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Customer Service Outsourcing
Call center outsourcing is here to stay, and it may be time for your company to get on board. Because an organization can’t be great at everything, more and more enterprises are turning to business process outsourcing, or BPO. BPO is a type of outsourcing in which a third party service provider takes responsibility for an entire defined business process, allowing the outsourcing company to focus its resources on the things it does best. Customer service outsourcing is one of the fast-growing and most popular targets of BPO.
With customer support outsourcing, an organization can offer 24/7 customer service without supervising it on a day-to-day detailed basis. What can be outsourced? Any support you provide directly to customers via interfaces such as telephones and chat lines. Examples include supplying product information, selling product, technical support and providing information and making updates to customer accounts. In customer service outsourcing, an enterprise gives over all or some of these customer support functions to a customer service company, which assumes responsibility for hiring, staff management and infrastructure support. Whether yours is a Fortune 500 company or you’re looking at outsourced customer service small business, there are many reasons for off-loading functions that aren’t in your wheelhouse.
BPO isn’t merely about saving money. One of the biggest constraining factors in the growth of a company is management time and talent. Customer service outsourcing allows the organization to focus its precious management skills on maximizing its specific competitive advantages.
Pros and Cons of Outsourcing
There are plenty of advantages to BPO, but you need to thoughtfully evaluate whether customer support outsourcing is right for you. It’s tempting to look primarily at outsource call center pricing versus the expense of providing the service in-house. While outsourcing costs are an important factor, they’re not the only one and arguably not the most important one. It’s vital to consider outsourcing customer service pros and cons, and the potential problems of outsourcing as well as the potential benefits.
Why outsourcing is good
- It allows your organization to focus on what it’s best at. If your inbound call center services are second to none and provide you a competitive advantage, then, by all means, retain them in-house. But if you would rather have your top managers concentrate on other areas such as marketing or product development, this kind of BPO will better allow them to do so.
- You may be able to provide a better customer experience. A good third party customer service provider is likely to have the expertise that you don’t have the resources to develop. The top customer service outsourcing companies do more than answer phones and interact on chat lines. They’ll consult with you on best practices in all aspects of customer service, not just call center support. They are more likely to be abreast of innovation and continuous improvement in the customer service world.
- A third party service provider is better equipped to handle fluctuations in call volume. It can more easily bring additional resources to bear during spikes. Your company doesn’t have to worry about employee productivity when volume is down. And if you are planning to grow your business, the customer support provider can more readily scale up to support long-term call volume increases.
- You will no longer have to hire and manage the call center staff. All the issues of pay, benefits, HR support, training and performance management now belong to your outsource partner. Also, the customer service company will likely have access to a larger and more global talent pool.
- Outsourcing customer service cost is generally lower than the expense of maintaining the functionality in-house. Most customer service companies recruit worldwide so they can provide the necessary talent at the best price. Also, your partner can benefit from economies of scale that may not be available to you.
Negative effects of outsourcing
- The outsourced staff may not have the business-specific expertise your employees do. It can take some time for your outsource partner to come up to speed on your experience and product knowledge.
- Security will be more challenging. Where will your data be physically stored? If it’s with the outsource provider, will your data be adequately segregated? How will you ensure that the outsource staff will properly respect your sensitive customer information? In all matters of control, you are one step further away. This arm’s-length effect applies not only to security but also to issues such as agent morale and adherence to standards.
- Your customers may be less satisfied, especially if there are cultural differences and customers are uncertain they understand and are understood.
- The morale of your current employees can be negatively impacted, especially if they don’t appreciate the reasons for outsourcing or if they perceive that their jobs are threatened.
- The transition can be difficult, time-consuming and costly.
Tips for Outsourcing your customer service efforts
- Your brand is paramount. When customers call your support center, in their minds they’re talking to you, regardless of who writes the paycheck to the agent on the phone. From day one establish the way you want your organization to be represented. Be particular about how your company is named, what words should be used and even what tone of voice the agents should adopt. Put processes in place to ensure these instructions are carried out.
- Define your scope and schedule. Will the vendor handle all calls or only provide overflow support during spikes? Are there particularly sensitive aspects of your business that you want to keep in-house? Also, it’s a good idea to start small not only to minimize risk but also to gain experience with the process.
- Do your research in comparing call center outsourcing vendors. Who do other businesses, not only your competitors but also those in unrelated fields, consider the best call centers in the world? Don’t stop with a call center outsourcing cost comparison but understand all the positives and negatives of others’ experience. Ask about the call center’s portfolio and look for experience in your specific business. When you do select a vendor, clearly define not only what will be delivered and when, but also what recourse you have if the partner doesn’t meet its commitments. “Divorce” from call center outsourcing vendors is difficult and painful. Employ all the due diligence you would use in hiring a key employee.
- Establish consistent and frequent communication, not only during the implementation but for as long as the relationship exists. This needs to be at all levels, from senior management to the staff that works day-to-day with the vendor.
- Keep security at the forefront. Every week seems to bring us news of another company that has experienced a breach. Now there will be a whole new set of eyes and hands on your customers’ information. Have the physical structure and the processes in place to protect that information.
- Enlist your customers. As mentioned earlier, an outsourced call center can be either an improved or a diminished experience for them. Survey them or establish focus groups, explain the rationale for what you’re doing and possibly recruit some as early users.
- Don’t skimp on training. Customer service training has always been important, and when the customer service team works for a vendor the stakes and the challenges increase. You need to bring a whole new group up to speed not only on product knowledge and support processes but also on your brand and how it must be represented. There may be cross-cultural issues to deal with. Consider enlisting customer service training software such as Lessonly.
Whether or not to outsource your customer support is a decision that will impact your company for years to come. If the circumstances are right and the implementation is effective, BPO can be a win for you, your customers, and your future.