Outsourcing work is an appealing idea. It can save you money, resources, and sometimes, a great deal of stress.
Farming out your customer service cut overheads significantly, but it’s definitely not a one size fits all solution and there are no magic outsourcing beans.
If you are going to take the jump with any sort of outsourcing where company will be directly interacting with your customers, it’s important to weigh up your options carefully. Shabby service will almost guarantee a mass exodus of customers.
In this article you’ll find some best practices for customer service outsourcing, and a practical guide to help you decide if this type of outsourcing is the right choice for your business.
What is Outsourcing?
Choosing to outsource an area of your business simply means you’re hiring a third party to handle it on your behalf. While this article focuses on outsourcing customer service, almost any part of a company can be outsourced, including graphic design, billing, collections, or data entry. If you are unfamiliar with outsourcing, or have never tried it before you find the following article extremely useful: How To Outsource Anything Using 6 Top Outsourcing Websites.
Should You Outsource?
A combination of several factors can help determine whether outsourcing your company’s customer service will be a smart move. Important considerations include:
Depending on the volume of customer service your business handles, it may or may not be profitable to hire an outside company to do it for you. Estimate the cost of creating your own customer service department and compare it with the cost of outsourcing. Be sure to consider all factors, such as employee compensation and training, equipment and supply purchases, construction or rent costs, and maintenance – and as always shop around.
Just because outsourcing your customer service will save you money doesn’t always mean it won’t cost you money in the long run. If your company regularly takes customer calls on technical or complicated issues, you may be better off keeping customer service in-house to ensure customers are receiving correct, complete answers to their questions. Also, if your departments tend to hand customers off to one another often, that process may be complicated by adding an outside party.
Another element to weigh is how customer service outsourcing will effect your day-to-day operations. In essence, think about who it will free up. Unless customers are calling with detailed questions that require expert answers, your time or that of your employees may be better spent on other projects that lie within their talents. Sales or research and development of new products, for example, can be better investments of your employees’ time in the long run. So while you should attentively examine the costs of outsourcing, don’t forget to include the benefits in your decision.
If customers want service you can’t provide with current resources, it’s a sign that outsourcing customer service may be right for you. Do customers need assistance at times when your staff is not available? Do customers require service at a volume your current staff cannot provide? With outsourcing, you can get the amount of service that fits your company best at the times you need it. Many agencies offer 24/7 support, which may be too costly for some businesses to provide in-house. Whatever your current customer service needs are, it’s best to crunch the numbers and draw up a clear comparison.
Method of Customer Service
Once you’ve determined that outsourcing is right for you, it’s time to explore your options. Here’s a quick rundown of the major ways companies do it.
Email support is generally a safe outsourcing bet. Most customers won’t expect an instant turnaround , and 24 hours is the current industry standard. This window gives representatives plenty of time to research any needed issues and respond to the customers’ questions. Email interaction also completely eliminates one of the most common consumer complaints about outsourced customer service – difficulty understanding the representative or being understood. Live chat support (or even sales) is a more immediate customer service role that an outsourcing team can also fill.
Traditional call centers are another option, particularly if you have a high volume of customer interaction. If you use this method, it’s important to choose the call center carefully. Representatives might handle hundreds of inbound or outbound calls a day from a variety of different companies, and employee turnover rates can also be an issue. Our next section has suggestions to help you choose the right call center for you.
In addition to traditional methods, many businesses are handling customer service issues and concerns on Twitter or Facebook. Often, a customer’s question can be resolved with just a quick response, making Twitter’s 140-character messages a perfect way to communicate. It also allows customers to leave a message and get a response quickly without having to wait on hold. Some businesses even take a proactive approach, searching for their company name to find complaints they can clear up. Since there are a number of social media-specific outsourcing professionals, this can almost always be handled by a third party.
If your business is truly in need of outsourcing but doesn’t need very much manpower, working with freelance customer service representatives may work for you. Websites such as Elance and Upwork (formerly oDesk) match businesses with contractors. You can post a description of the work you need done and review applicants’ resumes as they come in, or browse a search-able database of potential freelancers.
