A Conversation with Contact Center Consultant-Advisor Fred Shadding
We took some time with Fred Shadding, a call center advisor and consultant. Fred has over 30 years of experience in the call center operations and consulting business. This discussion includes topics such as: call center pricing around the globe, when to outsource, and what centers, resources, and technology are best for specific clients.
Tom Laird: What’s your title? What does the word “broker” really mean?
Fred Shadding: What I focus on is being a true industry resource and advisor to my clients. The term “broker” in most recent years has been associated with campaigns in certain types of industries like energy, LeadGen, medical, etcetera. I do not do that. My focus is enterprise-level contact center relationships, helping organizations find those contact centers that are going to be an extension of their business.
Q: When you go to advise a contact center that is in-house and you see that they are not operating to full capacity, what are some of the reasons you would suggest outsourcing or improving in-house functions?
A: In-house call centers will most likely have problems with call handling. They’re challenged with either handling growth or with the dynamics of the call itself, the technology they have, staffing, things of that nature. Sometimes it’s just the performance management processes that are out there. You’ll have people that have been in that in-house contact center for 20 years and “this is how we do it, this is how we’ve always done it”. I introduce new technology and tactics to speed up calls and improve quality. I often come in, and just shut up and listen and observe and then offer suggestions- and sometimes it’s very difficult. It’s just about the observation of what the situation entails.
Q: How do you choose the right partner for a client?
A: There is no secret sauce! A lot of it has to come down to staying engaged in your industry, staying engaged in the market and the markets that are out there and knowing who is doing what. Having been in the BPO industry for 20 years and having been challenged and competed against, some very strong BPO partners are the ones I know and I align myself with. You really have to spend time in your community to find those hidden gems, and over time you create a bench: your top ten. Experience counts. Your network counts. Pay attention to who is doing what because you’ll find those successful alignments.
Q: As technology evolves, what functions do you see commonly being outsourced?
A: The common buckets are sales, customer service, and tech support. I would say it’s those customer-facing roles. It really depends, but customer service and sales like warranty support, order support, things of that nature is what you see.
Q: From a technology standpoint, do you think Speech Analytics are a technology that you think is necessary, do clients ask for this level of tech, or do they not even know what they need?
A: It’s a mix. There are some clients that know specifically what they want, they’ll say, “Fred, I want somebody with speech analytics, I want to be able to integrate AI”. And then there’s ones like, “This is what we’re doing, we’re a 20-year-old company, we’ve had our call center for 15 years, things seem to be going well, and we made the decision to not enhance our technology.” So everything from that point on to that customer is like a surprise and delight. Regardless, I love speech analytics, what it does, and the tools it provides for clients.
Q: Let’s take a trip around the world; how does outsourcing pricing and quality vary between on-shore, near-shore, and off-shore?
A: It’s important to understand first what you are trying to outsource. People choose a location based on the business model it represents, so first understand what it is you’re trying to achieve. Is it language? Is it a true cost-play? Are you looking to scale? Are you looking for a great quality of English? All those factors decide whether we decide on state-side, (staying at home) or if we go overseas. With that, the US has a strong economy and stable workforce, depending on the city you select for your center, you could have a great compliment of language support.
Now let’s look at price, in the United States with a customer service rep that has 1-3 years of experience you’re generally going to find it looking at $27-30 an hour. That’s typically what you see as a starting expectation of pricing in the US. Now as you move south, Mexico down to Panama, the price range is going to be pretty wide— anywhere between $10-17 an hour. In South America, the two strongest markets continue to be Colombia and Argentina: low cost, excellent English. If we go over to the EU, Europe and the UK, that’s going to be an interesting market for a US client, because typically you don’t find too many US programs being serviced out of the EU because there’s a cost-play. It makes sense for programs that have offices or a typically larger customer base in those areas that warrant the need for a center out there. But generally, you won’t see US-based programs out there because pricing in those markets is going to be north of $30/hour. So unless you need the specific language support or regional support, it’s very expensive. Africa is now a very price-competitive situation with India and the Philippines.
Q: Do you see that Indian, Pilipino, and Asian markets are waning?
A: No, they are still strong countries. They have great infrastructure, great government support, great skillset. If you look at the curve of the US call center market, they have just as much capability as the US market and if you look at the bell curve they are moving up to be competitive with the US.
Q: What do you see as cost factors in those places though?
A: In India, you can get pricing as low as $7-8, but if you want a good quality the range is still consistent with other off shore markets which is just south of $15/hour.
Q: The eastern European market reaches out to me often, the Russian, Baltic, and Albanian. How do those spaces come into play?
A: It’s been around for a while, that I know. The Eastern European market was the European “near-shore” if you will, because of the languages, the call structure, the alignment, and those cultures. The quality of English has still presented an accent that might not have been as appealing in the US. It’s great for language support for many different languages, but I would say you’re only seeing some campaign work coming out of there, back-office work, virtual receptionist work, which is good. I haven’t seen a big scale push in the US for Eastern European support.
Q: Can you let people know what the best method to contact you is if they have any other questions?
A: LinkedIn is the best way to reach me- just shoot me a direct message! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org . My direct office line is (240) 696-4111 and my website is www.thecallcentersource.com.