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Environmental Impact of Call Center Growth

There is no doubt that the Philippines Call Center industry is expanding in Cebu.  And this a good thing for many parts of the economy.  There are signs of the rapid growth of the BPO ‘s everywhere  in the second largest city in the Philippines.  But this expansion can come at a cost to the environment.  While many people consider the call center a relatively green industry, there are echoing effects of any business that brings wealth and consumer consumption to an area.  So it is not  the call centers themselves that are causing the environmental impact but the wealth and increased commerce they bring to the Philippines.  Hopefully,  the call center firms and the people of Cebu can use the lessons learned by the past to keep the Philippines green.

 

Wealth and increased consumption is  a classic story of developing economies and was no different when the United States was rapidly growing over the last 100 years.  The Philippine call center industry has the advantage of looking back at the US and can try to avoid some of the mistakes that have made US the highest consumer of natural resources per-capita.  If the call centers can find ways to make their businesses green and efficient users of fossil fuels right from the start then they will already be ahead of developed nations who need to go back and “make over” their business models so that their companies can be eco-friendly.

 

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What does it mean to be a Green Call Center

Does any business has the right to call itself “green”? If we are really a green call center and put the environment first, then shouldn’t we just shut off all the lights and computers and let the tarsiers live in our building.   Can any business that uses power and requires people to leave their homes and burn fossil fuels to get to the office really say that it is eco-friendly?  At this level of the answer to these questions is probably, no but I like to think we are doing all we can to be  green call center and an  eco-friendly business.

 

We set up our call center business in the Philippines because we like the country and we see an opportunity to give Filipinos the same chance to make a living and support their families that people in the US have.  The economic advantages of having a call center in the Philippines are hard to deny but we also looked at the ways to set up a business here that can grow without creating an oversized carbon footprint.  We set out to create a green call center that is both client friendly and eco friendly.  We have found that it is cetainly possible to create a  contact center in a sustainable way, without damaging the environment and without needlessly burning fossil fuels.

 

As a Filipino green call center we are taking a top down and whole community approach to protecting the earth.  As an eco friendly US citizen it is often hard to deny the irony of our situation.  One one hand, people in the US use far more fossil fuels and have a bigger carbon footprint than any other society in the world.  But on the other hand, Americans are more aware about “green” living and know more about protecting the environment than many people in the developing world.

 

It is not unlike the great US paradox of obesity.  The US has  more obese people than any other nation yet  still is obsessed with diet fads and exercise. Now that there are green oil companies and green plastic garbage bag manufacturers we decided that becoming a green call center was not a hypocritical endeavor.  We have done our best to set up an community in the office where we think about what effect our business decisions have on the environment.   Are we a green call center?  Are we an eco friendly call center?  We keep trying.

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Life as a Philippines Call Center Agent #05

It was a about a year ago and I was looking for a job.  I had a college degree from a nursing school but I was having trouble finding work in the medical field.  Let me rephrase that…I was able to find work in the medical field but not really work that paid well.

 

I have many friends who were working as customer service call center agents here in Cebu, Philippines and I thought it sounded like a good idea.  As you may know the Philippines call center industry is one of the fastest growing fields.  There are plenty of job openings if you are a good English speaker.  Depending on the work you are looking for there are other skill sets that come into play.  For instance, I interviewed for a company that did outbound sales and what they were interested in is whether you could memorize the script for their telemarketing campaign.  I was able to memorize the script but I wasn’t really seeing the value in the product.  This is a problem you can get over once you realize that your commission and a part of your pay is all about how much you can sell over the phone.

 

Not all call center jobs in the Philippines are about selling.  I worked for a while on a campaign as a customer service operator for a shoe company.  It was really cool because they sold so many great shoes online.  A lot of the customer support was chat based so I didn’t talk to many customers on the phone but people were generally very nice.  I guess there isn’t too much stress when buying shoes.  I was so scared when I started because I have heard so many stories from other call center agents who would tell me about how their customers would scream at them and swear.

 

So if you decide to work in a call center there are a lot of choices to make.  Do you want to be an inbound customer service representative?;  do you want to be an outbound sales agent?  But not to worry many of those choices will be made for you when your mangers see what you are really good at.  And then you can say hey “I’m a Philippine call center agent and here is my blog”

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Life as a Philippines Call Center Agent #06

Call Centers “The way I see it!”

