Three main reasons why call centres can’t cut it, at least not outside the U.S.

Legal climate mismatch

U.S. corporate life is hugely different from other parts of the globe. The U.S. legal system involves higher costs of litigation per person than any other industrialized nation in the world. The fear of lawsuits and huge fines pervades business life. Not doing the legally wrongful thing is more important than doing the ethically right thing: strict rules are more important than broad principles. At the same time, frivolous suits abound. Individuals take their chances and often litigate because they smell an entrepreneurial opportunity. Bounty-hunting is common, with several financial incentives around, also for those who report corporate fraud.

Call centres cater to this legal environment and focus on violation of narrowly defined rules rather than on broader ethics. As a result, they tend to oversimplify cases and are not apt to detect the more complicated ones which can be categorised less easily. They work with narrow, pre-cooked scripts which never fully suit the individual case at hand. In spite of this simplifying, the call centre operators, usually not legal or compliance professionals, still run the risk of making mistakes during the call (wrong categorising; wrong questions) which may, for instance, lead to violation of privacy laws.

Work culture mismatch

The U.S. work culture too is alien to other parts of the world. In the U.S., employers hire and fire without much deliberation. Employees are nomadic and have less long-term loyalty to employers or colleagues. Their sense of privacy is more limited too, and can easily be suspended, especially when they spot possible personal financial gain. As a result, denouncing is fairly common. Employees think nothing of calling in for a wide range of issues, more trivial cases included. To a lesser extent, this Anglo-Saxon culture exists in the UK as well.

The typical call centre procedures are in tune with this type of ballgame. The reporting employee is in fact ‘selling’ his report to them, so the call centre is a ‘purchaser’ rather than a counsellor, geared to scrutinising both message and messenger quickly and efficiently, with not much attention for creating comfort and trust on his or her part. Intake is like an ‘interrogation’, and mostly a one-off affair: the messenger has only one primary opportunity (during one call) to state his business in full. There is no good opportunity for employee or employer to reflect on anything, or to get back after deliberation or consultation. And no easy way for the employee to grow confident step-by-step, and, feeling assured along the way, to provide valuable additional information in a later stage.

Language barriers

The general assumption in the U.S. is that everybody on the globe speaks English (or maybe Spanish) and has no problem to report in this language. The real world looks markedly different. According to our research, in countries where the native language is not English, a staggering 85 per cent worldwide clearly prefers to report in his or her own mother tongue.

Call centres claim to deal with this preference but are not really able to do so effectively. Their operators generally speak only a few main languages, so in order to cover the tens of different national and regional languages used worldwide they must resort to interpreters. A tedious process results, involving: demotivating waiting times before an interpreter is available, causing many (i.e. an estimated 20 % of) callers to disconnect; time-consuming three-way communication between employee, interpreter, operator and back (calls take up to 30-40 minutes); lack of options to verify the quality of the translation during the dialogue. On-the-spot translations by non-experts (with no transcripts to fall back on) are likely to cause substantial further loss of information and to increase the risk of making mistakes. The same applies for possible recordings of call centre phone conversations, which are extremely time- and money-consuming to type out.

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