Question: We run three call centres in the UK and with the economy getting tighter, we have been looking at the possibility of outsourcing our calls – either in the UK or to India. We are a bit worried about a customer backlash. Does anybody have any advice of what we need to do – or any experience of having done this themselves?
Answer courtesy of Mike Purvis, UK MD of Transcom.
Nearshoring to locations such as Lithuania or Latvia has proven a successful strategy for many of our clients who were struggling with similar questions of when and how to outsource in response to changing market conditions.
In the short term (and with the economy in an uncertain state), businesses tend to focus on the decreased cost of outsourcing their call centre needs; however, in the long term, well-executed outsourcing can improve the quality of service which businesses are able to offer their customers as well. Carefully weighing the cost-benefit relationship should be at the heart of your decision making.
Nearshoring allows businesses a rather unique outsource solution, apart from simply outsourcing in the UK or all the way to India. Nearshoring is where call centres in nearby locations (such as the Baltic region or elsewhere in Eastern Europe) service UK customers. The operators in these areas are highly educated and well-trained professionals, who have almost flawless English accents and similar cultural backgrounds to the customers they serve. At the same time, the prevailing operating costs for call centres in these areas, in terms of both salaries and rents, are a fraction of those in the UK. This means that nearshoring centres are able to provide a high-quality and reliable level of customer satisfaction at a significantly reduced cost.
Depending on the size of the business, the most important question to ask is often not whether to outsource but how much and where to outsource. For many managers, there are a number of business processes which distract them from more important (and commercially rewarding) tasks. At the same time, managers have to weigh the reputational impact that outsourcing can have on their customer satisfaction and how easily they can change course if their expectations have not been met.
The best advice is to choose an experienced company with a proven track record. Then, treat your decision to outsource more as a multi-step process rather than a one-off tactical move. This can make it easier to scale up or scale down in the future once you know more.
Answer courtesy of Neil Robinson, Head of Client Management, Convergys Corporation (EMEA).
Any company setting out to establish a new call centre faces a mammoth task. The fundamental decisions and steps are the same whether the centre has 20 or 1,000 seats, if it’s in-house or outsourced. The advantage of an outsourced operation is that you can draw on the provider’s vast experience, advanced learning curve and resources. But engaging an outsourcing expert by no means absolves you of all responsibility: good outsourcing contracts rely on both parties working in close partnership. So a good understanding of the challenges and processes involved in setting up a call centre will be critical to your success.
1. Plan, plan and plan again
Once the decision to set up an outsourced call centre has been made, the first step is to put together – and agree – a detailed implementation plan. This may seem obvious, but in reality the depth of implementation planning varies considerably. The plan should establish core objectives of the project, along with key milestones and processes associated with the roll-out. It should cover all aspects of the project, from identifying a suitable site for the centre, through technology choices to recruitment and training. The plan should give clear timelines, establish metrics and assign owners to each step of the process to ensure accountability. Likewise, the budget and what is included in the pricing (or not!) should be clearly set out.
2. Finding the right location
A short-list of potential location has to be evaluated from various angles:
- Human Resources: what is the local skills pool like? How many companies in the area are competing for similar staff? What are the forecasts for wage inflation and staff attrition?
- Building review: what are the conditions for the proposed site? What state of repair is it in? Is it easy for staff to reach? Does its meet environmental, health and safety requirements? What risks does the location pose to a future operation?
- Technology: what technology infrastructure is available? What connectivity to existing systems or additional technology investments will be needed? Which suppliers can provide IT and telecoms services at the site?
- Legal, tax and regulatory considerations: are there local tax incentives? What legal challenges may arise? What industry accreditations and certifications will be required? Which government agencies must the company engage with (e.g. local investment agencies, county councils)?
Selecting and deploying technology is no longer just a case of getting phone lines and terminals in place. Managing relationships with your customers is becoming increasingly complex in a multi-channel environment. Consequently, you may need to upgrade existing systems and require new tools to deal with all available service routes, including automated systems, email, web or voice. Your outsourcing provider should apply its experience here to achieve the performance levels, security, reliability and quality that you require.
Policies for dealing with each process or customer interaction need to be agreed and the relevant technology has to be deployed and configured. For example, how should incoming calls be routed? How many IVR (interactive voice response) menus will a caller go through before speaking to a live agent? How will you prioritise high-value customers?
And, last but not least, all systems have to be tested and a training environment has to be put in place before the first recruits arrive.
4. Recruitment and training
It goes without saying that call centres are people businesses, so you should be painstaking in your recruitment process.
This starts with calculating how many agents and what skill sets are needed. Will it be simple transactional jobs such as credit card activation or billing enquiries? Or will you need IT experts for complex tech support? These considerations will feed into the job descriptions and recruitment strategy you agree with your outsourcing provider.
Next you need to think about training plans and materials to get agents quickly up to speed with your company’s products and practices as well as call centre technologies and processes. Generally, you should allow around eight weeks for training, working back from your ‘go live’ date. Training will include programme-specific elements as well as call quality improvement and, if required, culture and communication. Training the trainer(s) is the first priority, followed by several waves of new hire orientation and training.
5. Go Live!
As always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: before the centre goes live, a ‘nesting week’ will allow staff to settle in, get trained ‘on the job’ and test the centre’s overall readiness in real-life conditions. Ideally, this will give the outsourcing partners enough time to identify any potential issues and tackle them before the first real call is put through.
However, if you have followed the steps outlined above with a professional outsourcing provider to guide and manage the process, your call centre should be off to a good start.