December 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Home and Abroad

(Page 2 of 2)

Overseas chat

It’s a common concern among North American online retailers that working with an overseas call center could mean customers encountering difficulty understanding agents’ accents-and that agents will have trouble with the American vernacular and culture. However, as the industry has evolved, most global companies have worked to try to eliminate those gaps, says Ryan.

For instance, contact center outsourcer 24/7 Customer, which has agents based in the Philippines, India, and Latin America devotes nearly a quarter of its four- to six-week retailer-specific training to listening to calls and reading chats to learn and understand the cultural nuances of the retailer’s customers, as well as working to minimize agents’ accents. avoids the concern about agents’ accents by only outsourcing a portion of its contact center’s live chats to 24/7 Customer. However, even though shoppers don’t hear the agents speak, language remains a barrier that the retailer and outsourcer have to overcome, says Stormy Simon, senior vice president of marketing and customer care. Yet when Overstock decided to outsource to 24/7 Customer, that barrier was deemed worthy of working through because of the lower cost of overseas agents, she adds, noting that she wasn’t with the company when the decision was made. “But more than cost, the experience is good,” she says. “If it weren’t, it wouldn’t matter how much it cost.”

To overcome language gaps, agents dedicated to Overstock go through a more than month-long training that includes topics such as how to identify and respond to both informal and formal chatters. The course integrates Overstock’s training on customer service, as well as its retail products-some of which the agents are already familiar with, and some, like high-end watches, that are not as familiar.

“The language barrier is huge,” says Simon. “But having worked with 24/7 Customer for five years, and having blended our training approaches, we’ve been able to make it work.”

It’s clear that the shoppers are happy with the approach, says Simon, because Overstock has ranked in the top 10 for customer service among retailers for the past three years, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation and American Express Co. The e-retailer works to make sure all its agents-including its 300 in-house employees who answer calls and chats-understand the importance of good service. “Regardless of where our agents are located,” Simon says “everyone knows and understands that the customer is our number one priority.”


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