Blog 24 January 2020

John Lewis and the unexpected return of offshoring

by Richard Farrell


Why the rise of omnichannel contact centres may trigger an offshoring renaissance

Last month, John Lewis shocked the retail industry by announcing plans to replace part of its UK-based contact centre team with contractors based in the Philippines.

The general consensus was that this strategy was outdated and wrong-headed. Offshoring? You mean that thing that was popular during the nineties until everyone realised it was a mistake?

Bucking Contact Centre Trends

It also seemed at odds with recent contact centre trends. The last ten years have been dominated by a very different “o” word – omnichannel – and businesses have focused on centralising data and integrating channels.

Offshoring feels like the antithesis of this approach. Break up your contact centre and you risk creating data silos and fragmented customer journeys. Customer experience is now a critical brand differentiator, so why would any business take this chance?

But the reality is that offshoring doesn’t carry the same risks it used to. And ironically businesses have the omnichannel contact centre to thank for that.

Why Omnichannel and Offshoring Can Work

These platforms enable businesses to integrate all of their channels and data in one centralised, cloud-based system. That means every agent can work from an accurate, up-to-date view of the customer, regardless of where they’re based. At the same time, customers enjoy a consistent and seamless experience – whether they’re communicating with someone in Dubai or Dublin.

Of course, technology is only part of the solution. Effective offshoring also depends on talented agents, smooth interdepartmental communications and smart processes.

But omnichannel contact centres are the catalyst. For the first time in history, businesses have the opportunity to move their teams offshore without damaging their customer experience. The question is, will they take it?

The answer is probably no, in the short-term at least. The negative connotations associated with offshoring are deeply ingrained in the customer psyche and it can trigger a PR nightmare (as John Lewis learned).

But perceptions can change and if enough businesses take the risk, then momentum will build.

Reducing Contact Centre Costs

It’s worth considering John Lewis’s stated reason for offshoring – reducing costs. This was the same trigger that led to the call centre exodus of the nineties and it can be a powerful motivator.

Today, every major UK retailer and most consumer-facing businesses are facing similar pressures. The next few years will be telling.

Want to learn more about omnichannel? Read our blog “Omnichannel vs. Multichannel – what’s the difference?” for our breakdown of the key benefits of a unified approach to contact centre management.

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