The fastest growing industries in the Philippines are call centers. As far as I remembered, 5 years ago, I would say that there were only around 3-5 Call Centers here in Cebu. But now, I could say that there maybe 20 of them existing and continuously doing business. If you take a look at daily newspapers, you will always be able to see this “Wanted Customers Service Representatives

 

America might be presently dealing with a lot of financial misfortunes but the least affected business industry is the call center industry. Many companies are firing a lot of their employees and are reducing headcounts because of the financial crisis but not in the call center Philippines business, employment is always open. “Call Centers” the first time I heard of such a term, I really do not have any idea what it meant. All that I was able to think of is that, what you do in a call center is either answer calls or make calls… Then it kept me wondering, “What does it feels like working in a Call Center?” So it caught my curiosity and motivated me to learn more about the business and how it operates.

 

And so, that is the time that I started looking for a job in as a call center agent and that was 2 years ago. The first call center that I applied for was to work on surveys. I got into training but after a few weeks I lost my interest mainly because of the account. I thought it was simply boring! Then I applied again to another call center and luckily got the job. It was for a travel account namely “xxxx”. I got hooked up into the account because it was free flow, meaning there is no script that you need to follow. It was tedious, but it was very very rewarding!

 

Because it was a travel account and most of the customers calling are either happy because of the excellent service that we were able to provide or upset ,and worse irate, because their travel  plans did not go as planned. Sometimes it affects me. Let’s say for example a Flight gets canceled and I have to tell the customer. There are times in which I experienced talking to someone who’s very narrow minded and no matter how I try to explain why things happened and that there are certain things which we do not have control of, like weather or airport accidents, they just can’t understand and they won’t even try to understand the reasons. They will continue saying that it is our fault and we are the ones who messed up their plans and so we should do something about it. But with this kind of attitude, I oftentimes lose the eagerness to help them and then I remember the I work in customer service even if the customer is a jerk.

 

and worse is I even sometimes make sure that they would go through hell… But there are times also in which I would encounter talking to someone who is very calm, understanding and best thing is I know that they sincerely require my help. Then this is the time that I am going to make sure that I will do anything in my power and resources to make sure that everything will be perfect for them, and with their experience with the company. When I encounter cases of emergencies or death in the family and they really needed to get to this destination at a particular time, then I will make sure that they will be there on time. Because I just can’t simply imagine what I would do if I were the one in their position and then knowing that the only person which can possibly help would be unwilling to help me. It’s simply putting myself in their shoes.

 

At first, I thought that working in a Philippine call center and this line of business would be so easy. But after these experiences, I was able to realized that this kind of job requires dedication and also and a lot of hard work. People often get the impression that the employees working in a call center here in the Philippines are those people who have no plans in life and just wanted a happy go lucky job. Although I would say that there are some who are like that, there are also others who are looking forward as to building a career in a call center because that is where they feel that they belong. I would strongly say that today, call centers are the most promising and rewarding industry. If you wish to build a career and be a manager and even if you are a college undergraduate, then here is the place. So long as you put your heart into it and aim high, you will surely get it!

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Is the global economic crisis affecting the offshore call center industry?

There are a lot of opinions on whether the current financial crisis is going to hurt the Philippine call center and BPO industries or whether it could actually help.  In a recent outing hosted by Globe telecom, the host of the event talked about how great the crisis is going to be for the call center Philippines business because now many US companies are going to be looking for ways to save money so they will be more likely to outsource.

 

I have heard this “global crisis equals more call center work for Philippine outsourcing” argument many times and I wonder if it is really true.  Aren’t US companies and all businesses, for that matter, always looking for ways to save money.  I do, however, see  some logic to this argument because when times get tough, businesses are more likely to look for ways to save money that they may have overlooked when business was going great and outsourcing to the Philippines can prove beneficial to the bottom line.  But is the global recession the kind of catalyst that will make a company outsource to the Philippines and is the increase in outsourcing enough to make up for the lost revenues from other call center business that will be lost.

 

For example, lets say you own an airline and you use inbound call centers to process you reservations and ticket sales.  You may employ a vast number of call center agents when business is good but what happens in times like now.  People are flying less so there are fewer reservations and call volume is way down.  You probably aren’t going to need so many reservation agents  so you force the Philippine call center to reduce staff and employ fewer agents for your inbound calls.  Jobs are lost and business is not so good for that call center you were using.

 

This also works when thinking about a customer service campaign.  You partner with  a Philippine call center to answer customer service questions about the scooter your company is selling but now you are selling 40% fewer scooters.  Shouldn’t you expect to get 40% fewer inbound calls and therefore need fewer agents.

