How contact centers can have the benefits of both off- and onshore sites.
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Just so there's no misunderstanding, let me be clear that I am not in favor of sending American contact center jobs to offshore outsourcers. As a consumer I am more than frustrated dealing with agents who don't understand what I'm asking for, and whom I don't understand when they answer. Customer service for American customers is too important a task to be sent to India or elsewhere.
There are times, in fact, when U.S.--based organizations should consider local alternatives to outsourcing. For example, outsourcing contact center work to Native Americans living within the Navajo Nation makes perfect sense.
The Navajo Nation covers 27,000 square miles of northern Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. There are approximately 180,000 Native Americans living on the Navajo reservation with a median age of 22.5 years. In towns like Window Rock (capital of the Navajo Nation, with a population of more than 3,000), 82 percent of residents have completed high school and 25 percent have a college degree or higher. Yet, unemployment is about 43 percent.
This is mainly because for some residents, the idea of leaving the familiarity of the reservation and the unique aspects of Navajo culture is not an attractive option. Much of the population pursue such traditional vocations as farming and ranching, which allow them to remain on the reservation. Many others successfully pursue higher education and return to the reservation, only to find that there are no appropriate jobs. Much of the problem lies with general misconceptions about establishing businesses within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.
As a sovereign nation recognized as a domestic dependent under the protection of the United States, the Nation has the right to establish and enforce specific laws (which may or may not be in common with those of the U.S.).
Consequently, businesses have been reluctant to locate on Navajo land, for fear of losing control of some aspect of the business and having no legal recourse.
Today Navajo leaders are working to negotiate deals that have the dual objectives of benefiting the Navajo Nation while protecting the interests of the companies locating on Navajo land. The result is typically a limited waiver of immunity that provides the business owner with full legal recourse in the event of a problem or dispute. In other words, the barriers to locating businesses on the Navajo reservation have been removed.
Before looking at offshore locations, managers who operate contact centers for U.S.--based organizations need to look closely at the opportunities offered by establishing an outsourcing center on the Navajo reservation. Infrastructure is no longer an issue given the capabilities of Internet Protocol (IP) communications, and the workforce opportunity would be, in my opinion, unmatched. It would be relatively easy to recruit a workforce on the reservation that would meet basic education requirements, be eager to work, speak English, and have a much higher propensity to view the call center as a career rather than just another job. In addition, the potential tax benefits and government contract-work advantages would easily equal the cost savings of sending contact center work overseas.
Before sending more American jobs offshore, U.S.--based organizations should explore the local alternatives. Sending contact center jobs to India is a short-term solution used by shortsighted executives. Offering Native Americans work in contact centers on reservations provides a long-term solution that is not only economically viable and potentially profitable, but it is also the right thing to do.
Paul Stockford is chief analyst of Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers and customer service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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