Many state governments have recently established hotlines to address their citizens’ growing concerns and questions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, several such hotlines have been overrun by call overflow, in some cases to such an extent that the hotlines were shut down. Such public communication problems underscore the rapidly increasing customer support problems plaguing Corporate America.
In New Jersey, for example, Governor Phil Murphy announced on March 24, 2020 a hotline for citizens to file complaints against employers who were violating his executive order precluding non-essential businesses from operating. The hotline was directed to the New Jersey State Police, the state’s primary law enforcement agency.
Later that same day, however, nj.com reported that, within one hour of that announcement, the hotline became overloaded and was redirecting calls to other state agencies because the calls were interfering with emergency calls. www.nj.com/coronavirus/2020/03/dont-call-the-number-murphy-gave-to-report-employers-on-coronavirus-heres-why.html. The article quoted a State Police official who said that “[t]he number of calls was inundating a line that’s dedicated to other purposes” and was obstructing “law enforcement sensitive calls.” It also stated that a reported who called the hotline was redirected to a “tipline” operated by the State’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
Since discontinuing that hotline, moreover, the State has been unable or unwilling to replace it. Instead, the State created an online form which is linked to the State’s website by which citizens can file written complaints. However, the State did not, or could not, establish a new phone number dedicated for receiving verbal complaints. Thus, citizens who cannot access the State’s website, or who do not wish to complete the written form, cannot report violations of the Governor’s executive order.
If state governments cannot handle their citizens’ support demands and needs, commercial businesses are undoubtedly confronting the same problems and inadequacies. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has effectively bottlenecked external corporate communications to an unprecedent extent.
This bottlenecking was highlighted by Lauren Irwin-Szostak, President of Business Processes Redefined, LLC, which outsources and manages a network of U.S.-based call centers. “Countless companies are unable to handle their incoming and outgoing calls,” Ms. Irwin-Szostak said. “Customers desperate for information from businesses regarding billing or other issues are reaching recorded messages apologizing for the businesses’ inability to respond.”
And those companies who outsource their customer service communications to foreign call centers are in the worst position of all, as more and more countries issue orders shutting in their citizens and shutting down their businesses. For example, India – perhaps the home of more call center operations than any other country – just ordered all residents to stay at home for 21 days, without having any infrastructure in place for providing such operations remotely, much less for doing so while complying with the maze of federal and state laws governing such operations.
In Irwin-Szostak’s opinion, India’s shutdown all but guarantees that U.S. companies will have to repatriate their debt collection and call center operations – to those companies’ benefit. “My 15 years or so of dealing with India-based call centers have been replete with frustration,” she said. “Their phone operators are often difficult to comprehend and/or inadequately informed, and occasionally arrogant and/or less than honest. Such shortcomings hurt the U.S. companies that outsource their call center needs overseas by turning off their customers. The opportunity loss simply doesn’t make sense, even with the short-term savings.”
With existing employees homebound for the foreseeable future and plunging revenues plunging, Corporate America has but one place to turn – U.S.-based call center operations. Such operations are sufficiently extensive to handle the current communication crisis, knowledgeable to comply with all applicable regulations, and sophisticated to protect companies’ brand by treating their customers with empathy and sensitivity during these trying times.
“U.S.-based call centers avoid such problems while maximizing compliance with federal and state laws,” Irwin-Szostak said. “And such call centers can and do work well together. We share common ground and mutual respect. I have never experienced that in dealing with India-based call centers.”
The current crisis will likely compel many U.S. businesses to repatriate their call center operations and to utilize U.S.-based call centers. Irwin-Szostak believes that such businesses should do so not merely due to economic necessity, but also to display economic patriotism.
“This unprecedented situation provides Corporate America with a unique opportunity to pump life into our domestic economy and create jobs here at home by bringing their outsourced customer support operations back to our shores,” Irwin-Szostak said. “Doing so not only would provide better service to their customers, but also would place patriotism over profits. It is long overdue.”
Irwin-Szostak stressed that repatriating call center operations would also prove to be good business by maximizing compliance and minimizing costly investigations and litigations resulting from violations of the vast maze of federal and state regulations governing such operations. “Generally speaking, U.S.-based call centers are held to a higher standard than foreign-based call centers,” Irwin-Szostak said. “We also have to pay more to operate and to ensure full compliance with federal and state laws. In my opinion, we deserve more reciprocity from U.S. businesses who have outsourced their call center needs to India and other foreign countries.”
The domestic call center network is ready, willing and able to address the business community’s dire need for inbound and outbound customer support communications and services.