 

I spoke with  a human resources specialist to get his take on how the crisis is affecting hiring.  “On one hand, you have some call centers that have gotten really slow here in the Philippines.  But on the other hand you have a lot of small call centers that are growing fast.”  He added that some contact centers have had to drastically reduce staff because their clients in the US have been slow in paying.  But in general he feels that the slowdown is evident in Cebu City where he does recruiting.  “It has made it easier for us to find talented call center agents with lots of experience.”

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Cultural Affinity between the US and Philippines

American businesses that capitalize on BPO to gain global competitiveness make English proficiency of workers a major consideration when outsourcing. It is important that their offshore workers are able to communicate effectively with their clients. But language is not the only consideration when choosing a location for their outsourced call centers. Companies also focus on the culture affinity of the areas that they are outsourcing to. This is why the Philippines has been such a popular destination for American companies looking for offshore call centers.

 

The Filipinos have been influenced and exposed to US culture for the last century and are very familiar with US business practices and customs. Businesses that need call center services  can save time and money by using call centers in the Philippines because they can get workers who already have familiarity with US culture and don’t have to be trained on cross cultural techniques and language skills.

 

Philippine schools start teaching English in the first grade and classes are taught in American English. 72% of the Philippine population is proficient in English and its the third largest English speaking country in the world. In addition, their verbal skills are clearer and more understandable to the U.S. buyers than other competitive English-speaking country destinations.

 

This English proficiency allows the Filipinos to take advantage of what really makes them relate to Americans…the media. When speaking with Filipino call center agents, they can tell you about how “Friends” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House” have showed them some things about how life is in America but they also understand that these shows are really the visions of Hollywood writers. Oprah is probably a better example of what life is like in the United States and it is one of the most popular shows in the Philippines.

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What contact center services can be Outsourced to the Philippines

American companies began to outsource many business processes such as call center services during the late 1990’s to offshore locations in order to save money and increase efficiency.  New telephony technologies gave these corporations the ability to send high volumes of phone calls oversees at lower a cost than anytime in the past.  Companies embraced outsourcing and used this opportunity to set up call centers in nations that had large English speaking populations and lower wages.  The first country to take advantage was India but as the technology spread the Philippines soon became a player in the international outsourcing arena.

Now the Philippines is host to many American companies supplying them with inbound call centers, 800 answering services and basic phone answering services.  From its humble beginnings in Manila the industry has also spread to places like Cebu and Davao.  Companies that use inbound services are now looking beyond the phone call and are also offering chat support services and email support services.  Most of the top companies and other have setup their offshore call center services in the Philippines. Several factors have helped in this explosive growth of business process outsourcing: favorable government policies, excellent communication networks, comparatively low wages and skilled English speaking workforce among others. Cost savings, improved quality and productivity have encouraged companies to outsource call center services to the Philippines or to scale up their existing offshore operations.

The 12-hour time difference between western countries and the Philippines has made it an ideal call center outsourcing location, as companies can benefit from 24×7 services by outsourcing call center services to the Philippines.   The Philippines offers both inbound and outbound call center services.  Examples of outbound services that can be outsourced to the Philippines are:

lead generation
database selling
telemarketing
direct mail follow-up
sales
appointment setting services
data verification services

Examples of inbound contact center services that can be handled in the Philippines are:

help-desk services
up-selling and cross-selling
product information requests
product information requests
Claims processing services\Customer Service

Since the Philippines has a large number of English speaking professionals finding call center agents that can answer your calls accurately and efficiently should not be a problem.  And given the strong cultural ties between the United States and the Philippines many of the common communication issues between customers and offshore call center agents are eliminated.

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Tips for Hiring an Inbound Call Center

When considering what kind of inbound call center your company should partner with remember that the companies who have clear goals of what they want to accomplish are the ones who have the most positive and profitable experiences.  Notice how I refer to the relationship between you and your business outsourcing center as a partnership.  “If you look at it like you are just hiring someone to cut your lawn then there are bound to be problems” says Michael Shapiro an outsourcing expert.  “These companies are often the first point of contact for your customers and you need to trust that they are going to do what they say.”

The first step is to analyze your needs and try to gauge the volume of calls the outsourced center will be handling for you.  Most commonly businesses hire inbound call centers for customer service and technical support.   When estimating call volume don’t forget that many calls centers have become contact centers where customers use email, instant messaging and online chat to get their customer service questions answered.   These options can be real money savers because they allow agents to chat with many users at the same time and answer emails during slow periods thereby allowing more service with fewer agents.  If you think this fits into your customer service model, make sure the contact centers you want to work with offer these services.

