Working across the Border in Customer Contact

A few years ago we carried out an assignment at Orange in Romania. An extensive project with a nice team. It was an educational process from a contact center and (change) management perspective. A brief account of our experiences and what we have learned.

The command

Our client needed insight and advice: how can we improve the operational performance and customer satisfaction of the sales, service and online channels (website, shop and self-service) in the short term. A complex issue. Apart from the substantive issue, we saw a first challenge in the cooperation with the Romanians: the language. It soon turned out that the average Romanian speaks good English, so that issue was resolved quickly.

Customer Experience Management

We have experienced that the way in which customers experience contact with organizations is comparable in different countries. That is to say in the emotional experience. How they give feedback to organizations about this is a different story. Fortunately, in many countries the way this is measured is according to a well-known metric, namely the NPS. Similarly here. We already knew that the Dutch person is critical and scores little or no 9 or 10. That is a different story in Romania. There you score very easily 9 and 10. Passives were almost non-existent in the measurements. Does this mean that customer service and the experience of it are so good? No definitely not. This is mainly due to the culture of the country. Romanians are not quick to criticize others. But this does not mean that they are not dissatisfied. The nice figures we found did not mean much. At the moment, in the majority of organizations, regardless of the level of the figure, little or no meaning can be derived from the measurements. Either because the data is “old” and measurements are not taken continuously, or because there is no deepening and meaning is given to the figure. So no worries for the man, we had to ask. On the basis of interviews, Customer Journey Mapping and customer arenas, it soon became apparent that if you keep asking carefully, Romanians can also be critical and can tell a lot about what can be improved.

Change management

When we talk about improvement, we touch another interesting topic. In the Netherlands, we are now fully aware of Lean and continuous improvement in Contact Center land. In Romania we have experienced the opposite. Nothing is self-evident when it comes to continuous improvement and change.

Niets is vanzelfsprekend als het gaat om continue verbeteren en veranderen

Sometimes it even seems as if people are simply doing what they are asked to do. I think there is clearly the cultural aspect that the Romanian has been used to for a long time to accept the less pleasant things in life. People see and know what can be improved, but you should not be surprised if people indicate in conversations that they will continue to meet the set KPIs against their better judgment until “the boss” says that things have to be done differently. So change generally goes through the hierarchy, top down and not bottom-up. Does Lean not work?

We wanted to use interactive workshops to make people who worked in one process, but had never worked together, think about process improvements. Several times people around us were skeptical about this method and do not expect it to produce results. And yes, in the workshops it sometimes took a while to get loose, but in the end we managed to motivate everyone to share his or her point of view and to talk about bottlenecks and desired changes. In this way we were able to establish a link between the Customer Journeys and underlying processes.

Contact Centers in Romania

When it comes to the contact center profession, it is great to know that you work abroad, but that the terminology, reporting and way of working is comparable to that in the Netherlands. In Romania, too, the problem of contact centers is identical to that of the Netherlands and other countries. Problems with, among other things, quality, turnover, the collaboration between Customer Service and the other departments, retention and customer satisfaction. We also see similar issues in the collaboration with outsourcers, such as the pressure on the price-quality ratio and the relatively high turnover within the teams.

We also see clear differences. In contrast to colleagues in the Netherlands, for example, you see that it is very common in Romania for people to work for one and the same employer throughout their career. This is partly due to the poor labor market, but we have noted that the commitment to work and the employer is very high. Another difference with the Netherlands is the level of an average salary. An employee on the phone earns an average of between € 400 and € 600 per month.

What have we learned?

  1. Bottom-up change also works in a highly hierarchically managed organization . Everyone has the potential to (want to) change, but you must know which mechanisms can be used for this in organizations. In this case we managed to realize this in interactive workshops.
  2. The way of working and the problems in Customer Contact seems universal in the different countries where we have been able to work. This applies to Contact Center and Customer Experience Management. The big pitfall is that we tend to tackle and manage these problems in a Dutch way.
  3. We were praised by our client for our directness and honesty . Still, we really did our best to pay attention to our communication. However much we managed to polish our words, this was still too direct and confronting for a number of people.
  4. Our main conclusion is that although our business is to initiate or achieve change, we will not change the culture and way of working . The people we have worked with can only do that themselves.

Wietse Westerhuis