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Why the Implementation of an English Only Policy (E.O.P.) Usually Does Not Work (PART 4:)

In Policy, Program Design, Training on October 13, 2014 by mikedoria

culturetricky

Culture can be tricky to understand. Especially if one looks at the culture within a company as being completely separate from culture outside the company.  Not only do many BPO officers tend to look at company culture as somethng that is separate and distinct from national culture, but they also would like to believe that office culture is something that is within their complete control and that they can shape it as they wish. Not that that is entirely false. But the amount and degree of control officers have of company culture, whether we are talking of the entire company, a single department, or just a team, is much more limited than what majority of them would be comfortable admitting.  It’s hard to blame them for believing otherwise when their performance stats depend on their ability to meet expectations of their superiors, who themselves refuse to acknowledge that not everything can be controlled. Especially culture.

fishthat way

Culture is difficult to change.  Some might even argue that one cannot really control it; but simply influence it. You influence it, then you wait and see what happens.  That is how I would put it. Obviously, the larger the group, the less the potency of one’s influence. Needless to say, it’s relatively easier to influence an office composed of 25 employees than it is to influence the culture of a company comprised of 2,500 people.  How far then does one’s influence go when we talk about a group comprising millions?   No, I am not pertaining to a single company or corporation, but a country.  But what does a country’s culture have to do with a company’s culture?

Apparently, a lot.

Yes, most Filipinos can understand English.  A great number of Filipinos can speak English.  Many Filipinos can converse in English.  Not all of them that well, but good enough to impress foreigners who have no idea that most Filipinos do not like using the English language.  This dislike is carried over to users of English.   Most Filipinos are aware of this, English language lovers and haters alike. Thing is, this is hardly talked about within the contexts of the BPO industry, for reasons that keep non-Filipino managers, clients, investors, etc generally clueless about this fact.  All the public signages, American movies, music, and tv shows, and school curriculum seem to point to the idea that Filipinos, in general, since we are so immersed in American culture, love the English language.  This is the misconception.  One that Filipino supervisors, managers, CEOs, etc working in BPOs are fully aware of but are just as fully in denial of.  And denial, is a very Filipino trait.

An old Filipino saying goes:

An old Filipino saying goes: “One who does not know how to love his own language is worse than a stinky fish.”

The truth is that majority of Filipinos have very negative attitudes towards using English as a medium of communication. It is often regarded as un-nationalistic for a Filipino to prefer the use of English over the local dialect or vernacular.  Ironically, this attitude is true for Filipinos who apply for work in call centers that require the use of English.  Even more ironic is that it remains true for Filipinos who actually work in call centers.  Yes, dear non-Filipino officer/client/investor, majority of your Filipino employees, including those whom you consider to be good in English, do not like the fact that they are required to speak in English 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.  To them, it’s just somethng that they have to do.  It’s certainly not something that they enjoy doing.  The fact that they have to speak English in order to be understood by their customer within a 5-8 minute call is hard enough.  That they are being poorly graded for their proficiency in a language that has been taught to them from Grade One to Fourth Year college makes speaking in English even less desirable.  Naturally, any form of program or policy that would require them to speak in English outside the call is considered crossing the line. Hence, the negative attitude towards any English Only Policy or program.  And this is why EOP fails every single time.

(to be continued in Part 5)

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 2

Click here to read Part 3

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Why the Implementation of an English Only Policy (E.O.P.) Usually Does Not Work (PART 3:)

