By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Late last year the U.S. Call Center and Consumer Protection Act (H.R.3596) was introduced as the US Congress’ latest foray against our industry. Although it carries a benign, even possibly positive, title, it is neither. The bill’s Introduction (with typo) states its purpose as:
“To require a publicly available a list of all employers that relocate a call center overseas and to make such companies ineligible for Federal grants or guaranteed loans and to require disclosure of the physical location of business agents engaging in customer service communications.”
Errant wording aside, this bill is disconcerting on many levels.
Why Are Call Centers Singled Out? This is really a rhetorical question. Because of some shoddy past practices (and a few that persist today), call centers have earned a certain amount of public ire and even more media scrutiny, making them a popular and politically expedient target for our elected officials. By attacking our industry, they have much to gain and little to lose. However, if this bill were actually fair and balanced, it would cover all entities that use offshore resources, including manufacturers and high-tech firms. Every argument supporting the core premise of this bill applies to all sectors, some perhaps even more so than ours.
Location Is Not the Key for Quality: As a consumer, I don’t care where my call is answered, as long as the agent can effectively respond. There are ineffective onshore call centers and effective ones offshore – and vice versa. If this bill is really for consumers, it should address quality, not location – or better still, skip another needless regulation.
Let the Marketplace Decide: The past several years have seen more call centers returning to the US than leaving it. This is in large response to a backlash against firms that employ offshore resources poorly. Just as manufacturers painfully learned that quality must be maintained when producing products overseas, so too must businesses that run offshore call centers.
More Location Discloser Requirements: Offshore reps must disclose their physical location, which is confusing for callers when reaching a geographically distributed workforce. Additionally, centers must transfer callers to a US-based rep whenever requested. However, if the call center is completely offshore, there is no one left to answer the transferred call. Or what if no US rep is currently available? Imagine an announcement stating, “Your call will be answered in eleven hours and twenty-three minutes – when our US reps return to work.”
Curious Stipulations: I am not a lawyer, so I could be wrong, but items in this bill perplex me. First, the offshoring penalty only applies to inbound call centers, not outbound. Next, outsourcing isn’t mentioned. If an organization outsources their calls and the outsourcer goes offshore, is the client organization included or exempt? Third, the disclosure requirement seemingly applies to all entities doing “customer service communication.” Doesn’t that cover everyone?
This bill has enough ambiguous wording to cause more confusion than clarity, but in my opinion, it is more about garnering votes than protecting consumers. It should be withdrawn.