Nationwide, the UK’s largest biggest building society, has announced that it will be expanding its call centres in the UK rather than switching jobs abroad.
Nationwide employs some 800 people in centres at Swindon and Northampton. These will be refurbished to make them "better environments in which to work, while the company also plans to open a new centre in Sheffield employing up to 180 people.
"Call centres abroad may suit some of our competitors but they are not the right option for Nationwide," said Philip Williamson, Nationwide's chief executive. "We are aware of some commentators' concerns that some countries may not have the same level of data protection for consumers that exists in the UK," he added.
The decision bucks the trend for ‘offshoring’ call centre jobs to India and elsewhere and comes as new research suggests that UK call centres handle more calls per hour than those offshore and deliver better customer satisfaction by resolving more calls first time.
Specialist research firm ContactBabel found that workers in British call centres answered 25 per cent more calls per hour than employees in India and resolved 17 per cent more of these calls first time.
But the report pointedly points out the customer satisfaction is not always taken into consideration when a decision is made to offshore call centres. “Most contact centres are judged on their metrics, and most metrics are still focused upon keeping costs down. Whether this is an old-fashioned measure of success can be debated.”
"Indian agents are very quick to pick up the phone, but it takes them longer to complete each call, and more than a third of customers call back later to get a satisfactory resolution to their inquiry," said Steve Morrell, author of the report.
ContactBabel also found that for a sector popularly supposed to be in terminal decline, the UK contact centre industry is growing at a very healthy rate: call volumes increased by around 20 per cent in 2003.
Contrary to popular belief, the research also found that UK call centre employees tended to stay with their company for over three years, compared with 11 months for workers in Indian call centres.
Yet although the mean attrition rate for employees is around 15 per cent, the research also found that some call centres have horrendous rates of staff turnover – more than 100 per cent per year in some cases – “and perhaps it is these which we hear about most.”
Such figures add credence to the assertion made earlier this month in a study by the Health and Safety Executive that described working conditions in some UK call centres as akin to Victorian 'dark satanic mills'. The HSE also found that the proportion of call handlers at risk of mental health problems is much higher than for all other benchmark occupations.
ContactBabel agrees that facilities provided for staff vary hugely. Most operations provide a break-room and staff parking, but fewer than half offer a restaurant, smoking room, garden or lockers to their staff. Yet on a more positive note, staff receive a day’s training every month on average.
"To survive, the UK contact centre industry has to change the way success is measured," the report asserts.
"The challenge now is to sell the story to senior executives that success is about more than low costs. Measurements of quality and value-add need to be placed alongside traditional cost metrics to give a wider view of how contact centres are performing overall."