BPOs Expose The Secrets of “Agents”

6 Jan
P. Mohan Chandran
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

BPOs are seen as ‘production centers,’ rather than ‘innovation centers’ and idea-generation seems to be put on the backburner – a primary reason for lack of innovation in BPO and ITES sectors. People are viewed more as robots and just workers delivering some products/services, than innovators of ideas or inventions. Most of the BPOs fail to acknowledge the fact that innovation mostly comes from the intangible assets of an organization – people – than the tangible assets.

Executives in organizations must promote a culture of innovation among employees and encourage them across the organization to share their innovative ideas and insights. Organizations must understand that innovation doesn’t happen by serendipity or guesswork but by research. While outsourcing may enhance productivity, it is innovation that sustains competitiveness and survival of any organization. Successful companies train their employees in ushering innovation, which in turn will create solutions to problems and add value.

Companies of several countries outsource call centre operations to low-cost countries such as India, Pakistan, and China, who act as ‘agents’ of the outsourced company. The probability or threat of call centre employees revealing the confidential and private information of agents is high. Such confidential information may include sensitive information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, banking and financial information, etc. To cut down costs and increase bottomline, call centers often pay low wages to employees. The low wages, coupled with long working hours, act as ideal bait for employees to earn some quick bucks by exposing the secrets of agents’ customers. Moreover, the BPO industry has been quite lethargic in installing a proper security system for preventing the disclosure of confidential information. According to a recent survey in the U.S., identity theft has gone up, forcing some companies to heavily penalize their agents for letting out sensitive customer data. Some countries are also contemplating introduction of laws at state and national levels to counter this malignant trend. For instance, California became the first state in the US, when it passed a legislation in July 2003, to impose penalty for disclosing sensitive customer information.

To counter the threat of security, CitiCapital, a US-based commercial finance company, restructured its call center processes and IT infrastructure, and restricted the amount of customer information available to call center agents. CitiCapital bought an innovative solution called ‘ContactQ,’ developed by Positive Software Systems (PSS). ContactQ extracts the phone number from each customer’s record and sends it to the dialer, thus protecting sensitive information. ContactQ also restricts the usage of data within the call center, and furnishes the agents only that part of the data, which is necessary to carry out their work. Says Edward Mandel, President and CEO of PSS, “The biggest challenge in today’s call center world is how you distribute data across a global enterprise. When data flows from one call center to another, it must stay secure.”

Also, chat transactions carry high threat of vital information disclosure. Says Tony Pante, Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Product Strategy at LivePerson (a chat software provider), “A chat transaction is very similar to a phone call. The agent is in communication with a customer, and they exchange information like account number and credit card information. If someone gets access to all of a company’s chat transactions, then it is just as though they had access to the entire customer database.”

BPO companies are now looking at innovation with a renewed perspective. In 2004, the call center innovation award went to Jacada Fusion, a leading software provider of contact center productivity solutions. Jacada Fusion observed through its experience that the complexity of agent’s desktop was a major impediment to providing high customer service. Jacada Fusion possesses patented technology, which enables companies to simplify agent’s interaction with business applications on their desktop without rewriting or substituting any of the current systems. Jacada Fusion streamlined the complexity of business operations involved in handling long calls and expensive training programmes, reduced the high call turn-over, and thus, increased customer satisfaction levels. It provided a focused approach for integrating all desktop applications in delivering a new, customer-friendly process and interaction. Says Holmes, Executive VP of Jacada, “The award affirms what we are hearing from our customers, that Jacada Fusion provides a first-of-a-kind solution to solve a significant productivity and efficiency problem for call centers. For the first time, companies can rapidly implement their own vision of ‘The Perfect Interaction’ between people, process and information – creating and changing the process as needed, regardless of how many or what types of systems they use.” Similarly the 2005 call center innovation award was conferred on Five9 Virtual Contact Center for creating a breakthrough CRM or call/contact center service.

24×7, a leading BPO in India, achieved a breakthrough innovation in call centers when it announced that it would be offering website development and content management services, something unprecedented in the BPO industry. According to Shane Miller, CEO of the company, traditional web development process involved static HTML pages that were hosted on a server. Hosting and website development were seen as two disparate products. 24×7 views the two as one product and integrates static website accounts into dynamic framework. This integrated framework provides powerful capabilities of website maintenance and support services without the assistance of an external webmaster or programmer, thus saving costs for the company. Says Miller, “We are setting the trend. At the moment, it is unprecedented…we are the first. However in the future, everyone will understand web development and web site maintenance to be call center services. It just makes sense. Why hire a programmer when effective use of technology and training can enable much more cost-effective call center agents to provide even better services, for less money?”

There is huge potential for BPO market in the future. According to Gartner research, the global BPO industry is expected to witness a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 9.5% by 2007, and the total value would be $173 billion. The global market for ITES sector is expected to grow to $142 billion by 2008, of which India’sshare is expected to be $17 billion. There is a strong need to protect the IP assets in BPO and ITES sectors, looking at the high threat of IP theft on one hand, and huge potential ahead, on the other. Moreover, with BPO companies embracing innovation, protection of IP has assumed increased significance.

It would be very difficult for innovation to thrive without IPR, which offers protection to all kinds of intellectual property (IP). The BPO companies mentioned above protected their innovations – technological or business methods – through IPR registrations. Innovation enabled the companies to create value and enlarge their client/customer base by offering their services and solutions to a cross-section of the industry, while robust IPR protection ensured them huge profits by protecting others from copying their invention/innovation. Innovation and IPR have thus come to coexist in an era where intangible assets such as knowledge and intellectual products are valued higher than the tangible assets (cash, land, building, etc.). IP, without an iota of doubt, now holds the key to innovation in the future. And to nurture innovation, proper protection has to be extended to the IP asset by legal means through IP registration.

(c) 2007. P. Mohan Chandran. All Rights Reserved.

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