All three sites provides ways to track and manage workers’ time, offering money-back guarantees in the event an employee doesn’t complete work according to quality standards and dispute resolution to assist with these situations. Best of all, all three of the sites are free for employers to use.
The work done by a contractor or group of contractors will require a higher degree of oversight, however, so if you don’t have the time or manpower to monitor their progress, consider a more comprehensive solution from an established provider.
What to Look for in a Support Center
- If you’re considering a particular call center, find out who some of their clients are and do a test call as a customer asking a question. It’ll give you a real-world look at how your customer’s calls will be handled, and can give you an idea of whether or not you want to engage the company to handle your customer service.
- Doing an online search for blogs or forum posts that mention the center’s clients may bring up consumer reviews that can give you further insight into a typical customer service experience.
- We’ve all heard someone complain about trying to resolve a problem with a customer service representative they couldn’t communicate with. It’s frustrating for both the customer and the representative when language barriers prevent clear, effective communication. If you choose to outsource customer service based in an area where this may be an issue, investigate this aspect of service by doing a test call to be sure it won’t interfere with service quality.
- Another way to maximize the level of customer service when outsourcing is to find vendors that provide incentives to customer service representatives. Some call centers provide tiered bonuses that allow representatives to earn more money per hour, or a bonus, when they exceed goal expectations. Others provide point reward systems that let employees cash points in for prizes. Any fun, competitive contest can help revitalize a customer service floor and encourage them to meet metrics.
- Many companies set up a system that records some or all calls. The calls can then be reviewed on a regular basis. Monitoring calls allows you to give representatives feedback on their service. If the system records all calls, they can also be accessed to help with resolving escalated customer service issues or for legal reasons. Just knowing that a call may be recorded goes a long way toward encouraging call center employees to provide excellent service.
Making the Transition
This may go without saying, but if you’ve decided to go with a large provider such as a call center, pay attention to the contract. Don’t be afraid to suggest changes or additions you need. In addition to detailing how the partnership will work and what is expected, the contract should include conditions that allow you to discontinue the relationship. This may consist of a set of concrete quality standards, or may just be a time period after which the contract is up for renewal.
Be sure to read service level agreements in depth as well, and consider whether they apply specifically to your business needs. Many call centers tend to focus on handle time – that is, the average amount of time the representative spends with each caller. They strive to minimize handle time to a few minutes per customer, providing the most efficient service possible. While this is profitable in that it allows representatives to field more callers during their shifts, it can also negatively impact the level of service each caller receives. A representative who feels rushed to meet a handle time metric may not go out of their way to explain something extensively or offer other services. It may be more beneficial for you to emphasize other metrics in your service level agreements that are relevant to your company’s goals.
Having an attorney review any paperwork you don’t completely understand is best, since they have the experience to predict what you may need in the future.
If you decide to go for customer service outsourcing, it’s crucial to maintain a connection between your current business and the new branch. One effective way to do this is to have an internal staff member whose role is to facilitate communication. This staff member can keep both parties informed about what’s happening or assist with passing messages along. Having one person designated to maintain the link between companies will help prevent misunderstandings about expectations, training, performance and procedures as well.
While the point of hiring an outside firm is to let you focus on other priorities, it’s still critical that you make sure they’re doing a good job. Keep tabs on the level of service your customers are receiving. Make periodic test calls to experience customer service firsthand. Also review any available data or metrics to look for problem areas such as dropped calls, multiple calls to resolve the same issue, or other hitches in service.
Your customers depend on you to provide them with excellent customer service, and outsourcing can be a way to do that. Depending on your company’s specifics, it may be the best way to do that. As long as you put real research into the decision, it will be clear whether or not you should do it.
And by following our tips, you’ll be able to choose the best method for you and transition smoothly. If you play your cards right, in most cases you’ll be wondering why you didn’t outsource your customer service sooner.