Bad news first: data breaches are costly, and they’re becoming more and more common.
According to research from IBM, the average global cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 million (USD). In addition, there have already been more than 4.5 billion compromised accounts and records due to data breaches in 2023 alone.
As a result, many companies are moving their outsourcing operations to onshore models in hopes of increasing call center security and providing additional protection for sensitive data. However, is this really the best solution?
In some cases, it may be.
But onshore call centers aren’t always inherently more secure than offshore models. In this article, we’ll compare the benefits and vulnerabilities of both onshore and offshore models, and show you how to ensure data security no matter where you’re outsourcing.
Comparing Onshore and Offshore Models: A Quick Overview
Before we really dive in, a quick overview of terms:
Onshore models refer to call centers hosted domestically, in the same country as your business operations.
Offshore models refer to call centers who are hosted abroad, typically in a country far from your place of business. For US-based businesses, offshore call centers are typically housed in the Philippines or India.
Generally, it’s presumed that offshore models have less data security than onshore models, and there’s definitely some truth to that. After all, when offshoring, you have to transfer your data across international boundaries, manage potentially-more-limited infrastructure, navigate international policies and compliance regulations and so on.
However, using an onshore model doesn’t automatically assume your data is safe. Let’s take a look at how to protect vulnerabilities present in each model.
Data Security Vulnerabilities in Offshore Call Centers
With offshore call centers, one of the main factors in data security or vulnerability is the geopolitical climate of your offshoring location. Some offshore locations have more or less governmental stability and support than others, resulting in more or less stable environments for your call center and data.
Similarly, infrastructure can also be a concern in a variety of offshore locations, despite the strength of their geopolitical climate. Many offshore locations simply don’t have US-grade infrastructure, which can result in a variety of issues for your call center, such as:
- less uptime and more instability in performance
- fewer modern technological solutions to deliver stronger experiences
- reduced data security and more vulnerabilities
- lowered productivity and less streamlined operations
In addition, there’s also the legal implications of transferring and handling data across borders. In some industries, there are industry regulations against this, or dictating how this must be handled. In other situations, there may be international regulations to contend with, or merely the complexity of ensuring that data stays secure when housed in multiple countries.
Data Security Vulnerabilities in Onshore Call Centers
That’s not to say that onshore call centers don’t have their own vulnerabilities as well. With onshore call centers, physical security is often one of the biggest challenges. Many onshore call centers—including in-house customer service operations—store data on physical servers as opposed to cloud-based systems. These physical servers are liable to a variety of vulnerabilities, from physical corruption, to needing regular and tedious updates, to security vulnerabilities and more.
With onshore call centers, internal threats and staff-related breaches are also one of the most common causes of threats and vulnerabilities. Much of this is not malicious in nature, but is simply due to a lack of training, policies, procedures, or enforcement thereof. Even when working with onshore call centers, you need to ensure there are strong internal security practices. For example, at Global Response, we protect our clients’ data with:
- state-of-the-art technology that offers advanced encryption and network protection
- managed access hierarchies and highly-regulated access processes to ensure your data is only managed by those who really need it
- multi-layer protection and safeguards to prevent vulnerabilities
- regular audits and compliance updates to ensure the highest level of protection and safeguards
These internal measures also need to be enforced with any sensitive customer information handled onsite. Onsite data handling can also be a factor in onshore call center vulnerabilities, as onsite agents and employees don’t always have ongoing training in handling sensitive data or call center security best practices. Ensuring that your entire team—onsite and remote, in-house and outsourced—has access to the same training, policies and procedures needed to keep customer data security is essential to safeguarding onshore vulnerabilities.
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Key Security Measures for Onshore Call Centers
Protecting your data with onshore call centers often comes down to three key call center security factors:
- Using stringent access control measures. Regulated access and highly-regulated access procedures help ensure that only the agents who truly need access to something get it. The more employees or agents who have access to a given data set, the more vulnerabilities exist. Using regulated access removes some of those vulnerabilities. In addition, securing access and using access control measures like two-factor authentication and so on can provide increased call center security for access-based vulnerabilities.
- Regular staff training and awareness. As mentioned above, staff training is crucial to security, since they are the ones handling data day-in and day-out. Without regular training and enforcement of data security policies, the policies will be ineffective. Keep staff up-to-date with changes to PCI, SOC-2, HIPAA and other relevant compliance regulations, and ensure that security training happens regularly, not just during onboarding. The more compliance is monitored and enforced, the more effective your security measures will be.
- Using advanced on-site security technology. Ensuring PCI compliance and compliance with other regulations is easier when you have advanced security technology on your side. Modern tools can automatically monitor and evaluate every customer interaction for security protocol, and even alert agents if they take an action that violates a security standard. In addition, modern network protections and encryption processes can be strengthened by advanced technology, which should be employed by onshore call centers for the utmost security.
