Monday, January 28, 2008

The Myth of Call Centers Spelling Salvation for Jordan

As most of you likely are aware, I hear alot of the work-related buzz around town. I have to admit that few of the bold statement amuse quite as much as this one. I hear it repeated time and again that Jordan is so well-suited to provide call centers for the US. My amusement is not of the haha sort, but more of the melancholic sort. First let me state what, I hope to my regular readers, is obvious. I love Jordan. This is truly an awesome country. But, its business leaders are often self delusional. So, now why do I think that Jordan is leagues and leagues behind in this dream of providing call center support.

Customer Service. Do I have to say more? Jordan is truly at the top of the awful customer service list. People in shops would really prefer if you didn't bother them to come in and buy items. More than that, large institutions employ people who promise to call back then never do. And, I don't mean one or two, I mean all of them. You really have to chase everything, constantly. In the US, if you say you're going to call back after you get information, you had best do that. If you choose to just ignore your promise, the average customer will call the manager incensed. Now, again this is an AVERAGE customer. In the US, you can't ignore everyone who doesn't come with a family connection. That's the point of customer service rather than friends-and-family service.

Empowered Employees. Okay, so lest you think I'm talking about a topic I know little about (it has been known to happen), let me share that I actually worked in telephone customer service during college. The company I worked for published cooking and craft books. As a lowly phone operator, I was given the authority to waive fees on books that customers indicated they had returned, issue credits, and resolve customer problems. Let's contrast this with the service we received with Jordan's largest mobile phone provider. El 3atal paid his bill on-line with the largest regional bank. In the process of transmitting the money, the bank included the wrong reference number. When he tried to call the cell provider to resolve the issue, they indicated that he had to work with the bank. When he tried to work with the bank, they said they would call back. Talk about a run-around... It took using a personal contact and pushing a good bit to get his cell service reactivated. Somehow, they lost sight of the fact that my money left my account and was given to them. Whether it had the proper reference number or not is really not my issue. I'm actually the CUSTOMER here. So, employees need to be empowered (and motivated) to resolve customer issues.

Ability to set aside tradition. I swear that people in Jordan have the worst possible time trying to think outside of the "always been done that way" box. When you ask why they have an issue with something, they explain "Hayk" (that's the way it is). Please, you'd better have a better reason than that. Jordan has a competitive advantage that few countries can boast. With a decent-sized Christian population, 7 day a week service should be easy to come by. And yet, the Christian bookstores are pretty much all closed on Fridays. Why? Hayk. Why not hire some staff to take a Thursday/Friday weekend (Muslim) and some staff to take a Saturday/Sunday weekend (Christian). That way you have easy coverage and are actually able to give time off to people when they want it. In India, they will hire 6 guys for a 4 person project and keep the extra 2 always back trained so that there is never downtime for illness or vacation. Somehow I think even the idea would be anathema to Jordan's businesses.

And last, but most certainly not least, infrastructure. Infrastructure is not great here. While I'm sure businesses can get decent Internet speeds, I'm not convinced that they will be cheap enough to compete with the other places in the world that offer these services.

So, in order for Call Centers to be a great hope for Jordan's economy, people will need significant retraining. In fact, it will require reinventing the staff, starting with the management. I assure you, currently I haven't seen a single company that runs customer service (or a call center) to even mediocre Western standards. So, while you may be annoyed by Westerners' arrogance (and all of the other bad), in order to truly service that market, Jordan will need to find a segment of the population that's willing to learn brand new tricks and meet the West where it is, not where Jordan is...

Happy Calling!


At 8:33 AM , Blogger Mohanned said...

I think that calling centers are a good idea, but, keep in mind that the targeted working force should be university students who can use this "extra" money while also gainning experince. Also, university students are more receptive for trainnig, of the top of my head, I think that IT related students alongside with Englisg students will really apprecaite the call-center experience because they will gain training on both language and technical issues that really matters..

just my point of view..

At 9:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This made me remember the summer I first I called for bank assistance, then on-line assistance and something else, and couldn't understand why all these nice Indians were answering.

Juxtaposed with the kind of treatment I'd get from some bank tellers here, I cringe.

Mohannad has a point, forget the post-grad generation and train the trainable.

At 12:40 PM , Blogger عائلة آل الريحاني said...

مرحباً : يرجى التفضل لدخول هذا الموقع
وهو موقع شخصي قيد الإنشاء ، يشرفني أن أستلهم من آرائك

At 3:51 PM , Blogger Hani Obaid said...

Oh my good, it's all true. I couldn't possibly agree more.

All except the part about implying India is better at it.

I work with Indian call centers quite a bit in my line of work, and I've seen some nightmarish customer support from them.

Some examples:

people with the title: (Product X Administrator) who doesn't know how to start the product up !

Leaving for lunch in the middle of a critical conference call which has production systems losing money by the minute depending on it.

Coming in 30 minutes late to meetings and asking, did I miss anything ?

At 10:48 PM , Blogger No_Angel said...

In general i totally agree with this, but a few things in defense of Jo call centers.
The one that would be attracting the services you are talking about are dedicated call centers (i know of 2 that we have here) not a departmental call centers like the one you gave in the example... those are horrid
although the service is decent over at the dedicated call centers and they try hard but at the end of the day we won't deal with them due to the hayk mentality :P
oh and usually its either college students or fresh graduates that work there, even quite a few international students ;)


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