In Policy on March 9, 2013 by mikedoria Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

smoking

It is not uncommon for Filipinos, who do not work in call centers, to exchange stories about call center employees whom they’ve presumably observed standing outside call center offices, cigarettes in hand, conversing in English with annoying fake American acccents. Yet in the over ten years that I have been exposed to call center environments, I have never actually been witness to such scenario. In actuality, most call center employees, when on break, use the vernacular. Except in cases where the ones having a conversation are English Trainers having a lunch meeting, that kind of scenario is quite rare. I would say 99% of those stories are just made up by story-tellers for the sake of making a case against English usage among call center agents. Most of it tainted with bias. Besides, the ones they are telling the story to are often just as clueless as they are when it comes to call center culture. To outsiders, all call center employees have the same habit—speaking in English out of turn and with contrived accents everywhere they go. This misperception stems from the outsider’s predjudices—that call center agents bring their habit of speaking English to the outside world. Surprisingly, regardless of how believable it may sound, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality of it is quite the opposite. For the only habit that call center agents bring with them to the outside world is the habit of not speaking in English.

ourclients

Everyone who has worked or is currently working in a BPO company in the Philippines knows this irony as fact. The typical notion is that call centers are predominantly English-speaking zones. This is only half-truth. English is mostly limited to conversations between the agent and the customer. Ocassionally one would come across English conversations outside the call, especially if it is within earshot of a client.  But more than half of the time, the global lingua franca begins and ends inside a call. Outside  of it, the so-called “English-Speaking zone” dissipates. Any illusion of an “English-speaking culture” inside call centers disintegrates. What is exposed is exactly what one would expect of a work environment composed of Filipino employees: a Tagalog-speaking culture. This should come as no surprise to anyone who understands the link between language and culture. This may lead one to wonder why so much effort is placed in ensuring the success of an EOP program. It would do well to uncover the reasons behind the almost obssessive compulsion of implementing an EOP rule.

The following are some of the overt as well as covert reasons, motives, or rationales behind the implementation of an EOP program:

phoneannoyed

1. To ensure that no customer (on the other end of the line) would not feel ill-at-ease hearing a foreign language in the background.  This makes sense especially when it comes to American customers who are uncomfortable with the idea that their personal information (i.e. name, address, occupation, credit card information, etc.) is privy to employees from a third world country.

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2. To show courtesy to American clients who are present on the operations floor.

filipino agent

3. To maintain an atmosphere of professionalism or competence.

4. To keep agents in line. This is applicable especially in accounts whose agents tend to spend too much time bantering with fellow agents. Put up an EOP and the noise level is reduced dramatically.

theclient

5.  To impress the client. Or the Director. Or the visiting Board Members. Or other accounts.

metrics

6.  To hit EOP metrics as mandated by the higher-ups.

noreason

7.  No reason.  A lot of times, EOP programs are regarded as a given. “We’re a call center. therefore we ned to have an EOP      program.” End of story.

All the above-mentioned reasons seem reasonable enough. They give valid justification for the implementation of an EOP program. Yet despite these, EOP programs are not received well by their intended targets—the agents. Why?  When implementers of EOP programs conceptualize an effective means of getting everyone on the operations floor to speak exclusively in English, what they are fully aware of is that they face the daunting task of changing the language habits of their agents. Not that it is a complicated objective. I mean, how hard could it be to come up with a way to get everyone to speak English outside the call? But EOP programs, more often than not, fail in that regard. They mostly fail not because of poor planning or implemention. They fail because of poor understanding on the partof the implementers of what language really is. On the  surface, it may seem that language is what they are attempting to change. But in truth, what they are really attempting to change is NOT language, but culture.

Click here to read Part 4

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 2

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Why the Implementation of an English Only Policy (E.O.P.) Usually Does Not Work (PART 2:)

In Policy on October 23, 2012 by mikedoria Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

Most call center officers, when asked whether their EOP program works, will readily answer with a witty remark sheepishly admitting the reality of its failure.  But there will always be those that are not ready nor willing to admit the truth. They will claim success and come up with justifications for their statement, even to the point of backing it up with statistical data. But a close appreciation of any sort  of data regarding EOP will reveal a downward pattern from seeming compliance to eventual non-compliance.

     If several launches of EOP programs were made, the cycle of compliance and non-compliance will be very blatantly obvious. So, why is there no EOP program that has ever really worked in call centers? In Part One, I mentioned that there are underlying reasons for agents’ non-compliance to the EOP rule. I also mentioned that many implementers are aware of these reasons yet they choose to be in denial of the same.

