South Africa culture alignment training

Many businesses recognise that offshoring part or all of their customer service function to specialist outsourcing companies in other countries or continents can be hugely beneficial financially. Naturally, however, some have concerns around how high standards will be maintained when offshoring this crucial aspect of their business to another part of the world, where cultures are different.

Here at Sigma Connected, we believe that our experience and track record in South Africa showcases just how successful offshoring can be. Our approach and dedication to training and developing our colleagues, which focuses on cultural alignment between the home nation and South Africa, ensures all customers receive the best service and is the cornerstone of our success.

In our latest Q&A, we sat down with Fazlin Jones, Learning & Development Team Manager based in our offshore operation in Cape Town, South Africa, and Amanda Hughes, our Learning & Development Manager who covers all aspects of training for colleagues, to discuss our approach.

Q: Welcome both, it’s great to be chatting with you. To start us off, I’d like to ask how you ensure that all colleagues in South Africa are ready to handle calls from customers from other countries?

We know that good customer service is the bedrock of any successful business. Naturally, through our experience, we also understand that some businesses therefore have concerns that the levels of customer service they provide could be compromised if it is sent offshore, mainly due to cultural differences between the nations. It can feel too far away for them.

Recognising this, we have made it our mission to ensure our team of 2,000 advisors based in South Africa are thoroughly trained to understand the cultures, behaviours and expectations of customers, wherever they are in the world, so their problems can be solved effectively and with empathy.

Just one example of our commitment to ensuring this quality of customer service and what sets us apart from other offshore providers are our Cultural Sensitivity Day – a whole day dedicated to training our advisors to give them a deeper understanding of the cultures in the countries we are working with.

We hold these sessions every time we have new starters so all advisors receive this important cultural training. It’s made a huge difference to our employees understanding of the challenges customers from other nations are facing.

Q: Can you tell us more about the Cultural Sensitivity Day and the benefits?

We focus on providing our teams with a real understanding of the cultures they are dealing with, allowing them to be more sensitive and aware of the issues customers are facing.

For example, if we are talking about customers in the UK, we train them in the real issues that are affecting the lives of customers living there such as the current cost of living crisis that is crippling families’ finances, childcare expenses and even how the Covid pandemic had an impact. We help our colleagues to understand that not everyone is rich or privately educated just because they are living in the UK.

We change their mindset which is a huge part of it – helping them to understand that things are also tough for customers in other countries, enabling an empathy that is crucial to achieving high quality customer service.

Q: Do you have any additional training?

We create additional sessions for all of our customer service advisors which we call ‘learning boosts’ throughout the year. During these sessions, we revisit the key messages they have learnt from the Cultural Sensitivity Day whilst updating them on the latest issues from the countries they are working with, such as soaring petrol prices or inflation. This maintains their knowledge of the problems customers are facing so they can deal with their issues from a point of true understanding.

These sessions are fully interactive so advisors can ask questions at any point. We also show videos covering specific topics such as fuel poverty, for example, for the teams working on utility campaigns.

We hold these ‘learning boosts’ as soon as we hear of any important issues coming out of the countries we work with – and much of the time our advisors are shocked to learn of the difficulties facing customers.

More recently, we have held ‘learning boosts’ to explain the energy price increases coming into effect in the UK in October which will have a big impact on customers. It’s vital that we keep our advisors aware of the realities of customers’ lives and are therefore able to support them properly with the issues they are calling to resolve.

One of Sigma’s core values is ‘Always Learning’ so managers will also hold regular ‘huddle’ sessions working with advisors to go through important updates they need to know.

We train our teams to help them communicate with people from all walks of life, no matter what country they are from. Their customer query might be something as simple as helping them with a question relating to their bill, through to extremely vulnerable customers struggling financially being faced with the choice of putting food on the table for their families or paying their bills. We think it’s crucial that our advisors have an understanding and empathy with their customers.

We make them aware of the real cost of living for customers – even down to the price of a child’s car seat or the cost of a Nando’s in South Africa compared to the other countries. We are very transparent with learning and approach things holistically to really change mindsets and give our advisors a deep understanding of their customers’ situations.

We also have Client Trainers who deliver our training, these trainers work in a dual role and when they are not delivering training, they work in our call centre as customer advisors. As part of their role still involves them being customer facing, they are always fully up to date with the situations customers are facing and this enables them to bring that real-life experience into the training room. They are able to share their own experience and knowledge with our learners. It’s had such a positive impact on better preparing our learners for the types of calls they will be taking, as they are being trained by someone who also does the job they are about to embark on, and it supports in bringing our customers situations to life.

Q: Have you noticed a difference in the way advisors handle situations following this training?

Prior to training, many colleagues held assumptions about the customers they were dealing with and had a lack of understanding about their circumstances.  By the end of it they were far more empathetic and open minded when taking customer calls which was evident to see in the way they were handling queries and dealing with them, always looking to help and find a resolution.

The training enables advisors to communicate effectively and clearly with customers from all walks of life and appreciate differences in languages and accents, which can prove a barrier to providing effective and personal customer service. It gives them the confidence to be more engaging with the customers they are dealing with, and provides them with a natural empathy, particularly towards vulnerable people, because they are far more aware of the issues they are facing.

Q: And finally, what measures do we have in place to check what we are doing is working?

We are constantly measuring and evaluating what we do. We identified the challenges early on as advisors were unprepared and with little knowledge of the particular cultures of the customers they were dealing with.

By introducing the Cultural Sensitivity Day and the Client Trainer model we have seen a huge improvement in the way calls are handled, leading to increased customer satisfaction.

We are always reviewing our processes and looking at ways to enhance or adapt the training accordingly depending on which country we are working with to ensure it is always effective.

Quality Assessments internally have revealed how effective our advisors have found this training, while positive Trustpilot reviews, as well as client and customer feedback, also proves how successful this dedication to truly understanding customers has been to providing excellent service.

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