Indian Call Center advice?
September 23, 2007 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Advice on hiring an Indian call center to answer after-hours calls for a law practice?

We have used U.S. answering services for handling after-hours and vacation calls for my solo law practice. However, the quality of service with the U.S. answering services has been extraordinarily poor and, in my opinion, way too expensive.

So we have gone without after-hours answering services, just sending callers to voicemail after hours (which is what a lot of law firms do). But I think that my caseload and client satisfaction would increase if I were able to have the phones answered by a person 24/7, with the agents sending me the messages by e-mail.

I have read good things about Indian call centers, and I've been toying with the idea of hiring an Indian company to handle our after-hours calls. They'd just be taking messages and possibly making appointments for prospective clients. Here are my questions:

(1) Is it true that Indian call centers give a reasonably high level of service?
(2) Is it true that Indian call centers are significantly cheaper than U.S. answering services?
(3) How much can I expect to pay for the service?
(4) How are international call rates avoided when you forward your phones to an Indian call center?
(5) Can anyone recommend a call center that you've had good experiences with?
posted by jayder to Work & Money (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd bet that the quality varies as greatly as it might in the U.S. Make sure you shop around.

I just send them to voice mail. All the firms I worked at before I went solo did too.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:18 PM on September 23, 2007


One thing you might want to keep in mind is the impact of outsourcing on your clients. I have heard a lot about outsourcing to India in my practice (IP) since drafting and basic searching can be done overseas at a deep discount. One consideration that my firm and others have been sensitive to is the "Made in the USA" concern. There is some negative reaction to outsourcing and I'm sure you're aware of the bad rep Indian call centers have at times. I'd just advise that you remain sensitive to your clients' preferences and weigh whether having a voicemail system that maybe has email capabilities to notify you of the message would be a better option if there is concern about outsourcing and U.S. job loss in your community.
posted by BuddhaBelly at 3:18 PM on September 23, 2007


one concern is security/confidentiality. the indians to whom your clients may be disclosing sensitive matters aren't within reach of you and your laws the same way a domestic answering service is. it is not unheard of for indian contractors to threaten to disclose sensitive information to gain leverage in payment disputes.

also, when your clients see you have outsourced your after-hours comm to india, it will cross their minds at least subconsciously: how many of your functions can they in turn outsource to india to save money?
posted by bruce at 3:56 PM on September 23, 2007


It doesn't seem like voicemail to email actually needs human involvement. Vonage offers it for free with their phone service.

There must be some kind of service ot there that offers it for any phone network. Maybe something like grandcentral?

Of course you'll be receiving a .wav or .mp3 audio file and not transcribed text, but that's not too bad.

Frankly if I phoned a lawyer firm after hours and got an Indian call center (with Indian operators called "Barry" or "Sheila") I'd be put off. Voice to (audio) email seems to be a much better solution.
posted by schwa at 4:10 PM on September 23, 2007


Outsourcing is harder than most people think. In the last few months we've had gaps in service due to national holidays in India, a power outage and a transportation strike (no one there could get to work). When we have a problem, getting it resolved is a nightmare of scheduling snafus. (And we're a huge company with massive buying power.) Yes we do it resolved, but only after we've encountered the gap in service.

From my experience in outsourcing, I wouldn't attempt this to cut a few pennies. The hassle isn't worth it.
posted by 26.2 at 4:20 PM on September 23, 2007


My own experience as a too-frequent caller to Indian call centres is that, in general, they suck about as much as any other call centre. I usually come away from a call centre experience angrier than when I started, and thinking very badly of the firm that chose to participate in the entire call centre nightmare.

There is nothing good about call centres. Nothing at all. They suck for your customers, and they suck for the script monkeys they enslave.