The reason for their denial is understandable. It’s because the real causes for none compliance to the EOP point are rather — should we say —  ‘difficult’ to address. How difficult exactly is something that only the implementers themselves can determine.

A QUESTION OF CULTURE

     Any linguistic expert knows that language and culture are almost virtually inseparable. Culture defines the way language forms and changes shape. Culture can also determine whether language can be learned by an individual, how fast, and to what extent. Ultimately, it will also have an effect on how language is used. But what is most interesting is the influence culture has in shaping the attitudes of language users and observers.

English, being the lingua franca of the globalized workplace, has penetrated practically all the corners of the world and in effect, all cultures. In the context of the Philippines, English has, and continues to play a major role in shaping mindsets of Filipinos as a distinct Asian culture of  English language-users. In no other area of Philippine culture is this more evident than in the call center industry. Filipinos, after all, are known to be fluent in the English language, supposedly besting countries like Norway, Australia, and Canada in a recent study that ranked countries based on Business English proficiency .

Most native English speakers are often surprised by their impressions of how well the regular Filipino student and office-worker can converse in their language.

Most public signages are in English.

Almost all business correspondences are in English.

Half the programs telecast on the local television and radio stations are in English.

A good number of public and private events are scripted in English.

All of this is enough to convince the outsider that English is very much an indelible facet of the Filipino culture.  One need only walk inside any of the dozens of call center offices to see that, right?  Well, not necessarily. Surprisingly, it is in these English language environments where the detachment between the English language and the Filipinos who speak it seems to be most clear. Within the call or the email the Filipino call center worker can pull-off a performance that can appear to indicate a strong association towards the (English) language. Outside the transaction, though, it’s a completely different story.

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 3

Click here to read Part 4

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Why the Implementation of an English Only Policy (E.O.P.) Usually Does Not Work (PART 1:)

In Policy on October 5, 2012 by mikedoria Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

     It is the call center program that is most dreaded, most hated, most defiled, most ignored, and most violated by agents. The “English Only Policy”, or EOP, as it is more commonly known is probably the most worn-out among all policies implemented in the typical BPO office. No other rule is more openly and collectively defied than this. Yet, many trainers, team managers, and quality analysts alike still choose to use this idea in the hope that it might just work this time around. Maybe for lack of an alternative idea. Maybe for sheer force of convention. Or maybe for the sake of exercising control over the agents. Whatever the reason, the depth of denial is evident in that many of its implementers fail to recognize the inexorable fact: It just does not work.

Why it does not work is something that you would expect most EOP implementers (and enforcers) should have mastered by now. Besides, the EOP rule has been staple since the inception of the call centers in the country. One could even argue that the EOP is a borrowed idea that originated in the halls of the academe where each school’s respective English Departments usually would take the initiative to create a program that would help encourage students to use English while in campus. (Incidentally, it doesn’t work there either.) Instead, most implementers exhibit a very poor understanding of why their EOP program fails to meet behavioral objectives. When review sessions are held to discuss the reasons behind agents’ non-compliance to the EOP rule, most analyses are shallow:

  1. Agents are too shy to speak in straight English outside of the call.  They are not ashamed to commit language errors when talking to their customer over the phone, but God forbid they are caught speaking perfect English when talking to other agents in the office.
  2. Agents are hard-headed and simply do not want to follow.  “Attitude problem.” is a term you will hear often. Why not? It’s an effective stopper to questions or further investigation.
  3. Agents do not find it important to comply with EOP.  Many agents would be vocal about this.  “As long as I do my job, right?” is a common phrase.
  4. Agents are not convinced that an EOP is sensible.  “Why should I speak English when I am talking to my Filipino colleague?”
  5. Agents are not motivated to comply with EOP.  Some officers believe that in order to get agents to comply with EOP, a reward has to be dangled in front of them.  Often it has to do with a Starbucks gift check.  Conversely, they believe, without a penalty or punishment, no one would take the rule seriously.

