To More Than India
In "Passage To India," Whitman was celebrating not only the great
communications accomplishments of the 19th century, the laying of
the Atlantic and Pacific cables, the joining of the transcontinental
railroad in the United States and the opening of the Suez Canal,
but also the spiritual effects the opening of these communications
channels would have on the world. For Whitman, the fulfillment of
Columbus' dream, of easy commerce to India, should lead to more
than just trade, it should lead to a spiritual awakening that comes
when communication around the world leads to a free exchange of
knowledge and the recognition of common human yearnings, desires
and needs, breaking down the age-old barriers of distance and ignorance.
This dream is closer to fulfillment now that the Web is worldwide,
making nearly instantaneous the transferring of voice and data,
words and ideas, from anywhere to anywhere in the world.
advantage of the opportunities of global communications, several
companies have started up in the past few years that are drawing
on India's vast population and resulting large numbers of well-educated
technology experts to provide support. As much software development
has been successfully outsourced to India since the '90s, one barrier
to acceptance has already come down, and telephony and data costs
are falling as India moves toward privatization in those areas.
Following are brief descriptions of some of the companies providing
contact center services from India.
I recently spoke with Jai Gupta, CEO of Verette, Inc., about Verette's
operations. Verette is headquartered in Livermore, California, with
its contact center located in Mumbai, India, connected by Verette's
DVI (digital voice infrastructure) end-to-end dedicated circuits
via IPLC (International Private Leased Circuit), which improves
the quality of VoIP calls (and the quality was certainly high for
the call I received from their contact center in Mumbai). While
I was on that call, I was also logged in to their Web demo, guided
through the site by a very pleasant CSR, Kaizad Sidhwa, a commerce
graduate from Mumbai University (who was polite to the point of
not mentioning the spelling errors in my typing during our Web chat
session [Verette uses Cisco's WebLine product for chat, page pushing,
form filling and co-browsing]).
stressed the importance Verette places on not only the company's
infrastructure (for which it has partnered with AT&T, Cisco, Compaq,
Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Telera), but also on the quality
and training of its agents. Verette provides its agents with a four-component
training program, which consists of product-specific training, America
101 (people, geography, sports, etc.), accent training (where the
agents listen to tapes and watch American TV shows) and customer
service 101. The initial training time is two weeks, and product-specific
training runs from six to eight weeks.
said Verette strives to mold itself to provide the touch and feel
of what its clients have in the U.S., and train on the client's
tools so they can use them in the program. For each client, Verette
builds a dedicated team and matches agent skills to each program.
Gupta told me that upfront setup costs are low for clients, and
they can have a client's program up and running in six to eight
Sidhwa told me Verette believes in complete customer satisfaction,
but Gupta said that over and above that, Verette looks to improve
their employees' skills and their quality of life. Gupta added that
Verette is looking to expand its client base to Europe, Asia/Pacific
and South and Central America.
MphasiS-BFL designs and builds information technology architecture
for Fortune 500 companies that are custom-tailored for financial,
retail and technology industries using a variety of applications.
Its 1,400 engineers develop systems that share the same customer
information across branch offices, customer service centers, call
centers and Web-based interfaces. With this expertise in systems
integration, it seems only natural that MphasiS-BFL would go into
the outsourced contact center services field, as it has through
its subsidiary, MphasiS BPO.
Jaithirth "Jerry" Rao, chairman and CEO of MphasiS
and chairman of MphasiS BPO, told me about MphasiS BPO's operations
in its two contact centers in India, one in Bangalore and one in
Pune. Each center has approximately 200 agents and is staffed 24/7.
Rao said that all agents at MphasiS BPO are college graduates and
receive four to six weeks of initial training that includes accent
training, customer service and technology. Agents undergo a broad
spectrum of training, from online to classroom to viewing films
and TV programming from the U.S. Whenever possible, the agents are
trained specifically on the client's business at a client's headquarters
so the agents are able to provide complete and in-depth answers
to inquiries. Attesting to the quality procedures at MphasiS BPO,
its Pune center has received ISO 9001-2000 quality standard certification.
said MphasiS BPO has two interconnected telecom centers in the U.S.,
one in California and one in Texas, which are linked to the two
Indian centers through IPLC terrestrial fiber and satellite links
to ensure multiple redundancies.
provides inbound and outbound telephony services, e-mail response,
text chat and VoIP support from Web sites. MphasiS BPO's first step
for its clients is to perform an eCRM needs analysis so it can develop
a strategy capable of engaging automated support that escalates
to live help as needed.
additional customer reach for MphasiS BPO and its clients is the Oxelis
eSupport Console from Oxelis, Inc. The eSupport Console, which can
be deployed on Web sites or sent with e-mail, provides users with
multimedia previews to educate users about site features or the
products or services a company provides. The eSupport Console also
gives the user FAQ features, as well as the ability to escalate
to live help through text chat or VoIP. According to Madhu Vijayan,
president and CEO of Oxelis, these features allow the eSupport Console
to "deliver the right service to the right person at the right time."
24/7 Customer.com has its contact center in the International Technology
Park in Bangalore, which has various facilities for employees such
as workout and health facilities. Onsite they have 100 percent uptime
data connectivity and stand-alone power. In fact, when earthquakes
hit India last year, 24/7 Customer.com allowed other companies to
use their facilities. Its corporate headquarters in Los Gatos, California
and its operations center in Bangalore are connected through a VSNL
earth station with IPLC connectivity and has an uninterrupted power
"Sid" Kosaraju, vice president of development and marketing, 24/7
Customer.com told me that companies are rethinking their strategies
because of the global slowdown, and for many, their first thought
is to look to India. "For them," he continued, "24/7 Customer.com
can offer a higher skill level and lower costs. The advent of a
large software development industry in India in the 1990s has given
many a high level of comfort in outsourcing other services to India."
