Business Advice

The need for Australian Cross Cultural Training

The hard lessons learned by Australian call centres in the last century have not carried across to call centre and BPO environments in Asia.

Staff turnover is a major challenge and no matter which way you dress it up, working in a contact centre environment is not for everyone. There are two types of people that work in a contact centre: one is stress hardy and the other is not.

People who are stress hardy are resilient and are less inclined to leave, whereas people who respond poorly to stress tend to leave as soon as they can. What some owners/managers of offshore BPO contact centres fail to realise is that their most is important assets are people. A new project comes in and they think that they just need to get people on the phones, and by and large anybody will do so long as they can speak reasonable English and navigate their way around a computer program. It never occurs to them that they have some of the brightest minds in their society and they are forcing them to do some of the dullest, soul-destroying most stressful work imaginable. Contrary to popular belief, working in a contact centre is not all that it is cracked up to be. I am not suggesting that all BPO work is like that – it’s just to point out that a young mind needs to be taught how do deal with the stress.

With staff turnover rates running at 40 to 60% that’s a massive cost to the industry when one considers the real cost in terms of replacement, recruitment, training, management time and lost productivity until new agents get up to speed.

For many, working in a BPO environment is a means to an end. On top of the stress is racial abuse. Sadly agents who have called into Australia will have experienced this first hand reducing some to tears. I am not saying that all Australians are racist, far from it, but there is an element in our society who think that they have a right to have a crack at overseas agents who are only doing their job. Abuse causes stress and stress drives staff turnover. It’s no wonder that so many resign from the industry.

John Winney blogged on The Sauce website, “So many BPO operators (and some internal centres), see the symptoms of the problems, and seem to think that a productivity/adherence crackdown of some sort is the answer, rather than looking outside of that box and examining the myriad of other contributing factors such as environment, technology, individual personalities and even call demand itself, that all make up the dynamics of a Contact Centre operation.”

He goes on to say, “We need to remind industry management that Call centre agents are as intelligent as they are precious, and that they are being asked to perform one of the most stressful jobs available, in that they are required to be physically tethered to their workspace (even by wireless headset) and then be subjected to having every movement they make measured and monitored.”

Of course a lot of this staff turnover could be addressed by selecting people who are suitable for the industry in the first place rather than the catch as catch can approach by many BPO service providers.

You can have brilliant technology and terrible people and you will not have a good call centre, where as you can have good people and poor technology and your business will survive. It’s a people business; it’s all about people talking with people. Sounds simple; however, it’s amazing how this message gets lost on some.

One of the areas that have been neglected is soft skills training specifically around cross-cultural training. The obvious inference is that if you teach contact centre agents how to better relate to Australians, on a one on one basis the actual job becomes a lot more fun and consequently less stressful.

FooBooonLine.com has developed such a course. They have taken a different approach and produced an outcomes-based programme that is developed and delivered by a teacher as opposed to a trainer whose approach is fundamentally different. The Course is called FACCT (FooBoo Australian Cross Cultural Training) and was developed by Mary Lockley, a tertiary qualified education course designer.

FACCT has been designed for BPO service Providers, who provide Asian based contact centre & back office agent support services, into Australia and at the back of our minds was the notion that agents have to be productive when their initial training is completed. It addresses agents’ soft skills as a function of increasing a BPO Service Providers Net Promoter Score (NPS)

FACCT programme Director Ms. Lockley said, “The teacher has the skills and techniques that not only can impart information to the learner but that more importantly the learner will be able to retain the information.  A trainer will deliver a course but has not been trained themselves in the art of teaching and to know and understand all of the factors that contribute to a learner retaining information.

She went on to say, “A trainer is someone who provides instruction on a skill or behaviour. For example: a trainer will provide instruction to people about how to use new software or a product range. Another trainer may train people on the correct procedure for handing a complaint. . In other words training is about modifying behaviour.”

“Moreover Teaching goes beyond training. Teaching involves understanding the concepts behind the instruction. Teaching asks Why? The learner in a teaching environment should be able to make new connections with the material, make assumptions about new situations, and synthesise solutions to problems related to the course material. Someone needs to be  taught how to interact with Australians not just trained in Australian idiomatic expressions. In other words teaching is about getting learners to think. Thats the way that adults like to learn.”

In contrast rote learning is a memorisation technique based on repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it. It certainly helped me enormously as a adult to know my times table, which was drilled into me as a child, so rote learning has its place, however it is a technique that is best practiced with children.

The FACCT programme is completely Australian. It is not bits of American or British CCT courses. After all Australians are different and unique. The course is a blended combination of face-to-face (Observational) and practical (Experiential) learning and online delivery via a student individualised platform. The course has 6 modules and a culture competent.

Ms. Lockley explained that the course is completely flexible, in that it can be delivered all at once or broken up and interwoven with onboarding and induction customer service and product training.

For existing agents it may be best delivered all at once in a short burst – after all its not good to have them off the phones for too long. For new hires it may be best delivered as a part of their induction or on-boarding program and augmented by elements of existing CCT programs – that may stretch out to two weeks of elapsed time over the course of their 7-week induction program. For near hires that were close to employment except that they do not have business grade English a different strategy may have to be applied i.e. their course could be supplemented with a program like www.englishlink.com.