Now, I will not argue against the validity of these views. There is some truth to these analyses, after all. My contention, however, is that they lack depth.  Particularly the kind needed to truly understand why “English Only” policies do not work in the call center environment.  Because unless the management comes to a good understanding of why, it cannot hope to arrive at a real solution to the problem. It will find itself going around in circles, re-designing, re-packaging, re-implementing, and relying on positive posturing just to convince itself that the program worked. The problem is not that the implementers are incorrect in their analyses. The problem is that they do not dig deeper into the issue. Digging deeper into the issue is necessary because there are underlying reasons for agents’ non-compliance. Many of which most of the implementers are aware of but choose to be in denial of. As such, most officers resort to the usual set of ‘solutions’ that really do not address the problem:

  1. EOP reminders.  Done most likely because it is the simplest to implement, this seemingly harmless activity only serves to annoy most agents and comes across as nagging. Agents get enough e-mails in their inbox that receiving a regular dishing out of EOP reminders are just seen as plain nuisance.
  2. Barking EOP.  I use this term particularly because I consider this the most annoying and inappropriate method leaders use to “cheer on” their agents. Most often employed by Team Leaders, barking statements like: “Let’s EOP, people!” not only can be distracting to an agent who is in the middle of a call, but also diminishes the respectability of the position of agents.
  3. EOP “police”.  Probably one of the sillier methods of enforcing EOP. It turns compliance into a game of cops and robbers where the former are vastly outnumbered by latter. It is the most futile of all methods.
  4. Petty Penalties.  Paying up one peso for every Tagalog word spoken is one of the most popular EOP enforcement methods and probably one of the most insensible as well. Agents (or students, in the case of schools) end up paying in advance to be allowed to use Tagalog. Those who have greater financial challenges than others especially hate this. Can you blame them?
  5. Strict enforcement.  This is often coupled with deductions of points from agents’ individual appraisals. The most drastic of all measures, this also often results in a sharp increase in disputes, complaints and eventual attrition. Furthermore, the most common response of agents is to simply clam up and resort to chat, email and writing to communicate with each other. Of course, in the vernacular.

In all cases, any apparent compliance to any kind of EOP program is often short-lived. Even strict enforcement ends up in eventual non-compliance.

There are countless EOP programs that have come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and implemented countless times in countless ways but the story remains the same — non-compliance. So, what is the solution? Before we talk of solutions, we must first talk about the causes of the failure of EOP in call centers and dig deep to examine the reasons that underlie these causes. Therein lies the solution. And it may be one that you might not expect.

Click here to read Part 2

Click here to read Part 3

Click here to read Part 4

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How Helpful is the Quality Scoring Process in Identifying Gaps in Agents’ Communication Skills?

In Quality on March 14, 2011 by mikedoria Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

Normally, QA processes make use of a scorecard  that measures agent performance by counting the incidences of errors committed.  This method of assessing for quality is very useful when it comes to making sure that agents follow mandatory processes and provide correct solutions to customer issues.  In such cases, the logic is a simple case of right versus wrong. There is seldom a grey area in this respect. This may not necessarily be the case when assessing for communication skills wherein the reverse is true. When it comes to communication, there is little to speak of in terms of right or wrong, save for technicalities in the use of language i.e. pronunciation, sentence structure, verb forms, etc.  (This explains why most performance reports often churn out the same findings: ‘mispros’, ‘wrong S-V agreement’, ‘stuttering’, and the consistent chart-topper ‘use of fillers’.).  Seemingly unbeknownst to many quality analysts, communication skills cannot (and should not) be assessed simply by measuring the frequency of technical language errors.  The only conclusions one can generalize out of such method are those having to do with just that — technicalities of language use.  Whatever findings are produced by this do not always necessarily equate to a conclusive evaluation of an agent’s communication skills.  Quality Analysts must to be able to make a distinction between technical language skills and functional communication skills.

