Alex Loach looks at the perennial problem of whether you should outsource customer service.
As with many things, I don’t think that there is a set answer to whether you should outsource your customer service as it depends on so many different scenarios.
You should never outsource any of your key competencies
What I will say, however, is that you should never outsource any of your key competencies, and if the service you provide is part of your key competency than you must leave it alone or you are fundamentally sending the heart of your business away. However, that doesn’t mean that outsourcing your service function cannot help you develop a more customer-centric approach.
Dealing with peak volumes
Assuming this is not the case, though, a place where outsourcing can be extremely beneficial is when the volumes are far from steady. If for three-quarters of the year you need 30 members of staff on the phone, but then for the final quarter you need 100, then this is the type of model where outsourcing could become increasingly beneficial.
Whilst there is often quite a lot of bad press regarding outsourcing of service and support functions (as there will always be the lingering question of how they can provide a better service to your customers than you can), it also has to be remembered that because outsourcers have often worked with a wide range of services, it could be that they have access to options or technology that you do not.
Don’t outsource as a cost-saving exercise
It is important to remember that if you are going to outsource a service or support function, it must be to allow you to improve that function. Whilst this may not be true for other business areas, service functions should not be outsourced purely as a cost-saving exercise, and it should never be done just because you can not deal with a problem. If you try and outsource a service function because you can’t solve something, it will grow and grow until that problem has grown out of all proportion. Don’t just shift it, fix it, then move it in order to improve.
Now the hard work begins
Once the process of outsourcing has occurred, the hard work begins, because now you have to manage, monitor and improve a function that you do not fully control. This is where you have to work hand in hand with the outsourcing company to create a relationship for improvement that needs constant reviewing, with each review having specific objectives for improvement, and each with the necessary attendees to make it happen.
Again, it is about leveraging the extra value of the relationship. For example, an outsourcer may be purchasing a specific piece of technology for use by one of their other partners. This may therefore be something that you have not been able to purchase operationally, or are simply unwilling to. However, the outsourcer may be happy for you to use that technology as an added benefit of the relationship.
Building the relationship
The stronger the relationship you have with your outsourcer, the higher the chance of you getting the most out of it. Remember, though, strong, long-term relationships are rarely created between two businesses, but between two, four or six people within them. It is then up to those individuals to be open and honest with each other from the start.
This will maximise the relationship and quickly solve issues or work towards new benefits as you go along, and this is when you stop thinking of them as a separate organisation, but as a different arm of the same company. At this point, treat them this way. Communicate as often as you do internally and in the same way. If your other departments need to know something, the chances are the outsourcer does too. If the other departments have strict metrics and performance reviews, then so should your outsourcer.
You need each other, and for it to work for your customers, and for you to truly have a customer-centric approach in place, your consumers need you both working together.