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The challenges of a global contact center

In order to handle calls successfully, a global contact center needs its agents to have a background in multiple products and to understand multiple cultures.

As companies go global, one of their central challenges is effective contact center management. Agents may need...

to be trained in multiple product lines or serve customers in a variety of countries.

Routing calls to the right agent with the availability and skills to handle the call becomes a complex task. Agents need to understand customers' preferences and expectations and be able to bridge language or cultural gaps. Routing calls efficiently and to agents with the right knowledge has to happen seamlessly, without customers' need for speed being compromised.

A global contact center can handle these issues in two ways. First, they try to address the cultural challenges that can arise from having agents handle calls that may come from multiple countries. Second, they try to address the internal operational issues that handling multiple product lines, countries or even company units may pose.

Customer cultural challenges

A global contact center often caters to a global customer base's varied set of preferences and expectations. Areas where these differences arise include the following:

  • Comfort with technology
  • Customer preferences
  • Knowledge bases
  • Holiday observance

Comfort with technology. The comfort level and use of technology may vary among customers from different countries. For example, some customers may be comfortable using an IVR system and other self-service options, whereas others may not. A global contact center should understand how adept its customers are at using various technologies and must understand that one size may not fit all.

Agents need to be proficient in multiple languages when dealing with an international customer base.

Customer preferences. Depending on the country or part of the world, customers may have different preferences related to how they interact with a global contact center. Take product delivery for example: In many countries delivery of a product to a customer's doorstep is a common practice, while in other countries, customers are either required to or prefer to go to a specific location to pick up a product. Organizations must understand what customers expect from them and make sure they provide options that work for different customers.

Knowledge bases. Knowledge bases become important tools for agents that have to juggle knowledge of multiple product lines or cultural exceptions. In order to be an effective tool for global contact center multilingual agents and a source of self-service information for customers, knowledge databases must be translated into the various languages utilized by the customer base. In addition to providing critical information on products and services, knowledge databases must contain information with regard to specific practices, holidays and customs of various countries.

Holiday observance. The observance of holidays and vacations varies significantly from country to country. In many countries, during specific holidays, entire towns shut down for days to observe and celebrate. Organizations need to be aware of these unique situations because they may impact customer availability and prevent them from communicating crucial service updates or product information.

Internal operational challenges

A diverse set of customers requires organizations to be flexible and adjust internal policies and procedures. Some of the areas that organizations need to examine include:

  • Language skills
  • Free-form notes
  • Quality monitoring

Language skills. Global contact center agents need to be proficient in multiple languages when dealing with an international customer base. For a call center that interacts with callers from both the United States and Latin America, for example, the organization must be careful how they utilize agents whose primary language is English and Spanish is a second language, and agents who speak Spanish as their primary language. Agents who can speak Spanish as a second language may not be as familiar with the nuances of various dialects coming from customers from various countries. Contact centers must put call-routing measures in place to send native Spanish speakers to agents who have more experience with that language in order to promote good service. This might require customers to choose their language of preference before the call is sent to an agent, giving the customer the choice of who to communicate with.

Free-form notes. Free-form notes are recorded in CRM systems and provide detailed information on customer interactions. If agents are proficient in English, it will likely be OK to use a system that is English-based, but organizations need to determine if other languages need to be accommodated. If multiple languages are spoken in the contact center, translating CRM notes can be a tricky situation. The lack of a standardized language may lead to words and phrases being translated improperly and the details of an interaction being misinterpreted.

Organizations must consider whether one single language is appropriate for free-form CRM notes or whether a single, dedicated person translating notes is appropriate solution to assuring that agents are accurately updated on customer information.

Quality monitoring. Quality monitoring programs ensure that agents adhere to policies and procedures and that they treat customers professionally and with respect. These programs may have to be customized to account for language and custom nuances with customers from other countries. In some cultures, customers might expect to have a short, friendly chat with the agent before addressing the service issue while other cultures expect problem resolution to begin immediately. Organizations must build in specific criteria with regard to scoring calls with customers from different countries.

Many contact centers that handle domestic contacts already deal with many of the issues noted above. Challenges become more complicated when a customer base expands to include customers who speak additional languages and reside in foreign countries. All of these challenges can be effectively addressed. The key is to identify the challenges and make educated decisions on how best to satisfy the needs of a diverse customer base.

Next Steps

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This was last published in November 2015

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