Inability or unwillingness to do such results in highly inaccurate generalizations which, in turn, will likely cause the account  to stray from the objective of assuring quality communication performance by its agents.

It is very important for Quality Analysts to have a good grasp of the concept of communication as opposed to language. The relationship between these two concepts are often misunderstood by many. Unless a Quality Analyst fully understands what the concept of  human communication really is about, he will not be able to to come up with correct analyses of an agent’s communication skills.  Furthermore, BPOs, if they are truly earnest in wanting to improve the communication process that occurs between agent and customer, would do well to re-think the processes by which they analyze communication performance and the tools they use for the same.

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English Training Should Come After Product Training; Not Before

In Training on March 14, 2011 by mikedoria Tagged: , , , , , ,

The common practice is for most BPOs to let their newly hired agents undergo English Training before Product Training. This is done primarily  because of the following reasons:

1.Filtering.  English Training is usually followed by an assessment to test the trainees’ level of proficiency. For some companies, determining the trainees’ proficiency after an english class helps filter out those whose proficiency levels are insufficient.

2.Readiness.  English training is seen as  easier than product training. Placing it first gives trainees time to break-in into an environment that is relatively more relaxed before being sent to a more serious product training.

3.Time.  Often, especially when there is aggressive ramp, schedules can get loopy. Seats need to be filled asap but kinks develop along the way which affect account scheduling.  Having English training up in front of the hiring process buys the account some time to figure out how to juggle client-driven schedules.

One the one hand, the rationale seems to make some sense.  However, there are significant drawbacks to this type of order. The most significant of which is that the learning potential for the English class cannot be not reached.  Apart from templated lines (such as the opening and closing spiels), the application of most of what was learned in English training is hardly ever transferred or remembered for that matter.  Save for the function of filtering new hires, this chronology renders English training impotent.

It is for this reason that that English training should be placed after Product training, wherein English trainers can make use of product specific verbiage.  If done this way, scenarios where both product knowledge and communication skills can be applied at the same time would allow for more holistic learning.  Call simulations would be much closer to the actual call as well, thereby making the transfer of learning much easier for trainees.  This makes English training  more effective and even more efficient.

Some would point out disadvantages of implementing such a change, given that: 1. most call centers have a shortage of English trainers and 2. English Trainers would have to  be immersed in every account in order to become effective at this method. However, there are remedies for these.

1. Generic Culture and Geography training can be handled by a training group other than English Training, preferably the ones who handle new employee orientation.  Ideally, HR should do this.

2. Generic English Classes covering topics such as basic grammar (i.e. Subject-Verb Agreement, etc),  and accent reduction should be done away with.  The presumption is that trainees were deemed competent in basic English skills prior to being hired.  There should be no need for this kind of training anymore.

3. Focus on Customized TNA-based English training.  An English Trainer’s usefulness would be optimized if the content of his training is based on actual opportunity areas of current new hires.  This way, time and resources are maximized.


To put in in perspective, here’s how the process should look like:

1. Applicants are assessed on basic English skills using generic assessment tools.  This can be handled by Recruitment.

2. Successful applicants are hired and sent to new employee orientation.  Training will cover: Company Orientation, Client Account Orientation, Geography and Culture, etc.  This can be handled by HR T&D division.

3. New hires are sent straight to their respective accounts for product training.  This should be handled by account-based trainers.

4. Successful passers will then undergo a brief (1-2 day) Communication Training handled by an English Trainer.  This should focus only on the most common account verbiage and call situations.

5. Agents then go through a nesting period wherein the English Trainer studies each agent’s language performance and assesses them for performance gaps via side-by-side or call barging process.  After which, one-on-one coaching would be conducted.

This alternative method would not only make things a little easier for the English Trainer despite the need for account immersion, it would also allow for earlier dispatch of new agents from the training period to the operations floor and ultimately save the company from needless costs.  Doing  so also increases the value and effectiveness of English training.