If I have an out-of-hours inquiry, I would much prefer to leave a voice message for somebody who will eventually actually help me. Doing the script navigation dance with a call centre is a pure waste of my time.
posted by flabdablet at 4:54 PM on September 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


"My own experience as a too-frequent caller to Indian call centres is that, in general, they suck about as much as any other call centre"

My experience as a call center employee and too-frequent caller to Indian call centers is that they are even more inclined to say "Eff you, American.. what are you gonna do about it?" and hang up.

So what's the real deal here? Is this all about saving money? How many different answering services have you tried? Have they *all* been poor?
If you really want to save a few bucks and outsource, there seem to be a few in Canada.
posted by drstein at 5:02 PM on September 23, 2007


Thanks for the input so far. I'll respond to a few things you have said.

one concern is security/confidentiality.

That's a good point. I would definitely need to think that through before moving forward with any plan like this.

It doesn't seem like voicemail to email actually needs human involvement.

Automatic voicemail-to-email would not work. What I have found is that many people are reluctant to leave a voicemail; they will call over and over if they reach a recording, never leaving a message. Furthermore, checking voicemail is a hassle that I would pay a premium to avoid --- I'd rather a human answer the phone and e-mail me the messages.

So what's the real deal here? Is this all about saving money? How many different answering services have you tried? Have they *all* been poor?

No, it's about getting a reasonable quality of service for less than I have paid in the past. I have paid 75 cents to a dollar per call at previous services I have used. I've tried two or three U.S. services and they have just been too damned expensive.

I don't have my heart set on using an Indian call center --- I had just read that Indian call center employees tend to be more better than comparable U.S. workers, for a lower cost. My focus all along has been providing a better service for clients, at a price I can afford. If I were getting e-mails sent by an answering service, I think I would be able to be more responsive to those clients with a genuine need after hours, and it just doesn't work for me to check the voicemail at all hours.

To those who are raising the question how outsourcing answering service to India would be perceived if it were known by clients ... yes, that's something I have considered, and it's a good point, but I do not think that it would be a turn-off to my clients if it were done properly and with a high quality of service.
posted by jayder at 6:10 PM on September 23, 2007


more better

Whoops, I meant "better."
posted by jayder at 6:11 PM on September 23, 2007


Are you doing the kind of law for the kind of clients that need a lawyer at 8:00 at night? Even 4:00 in the morning? Why not just get a mobile phone, and forward your landline through to the mobile after hours, and from the mobile to a voicemail (giving an email address in the message), at times that you don't want to be disturbed?

Flabdablet is right. Call centres suck. They are used to distance a business's real employees from clients that, from the business's point of view, suck (eg, help line callers, phone customers whining about bills, people ringing government agencies for pretty much any reason whatsoever).

If your clients suck enough that you want to put a call centre between them and yourself--and if they're calling you at 4:00 in the morning, that seems reasonable to me--then it may be time to move on to another area of law.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:30 PM on September 23, 2007


aeschenkarnos:

Yes, your points are true, about the suckiness of call centers. I am doing a fairly high volume of criminal defense work and we get a lot of prospective clients calling about hiring me. The lion's share of the after hours calls would be prospective clients, I think.

then it may be time to move on to another area of law.

Don't think that hasn't occurred to me!

All of these answers are convincing me that this may not be a very good idea. Thanks to everyone. Do keep your input coming if you have any.
posted by jayder at 6:58 PM on September 23, 2007


As a consumer If I called 3 laywers at 7 oclock and got one voice message, one call center (with american accent) and one call center (with an "over seas" accent) I would follow up the one with an American accent 1st, followed by the VM and then finally the abroad based call center.

Just my Personal thoughts. You could however think about changing your office hours a bit... allowing people to come in a bit later? Stay longer? so they catch more of the "evening DUI's" or the such.

Good Luck.

(try to keep your money within the US)
posted by crewshell at 7:10 PM on September 23, 2007


Opps, insert the word Please in there.
posted by crewshell at 7:11 PM on September 23, 2007


Oh, one more thing. I am not seeing an answering service as primarily being a buffer between me and my clients, but my vision is that an answering service would actually make me more accessible to clients by ferreting out those calls that actually do need attention and e-mailing me the messages.

