While there is little data to suggest that your customers will pack up shop and flee to your closest competitor just because you’ve sub-contracted a foreign contact centre, there is substantial evidence to demonstrate that, in the long term, you could lose even your most loyal clients if you fail to provide the quality of service they expect.
So, once you’ve established your offshore contact centre, how can you make sure that your service level doesn’t decline?
Leaving your offshore centre to function unaided would be like handing a set of sweetshop keys to the playground bully. Outsourced vendors can handle responsibility – in moderation – but without a constant source of guidance and discipline, their standards will inevitably deteriorate over time.
Your number one priority, then, should be the inauguration of a small group of dedicated, experienced agents or managers, whose role will involve ensuring that your corporation’s service level agreements are met at all times. Based at your UK headquarters, this team should constitute a microcosmic representation of the services you operate abroad, and form the supportive backbone of your offshore operations.
Dealing with escalations
As part of this line-up, you will need a senior customer service manager. Ideally, this will be a mid- to long-term employee who knows your corporate procedures by rote and has vast first-hand experience of resolving customer grievances. This individual will be the first point of contact for your offshore team leaders, giving guidance in difficult customer service situations and even dealing with escalations personally when the customer absolutely insists on speaking to somebody in the UK.
Revenue protection specialist
Presuming that your company deals with credit card information regularly, your onshore support team will also require a revenue protection specialist, to resolve any card registration/transaction problems that may arise and identify any potentially fraudulent customers who may be eyeballing your corporation. He or she will be entirely familiar with the latest PCIDSS and Data Protection regulations, and communicate these effectively with offshore management to ensure that your customers’ personal details remain fully protected.
If your contact centre’s Quality Assurance department has not been outsourced, your domestic support team should also include several QA experts – a team of natural perfectionists, each with a customer-centric outlook and the ability to step in with hands-on guidance wherever necessary. This team will be responsible for monitoring the calls your offshore agents handle (holding them always to the same high KPIs you expect your UK staff to meet) and raising any agent shortcomings with their immediate managers. And remember that it’s particularly important to make sure your telephone agents are coming up with the goods during the offshore centre’s opening phase. At least 10% of every agent’s calls should be spot-checked for errors for the first few months of the new centre’s operation.
If your QA department function is abroad, you should retain at least one QA manager onshore. He or she will be charged with assessing the work of your outsourced QA team to make sure their standards do not slip. At least once a week, your QA representative should hold a calibration session with his or her offshore counterparts. These meetings will be held in the form of either web or telephone conferences, and can be used to assess the offshore team’s marking process and responding to any questions or problems the outsourced team might have.
Finally, your offshore centre will also require the support of a UK-based intra-day manager, who will constitute the first point of contact for your outsourced “offline” team – the individuals responsible for feeding your telephone diallers and routing calls to your contact centre’s different departments.
Once your UK support team is in place, it’s important to make sure that the vast physical distance between your headquarters and your point of outsource does not negatively affect the communication between the two. Many offshore contact centres ultimately fail because they are or become culturally alienated from their employer’s company values and, as a result, fail to relate to your customers’ expectations.
Circulate weekly emails showing your company’s recent successes, and keep them up to date with your corporation’s long- and short-term strategies. Needless to say, you will also need to keep your offshore teams well-informed of your current marketing or advertising promotions.
You should also arrange for your UK support team to make frequent trips to your offshore site to assess the working environment there and gauge your staff’s understanding of your company ethos. Nothing saps corporate enthusiasm from an employee like a featureless workspace, so instruct middle management to habitually decorate the offshore floor space with posters and placards depicting your slogans, services and customer satisfaction statistics.
Survey the levels of service
Conduct regular market research exercises to survey your customers’ opinion of the service they’ve received, and analyse your findings in great depth, acting on your customers’ suggestions wherever feasible. Should it come to light, for example, that an overwhelming majority of customers feel uncomfortable dealing with certain service aspects with an offshore centre, you will need to examine your data further to deduce the exact cause of these concerns, and then upskill your workforce accordingly.
Be ruthless in your insistence on the best. Trial-run each new agent before taking them on for good, and show your outsourcing provider that you’re not willing to put up with sub-par employees.
Cruel as it sounds, the dismissal process in many outsourcing countries is much less candid than our own. This means that if you have taken on a dud agent and cannot afford to invest in further training, you can have that agent removed from your account without the need to give a prior warning or offer coaching.
While British call centre agents are often employed at minimum wage, it’s not uncommon for foreign staff to work for a fraction of that amount – and happily so. Many Indian medical graduates have even been known to abandon their doctoral ambitions in favour of the superior salary offered by a career in customer services.
Even so, money is not the only factor involved in motivating outsourced agents.
Always remember that enthusiasm is contagious; in many cases, a happy and fulfilled agent will mean a happy and fulfilled customer. So it’s crucially important that you don’t let your employees’ needs fall by the wayside.
George Dixon is a regular contributor to Call Centre Helper.
What has been your experience of working with overseas contact centres? Please leave your comments in an email to Call Centre Helper
There is a very short statement that iterates George’s article “Your outsource centre should replicate every working element and aspect of your UK centre(s)” and the only variation should be cultural.
I was involved in the start up of a 50 seat pilot and managed the growth, in less than 9 months, into a dual site 320 seat, 1000 FTE operation in the early days of India and we had a very successful, commercial and customer centric operation with fantastic staff.
I cannot support strongly enough the need for support both on the ground and in the UK. Strong contract management and operational support equals success.
My only word of warning is Outsourcers will say Yes to most requests for change, regardless of scale and scope – you must challenge back and manage your own expectations.