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Global Snapshot: Customer Service in Spain

Some days ago a piece of news came out in the Spanish press: the "most advanced" contact center in Spain had opened in Seville. It is a contact center that belongs to the French group "Teleperformance". 600 agents are currently working there and 400 more are to set to be hired shortly. Why is this news especially exciting? Seville, the fourth largest city in Spain, is one of the most depressed areas in Europe, with an overall unemployment rate over 30% and a youth unemployment rate over 60%.

Contact centers can help alleviate this situation. Many people, without a lot of qualifications or experience, can work in contact centers, but as labor costs in Spain are falling due to the crisis, salaries are lower and lower.

Does the fact that Spanish is the native language give Spain a competitive advantage globally? Not really. We speak Spanish, but so do many other countries, where salaries are even lower (and working conditions in general are worse). In recent years many contact centers in Spain were moved to Latin America, and other geographical regions, like Morocco. The goal was to reduce costs. Initially the impact of technological globalization was negative. However, lately, it seems that these centers are being repatriated.

It is clear that it is not patriotism.. This is simple economic interest. Calculations have been made and it has been concluded that the transfer of centers overseas is reducing corporate profits. But wait: why? Aren’t labor costs lower in Latin America? How is it possible?

It is not just about costs, but about customers. It’s about how customer service is delivered and whether companies may be losing customers to poor service.

Is service provided from Latin America worse? Are Spanish customers in general particularly "patriotic"? Is there a language barrier problem? Probably none of these is the sole problem. Although we speak the same language and understand each other relatively well, the agent’s cultural characteristics are different than those of the customers in Spain. Therefore, foreign agents in Latin America or other areas might need additional training to reduce "friction" with Spanish customers. In addition, though the language is the same, there are characteristics that may cause confusion and misunderstandings in conversations.

What is clear is that the Spanish customer (like most customers around the world), uses the traditional voice channel most widely for customer support. The second choice preference is e-mail, followed by social media and other media channels, such as chat or video calls.

Spanish customers seek proximity in their contacts and value quality, above all, when it comes to customer service delivery. Some of the factors that negatively impact the level of satisfaction: the indiscriminate use of IVRs, long waiting times, or having to call several times to solve the same problem.

A trend that's recently changed here is companies now care for quality over quantity. Not long ago, a contact center’s efficiency was measured almost exclusively in terms of metrics such as average handling time and number of calls answered. The shift to more qualitative methods means now companies are more concerned with improving other metrics such as first-call resolution rate, and other objectives more difficult to measure such as professionalism and good management. Although this shift in priorities may lead to a longer handling time and higher internal company resources usage, it usually means a higher rate of customer satisfaction. And in general, Spanish customers are demanding and have higher expectations. When those expectations aren’t met, brand loyalty decreases.

Another big influencer of brand loyalty: social media. This is a widely used channel for Spanish customers to share their opinions and the Spanish rely heavily on "word of mouth", placing a high value on the opinion of neighbors and friends. Before, word of mouth was personal. Now, you can find hundreds or thousands of opinions immediately. Thus, brands must carefully monitor and engage in social networks to protect their brand reputation.

Overall, Spanish customers are a lot like customers in other parts of the world, and the contact center landscape is much the same, too, but to conclude, I’d like to offer my recommendations for improving service to the Spanish customer:

  • Limit the use of IVR for incoming calls (nothing is  more irritating to customers  here than talking to a machine that does not understand you or navigating a myriad of menus, most of whose options are not needed)
  • Above all, the agents must learn to listen, show understanding and let the customer know that they are making a great effort to solve their problem. For outgoing calls, do not call too early, or too late, or during lunch or better not call at all, unless it is on request (callback).

I’m sure much of this advice rings true in other countries too.  Do you agree?