In the case of 24/7 Customer.com, over the past year their services
have done a complete turnaround, from a 30/70 ratio of voice services
to e-mail and chat last year, to 70 percent voice and 30 percent
e-mail and chat this year. The company recently recorded its 1,000,000th
customer service query for 2001, and expects to handle 1,000,000
more by the end of the year.
Customer.com handles all types of programs for their clients, such
as customer service, financial services, retail and tech support.
Kosaraju said that in clients, they look to have long-term contracts
with Global 500-level companies, and for those clients they can
provide both inbound and outbound services, and perform cross-selling
and upselling as well.
has recently been awarded ISO 9002 certification and its Bangalore
inbound customer service operation has secured the highest Baseline
Assessment score earned to date by any organization using the COPC-2000
Standard (Release 3.1) from COPC.
24/7 Customer.com has 350 seats and 300 agents, half of whom have
master's degrees and all of whom have BA degrees. 24/7 Customer.com's
agents work in teams dedicated to a single customer's business.
CustomerAsset.com, headquartered in Bangalore and with offices in
the U.S. and the U.K. as well, is a joint venture between SOFTBANK,
ePartners (News Corporation) and P K Mittal (Ispat Group). Raghu
Krishnaiah, chief of U.S. operations for CustomerAsset.com, provided
me details about the operations of CustomerAsset.com and its eCRM
offerings in outsourced customer interaction, outbound telesales,
inbound customer service, data mining, database marketing and campaign
a screening process that includes written and verbal skills testing,
agents go through an initial three-and-a-half-week training program.
Krishnaiah stressed that CustomerAsset.com hires only people with
college degrees and two years of work experience in the field. Krishnaiah
said an advantage of India over the U.S. is that it is difficult
to cost-effectively find people in the U.S. who can cross-sell as
well as perform customer service.
said that CustomerAsset.com is run and operated like a U.S. company,
and offers a quality of service guarantee. As part of its overall
business strategy, it is looking to partner with CRM software dealers.
As part of its CRM offerings, agents have a complete history of
a customer's interactions with the client, whether it is Web, e-mail,
fax or voice. Krishnaiah added that they try to reduce the number
of agents needed to handle the work so that clients increase margins
30 to 40 percent.
has two centers in Bangalore, with dedicated fiber optic circuits
through AT&T and MCI for voice and data streaming, carrier-class
automatic call distributors (ACDs) and multiplexers with built-in
redundancy; customer care specialists use Dell PCs, IBM thin clients
and IBM Netfinity servers and agent desktops connect to virtual
LANs through Intel switches to ensure confidentiality. Krishnaiah
said that clients are separated both physically and technologically
in the centers. CustomerAsset.com plans to have a 5,000-seat capacity
by the end of 2003. They also recently acquired TeleWeb Worldwide,
a Denver-based company that was primarily focused on outsourced
customer service and sales to India from U.S. telecommunications
Headquartered in Los Angeles, C-Cubed Solutions provides live sales
and support help for its clients from its center in Bangalore. Steve
Durham, COO of C-Cubed Solutions, explained that they provide live
sales help and customer service through e-mail and text chat for
their clients. Durham said all of C-Cubed Solutions' 140 CSRs are
college graduates and are Oracle- and Microsoft-qualified and are
well-trained on the eshare software they use in their contact center.
to give clients a level of acceptability -- they can put us on hiatus
or ratchet our services up or down," said Durham. For potential
clients, C-Cubed Solutions will put together an interim knowledge
base from a company's Web pages. C-Cubed uses this interim knowledge
base to provide a gap analysis to show the potential clients how
they can improve upon or extend the services that the potential
clients are currently giving their customers. Durham added that
C-Cubed provides its clients consistency, speed and provides a skill
set that is uniform and measured.
to Durham, C-Cubed doesn't require net start-up fees or minimums
or a contract, so there is an area for clients to test programs.
C-Cubed staffs for 75 percent utilization and charges around $12
per person per hour (and they only charge when an agent is doing
work for a client), and Durham told me that chat times go down the
longer they work with a client.
C-Cubed clients, they are handling e-mail for Net2Phone, and for
Sony, they are providing e-selling live sales help on the Sony Web
site. Other clients include Ritz Interactive, allpets.com and Koss
Solutions is planning on adding Spanish, Portuguese and French,
so they will be able to offer their services to all of the Americas
as well as a large portion of Europe, and there are also plans to
expand into offering voice services in the future.
India the panacea for all companies looking to give their customers
follow-the-sun e-commerce sales and support? For some it will be
and the companies mentioned here are already providing a viable
outsourcing alternative. But no one place can provide the solutions
for all needs, so look at India and compare your needs to what companies
there are offering.
Note: Reading Whitman's lines again as well as my introduction
to this piece on the night of September 11, 2001, perhaps my faith
in the opportunities for greater understanding of the human condition
through global communications seems too idealistic, but I cannot
help but feel that the more we can spread knowledge, the more compassionate
we will become and the greater the chances for peace. Open your
mind and the heart will follow -- the body will no longer be the
center of the world -- the center will be the soul.