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It has been noted that a combination of political pressure, economic incentives and technology change is bringing back call center work that has been offshored to the United States. The technological shift is the most interesting, because it is being driven by the same forces that took these jobs offshore in the first place. Companies have found that not only is it cheaper to have customers perform basic service functions online, but that customers prefer it. By enabling customers to handle basic service functions online, companies reduce the need for call centers altogether. When the function of the call center changes, not only do customers receive better service, but the cost savings from foreign call centers are reduced.
Foreign call centers derived their cost advantages from the high volume of calls that needed to be handled, and these advantages persisted despite the disadvantages of operating calls overseas. A smaller call center, one with the focus on high-end interactions with customers, still has the same disadvantages in training, provision of service and the same risks of doing business overseas ranging from political risk to infrastructure issues. Yet, while the costs of operating call centers overseas have remained stable, the cost advantages have diminished. Thus, the economics of using call centers is not nearly as positive as it once was. Given that even states are adopting laws to punish firms that outsource customer service jobs overseas (Semerdjian, 2012).
Ultimately, the case for setting up call centers overseas is not as compelling as it once was. The case was always economic, and as we have seen a combination of different factors has dramatically diminished the economic case for overseas call centers. For high-volume call centers, especially those focused on outbound calls that can be run by third-party subcontractors, there is still a relatively strong overseas call center industry. However, for inbound call centers where the agents must engage in a high level of interaction with the customers, the case for offshoring is becoming less compelling. Technological change and the idea that a company can gain competitive advantage from locating in the U.S. have reversed the tide of offshoring, bringing a lot of call center jobs back to the U.S. Firms that do this have more reliable American infrastructure, they have American-level communication skills from their reps, and they can manage these operations more closely than if these operations are located in a foreign country halfway around the world.
Overall, there is a compelling case for bringing back these jobs to the U.S. Companies gain competitive advantage from doing so. In addition, American workers are still more productive than foreign workers, and this helps to account for the cost differential between the two sets of workers. The case against offshoring may sometimes be framed by politicians as a moral one, but in reality the case for bringing back jobs in the call centers to the U.S. is a pragmatic one. Company management can have more control over the service function, to the benefit of its service scores, and can have more reliable call center operations if they are located in the United States. For this, and for the other reasons stated above, it makes perfect sense to bring these operations back to the U.S., and to set up new call center operations domestically rather than offshoring them to foreign countries.
Drezner, D. (2004). The outsourcing bogeyman. Foreign Affairs. In possession of the author.
Holman, D., Batt, R. & Holtgrewe, U. (2007). The global call center report: International perspectives on management and employment. Global Call Center Network. Retrieved April 11, 2013 from http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/globalcallcenter/upload/GCC-International-Rept-U.S.-Version.pdf
Jamieson, D. (2011). Overseas call centers target of anti-outsourcing bill. Huffington Post. Retrieved April 11, 2013 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/07/overseas-call-centers-outsourcing-bill_n_1135147.html
Muir, D. (2012). Foreign call centers phone home. ABC News. Retrieved April 11, 2013 from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/02/foreign-call-centers-phone-home/
Semerdjian, S. (2012). States introduce bills penalizing overseas call centers. Loeb & Loeb. Retrieved April 11, 2013 from http://www.loeb.com/statebillspenalizingoverseascallcenters/
Zeitlin, M. (2012). Why call center jobs are coming back. Daily Beast. Retrieved April 11, 2013 from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/08/28/why-call-center-jobs-are-coming-back.html[continue]
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