And it would capture some of the prospective clients who move on after they get a voicemail recording. (Sometimes, also, we would use the service mid-day when we're tied up with something where everyone is out of the office, which happens regularly.) I don't understand why people don't like to leave voicemail messages, but many of them don't. They fear, I think, that nobody will check the voicemail in a timely manner.

And to anyone who thinks this is a tacky, don't-lawyers-suck example of cutting corners: I really am not trying to shirk any responsibility to clients, but rather, trying to make myself more available to clients by having their after-hours messages come to me in a constant, readable stream by e-mail. And I can't really afford an answering service at $1 per message.
posted by jayder at 7:13 PM on September 23, 2007


In theory you can get tremendous value from an Indian call center -- well-motivated well-educated staff working for less than the (alas) ill-educated and unmotivated people you can hire in the U.S. to do call center work.

But here's the thing: it's only a bit less. If it was ever cheap, high quality Indian support (of any sort) is no longer. If you have good economies of scale and are skilled and experience in the art of choosing and overseeing an Indian outsourcing firm, you can get modest advantages over US staffing. If you lack scale and lack experience in off-shoring, you are not going to save money.

Your clarification on needing mid-day coverage certainly shows the need, but I do think that you need to consult the State Bar ethics counsel on this idea. As a general matter, anyone who is going to have access to your schedule to set appointments or do any kind of intake, even that needed to set up an appointment, needs to be under your close and personal supervision, because of the confidential information sought and received and the quasi-legal advice which is rendered (sometimes only implicitly) even on the first contact.
posted by MattD at 7:35 PM on September 23, 2007


And to anyone who thinks this is a tacky, don't-lawyers-suck example of cutting corners: I really am not trying to shirk any responsibility to clients, but rather, trying to make myself more available to clients by having their after-hours messages come to me in a constant, readable stream by e-mail. And I can't really afford an answering service at $1 per message.

I'm thinking quite the opposite: you may be taking on too much responsibility to clients, and to take interruptions out of hours, whether they come via email, phone or doorknock, is above and beyond the ordinary call of duty. (Which is why plumbers, doctors, etc charge so much extra for it.) You're entitled to have a personal life. Were you employing a junior lawyer in your practice, how would you feel about asking him/her to do what you propose to do?

One thing really strikes me as vital in this issue: how does $1 per client compare to your per-client profit margin? (With no upper limit; if some schmoe decides to ring the call centre 83 times in an hour, you may be charged $83, so perhaps it ought to be averaged out to say $5 per client.) Does an additional $0.25 per client (or maybe $1.25) make such a difference?

Are you on a fixed rate set by statute, or public defender fees, etc? Are you able to bill the clients themselves (or the state, if it's public defender work) for the call costs incurred in servicing them? Can you claim the additional cost against your taxes, as a business expense? Could you get better value out of advertising (if your jurisdiction allows you to advertise)?

In summary, have you looked at the whole issue with the dispassionate eye of a theoretical law practice accountant? :) Say you were valuing your practice to sell, or insure, how do the figures change with the various approaches to contactability?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:40 PM on September 23, 2007


Jayder, there's no contact info for you in your profile. My family is in the call service industry. I might be able to help you out, or advise, if you'd like to contact me.
posted by astruc at 7:47 PM on September 23, 2007


Like most industries, there is accountability in teleservice. I would browse ATSI's site to see what call centers would fit your needs and have won their award of excellence. I am in the teleservice industry myself and can vouch that there is a huge drop in quality between an ATSI member answering service and one that is not.
posted by srrh at 9:26 PM on September 23, 2007


If you're dead set on a call center, I'd look into those based in the Philippines. Due to the country's history, they are more Americanized in both accent and culture than India.
posted by marionnette en chaussette at 10:23 AM on September 24, 2007


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