined the company’s market share and return on investment. See HERE for more on this idea.



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