Get to know your call center.  Since your inbound call center is going to be  talking to your customers, look at how they treat you as a customer.  Think about your initial contact with the sales person selling the service.  Ask to talk to some of the agents and see if their company is someone who wants to grow with you or do they just want to cash your check every month.  If it’s possible,  visit the facilities and take a look around.  Are the employees treated with respect and given a nice work environment?  If the call center agents are located in a dark, wet basement somewhere do you think they are going to give your clients a positive experience.

All of these questions become even more vital when partnering with an offshore call center.  Offshore call centers are often a lot less expensive than those located in the United States.  It may not be convenient for you to visit but you can still ask for photos of the offices and find out if they employees are given benefits such as heath insurance.  And again, asking to talk with some agents should give you a good idea of how your customers will be treated.

For inbound customer service, it’s a good idea to decide if you want dedicated call center agents or shared agents.  Dedicated call center agents as the name implies, are agents who work only for your company and are bill a flat rate per month.  Dedicated agents offer many advantages in that they can be more deeply trained in your product and they will have a clear focus on your business.  These agents are also popular as virtual office assistants since they can get to know their clients personality and the corporate culture of that particular business.  In most businesses dedicated call center agents are the preferred method unless you don’t get enough inbound calls to justify the expense or if you are just looking for a short call coverage period, like only weekends.  As you might have guessed dedicated agents will be usually be more expensive but tend to produce more satisfied customers.

As with anything, the more knowledge you have going in and the more time you spend finding a call center that you can partner with, the better experience you and your customers will probably have.

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Life as a Philippines Call Center Agent #04

Years ago, I never wanted to work in a call center. I have friends working in some Philippines call center companies and I can see how hard it is for them to wake up at night just to go to work. But I can’t deny it. The call center industry is one of fastest growing industry in the Philippines today. It has helped create jobs for many Filipinos and has given opportunities to millions. And somehow, I thought, I wanted to become a part of it. I wanted to feel what it’s like to be working in a call center.

I finally decided to give it a shot. Try once…and if things go bad, never do it again.
I passed, though. It was my first try and I did it. I’d say out of  luck, or maybe not. But whatever it was, I was in for the experience of a lifetime.

I learned that being out at night is risky but fun, too. Especially if you’re out for work. You don’t have to endure heavy traffic, unlike when you have a regular daytime job where you’d be stuck in traffic for hours. You don’t sweat in the  warm heat of the sun. Instead, you can feel the cool breeze of the night, making you want to wear your jacket.

Working in a call center has introduced me to a whole new world. I met several people. Each one different from the other. Each one with a different personality. Each one  with a different style. And each one has touched my life in one way or another.

I learned a lot of things too. Simple things that I didn’t know. Like the names of the US states and  the US time zones. Now, I know that California is on the west coast and New York on  the east.

Parties, outings and other team building activities are the most exciting things about my call center job. You don’t only get to go out with your friends, but you will also get to see different places. Most importantly, you can gain some experience which can make you laugh when you look back to it years after…things worth remembering.  These are the good things that working in a call center has brought me, aside from, of course, the good pay.

But like everything in this world, working in a call center Philippines has it’s share of not-so-good-things.
I knew from the very start that it would be hard. I later realized that it’s even harder than what I had prepared myself  for. I had to turn my time around and keep awake through the night. I’m not a fan of  coffee, but  it became an important part of my diet. Coffee keeps me alert  during my shift. But what’s most difficult for me is sleeping during the day.

Aside from that, I have to constantly please every customer that I deal with each customer service call and establish excellent service under the keen observation of my supervisors and mentors. I have to make sure that the script is delivered the way it should be. I have to prepare my rebuttals, in case I need them.

One of the worst things that could happen when working in a call center is to be shouted at by irate customers. The first time I had my share of that, it made me want to cry. I even thought of giving up. But I realized, I have to take it constructively rather than destructively. And soon enough, it didn’t matter if customers shouted at me throughout the call.  I learned to remain composed and calm.

All in all, sometimes the stress is overwhelming. But I know stress comes with the total package. And I have to endure it.  Indeed, life in a call center can be tough. And for me, it’s like riding a roller coaster. It can bring you down, but it can also take you up.  I guess everything in life is like that and so the call center is no different. All you have to do is hold on to your seat…and enjoy the ride!

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