Key Offshore Call Center Security Measures
For offshore call centers, there are additional security measures which should be taken, including:
Understanding and adhering to international data regulations. International data regulations are a complex element of offshore outsourcing, and knowing how to comply with them can be a major task. If your offshore call center doesn’t provide you with guidance in this area (though they should), it’s still up to you to ensure you stay compliant with all US regulations, US regulations about international data processing, and any regulations from the country you’re outsourcing to.
Establish clear data transfer protocols. For example, everyone knows email isn’t secure, so you shouldn’t be emailing sensitive customer data to your new call center. But how should you be transferring data? Establishing clear, secure data transfer protocols is essential. Without secure protocols in this area, you could be compromising your data before it ever reaches your call center.
Conducting regular audits and quality checks. Audits should happen regularly by both internal teams at your call center and your own team as well. Both parties should be responsible for ensuring that call center security protocols are enforced and quality is up to par. A regular system should be in place as well to manage updates and compliance changes, whether regulated by industries or governing bodies, or for your own internal processes.
Hybrid Models: Combining the Best of Both Worlds
A hybrid call center model can combine the best of both worlds in terms of onshore and offshore outsourcing and data security.
A hybrid call center model allows you to create a combined team of both onshore and offshore agents. This is sometimes called a smartshore model. In this case, you can use onshore agents for tasks and functions that require high levels of security, allowing you to keep sensitive data close to home and make use of strong infrastructure and familiar legal requirements. However, you can also gain the benefit of larger, more affordable offshore teams for tasks that require less customer data or sensitive information, outsourcing to a more affordable location without risking your security practices.
With a hybrid model, it’s extremely essential to use managed access control to ensure that offshore employees cannot get access to data which is protected only by onshore methods. In addition, ensure that all staff—whether onshore or offshore—are given the same levels of training in privacy and security protocol. Establishing clear data transfer protocols—and ensuring everyone understands what data is able to be transferred between teams—will also be essential for your data security and privacy.
Tools and Technologies Elevating Data Security
Remember, having the right tools and technology can go a long way in elevating your call center’s data security, regardless of whether you work with an onshore or offshore call center—or both. Our teams regularly make use of:
- encryption techniques both voice and data, ensuring calls are stored and monitored securely as well as printed data
- cloud-based call center solutions with network protection and high levels of encryption and security
- AI-based tools and machine learning to ensure compliance on every call and predict call center security threats
While these aren’t the only technology that can help provide a more secure environment for your call center, they are important ones that should be implemented regardless of location.
Creating a Culture of Security in Call Centers
Finally, security can’t be managed solely by one sector of your business, or one area of your call center. Instead, a culture of security throughout your call center is essential in making sure that all security and privacy protocols are followed in every interaction and task.
A top-down approach is generally effective in implementing a culture of security. The more emphasis that management and leadership places on having secure protocols and managing data, the more essential it will seem to employees.
While having an ongoing emphasis on security is essential, call centers should ensure that it’s emphasized and trained from the beginning. Right from the start of your employees’ onboarding, you should be incorporating security protocols and making sure these are a regular practice for all employees. By prioritizing this from day one and beyond, you can create a culture of security that protects your customer data—and your reputation.
Conclusion: Achieving Data Security Excellence
The bottom line: there’s no foolproof way to achieve security excellence. The best security plan isn’t a location, but a strategy.
Wherever you outsource, you’ll need to take targeted and strategic action to protect your data against known vulnerabilities, as well as future-proofing your call center against emerging threats. A good call center partner will make this easier, as well as provide you with research and strategic insight to ensure your data is well-protected. In addition, you and your call center provider should work together to stay up-to-date on compliance changes and new security regulations, ensuring you have the highest levels of security at all time.
For a call center partner you can trust with your customer data, Global Response is here. With 40+ years of experience managing call centers and BPO for clients in sensitive industries like healthcare, finance and tech, our team is ready to provide you with the highest levels of protection, security and compliance.
Connect with an expert from Global Response today to see how our team can help you achieve excellence in call center security and service.
Both offshore and onshore call centers present data security risks. The key is understanding which risks are most prevalent in each call center model, and managing them accordingly. With offshore call centers, geopolitical and infrastructure risks are more prevalent, as well as compliance errors resulting from international regulations. Onshore call centers are more likely to have internal breaches resulting from lack of training, audits, compliance, staff or physical security vulnerabilities.
Call centers should run regular audits that ensure they are remaining compliant with GDPR and other data regulations, appointing a team to manage updates, ensure compliance, run regular monitoring and provide training and updates to the rest of the team. Modern monitoring technology can also automatically record and monitor each call or interaction to assess compliance and provide feedback or highlight vulnerabilities.
Call centers’ security protocols should be revisited at least annually to check for potential updates, changes or vulnerabilities, and adjust as needed. For some call centers who manage extremely sensitive data, these audits and updates should happen more frequently.
Every call center has their own protocol for handling data breaches and repairing any harm done. In general, once a call center is aware of a breach, they should lock down any vulnerable data, contact their client and provide the potential scope of the breach, and work with the client and any regulating bodies to assess and re-secure any exposed data.