“Is this adding cost to your business?”

This is what BBC journalist Dominic Laurie asked Santander UK chief executive Ana Botín on Radio 4 today about her bank’s move to bring back their retail call centres from India to Britain (500 jobs will be created).

The question is a naïve one.  I say the question, not the journalist – they ask these things to get a response, not because they necessarily believe in what the question implies.

It’s naïve because the cost of a call centre (or any other part of a business taken out of context) is no measure of the total cost of serving customers.  Consider the number of contacts to these places that represent failure demand – demand for service arising from something going wrong for the customer rather than right.  Eliminate that demand and you cut the costs of your call centres.

Add the naïve approach on costs to the geographical removal of an integral part of the process of serving customers to a location 1000s of miles away with a different culture and often to an “outsourced” organisation and you can have big problems.

Not surprisingly, Ms Botín cited customer feedback as the main reason to relocate Santander’s retail call centres to the UK.

This blog has recorded numerous examples over the last year or so of bad call/contact centre practice, for example

Luckily, taking customer/citizen contact centres out of the country is not by and large part of the agenda of the public sector in the UK, although the motivation is more often political than an understanding of customer needs.  And that’s not to say we don’t have bad public sector call centres in the UK as our own experience (and some of the examples above) tells us.

Footnote: according to The Independent newspaper today, telecomms company New Call Telecom said it was moving one of its call centres from India to Lancashire.  “New Call Telecom transferred its business to Mumbai three years ago, but increased costs [my emphasis] has prompted it to move to Burnley.”