Getting started with outsourcing customer service is no easy feat. As a business owner, you need to have the right information before making any decisions. Since outsourced customer service teams are directly interacting with your customers, they directly affect the way your customers feel about your business.
In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to get started with outsourcing customer support. Here, we discuss what customer service outsourcing is, its importance and cost as well as the steps you need to take to have a smooth transition.
Before we begin, let us first define what customer service is and how it originated.
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What is Customer Service?
Customer service is the help you provide your clients before or after they purchase and use your product or service. Customer service enables clients to have a positive and enjoyable experience with your business. Good customer service has an integral part in keeping loyal customers and growing your business.
Modern customer service involves far more than traditional phone support. Nowadays, customer service extends through email, social media, text messages, and far beyond these methods. Businesses have also started in-product support so clients can find their way to the answers they seek regardless of the time and day. Customer service includes more services than merely answering customers’ questions; it’s a commitment your business gives to your consumers.
Why is Customer Service Important to the Success of Your Business?
Customer care is vital to effective competition. Consumers used to choose which companies with which to do business by the price or quality of the product or service offered. However, consumers nowadays base which business to patronize on their overall experience when interacting with the company. 89% of businesses expect that competition will be based on customer experience.
Effective customer service is the driver of remarkable customer experience, especially when the customer care team moves past merely reacting to problems and towards predicting consumers’ problems.
Customer Service Impacts Bottom Line
It’s commonly said that keeping existing customers is cheaper than finding new ones. The average cost of acquiring new customers is almost seven times more expensive than keeping current customers. Poor customer service is one of the main reasons for customer churn; 91% of customers leave because they are not happy with the treatment they get.
Don’t allow this to happen to you. Prioritizing customer care enables you to attract new clients and retain loyal customers. This has a huge impact on your company’s revenue.
Customer Service Makes or Breaks your Reputation
Modern consumers have grown acquainted with getting what they want when they want it. Their expectations have consequently increased. Businesses agree that customer expectations are much higher now than they were three years ago. Additionally, customers nowadays are quicker to share their negative experiences online – where more people can view their posts. So it’s more important than ever before to assist customers across all channels right from the start and to consistently build good customer support internally and externally.
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Customer Care is an Essential Element of Product Experience
The difference between products and services is slowly disappearing. Now, the customer experience is a part and parcel of the product or service itself. Take the Amazon Mayday button, for example. Amazon has seamlessly integrated support into the product, immediately giving help to customers.
It may seem that only large corporations can accomplish something like this, but you would be surprised that even small businesses are connecting products to their customer experiences. Many e-commerce firms are integrating their helpdesk centers with their website’s captions or adding hyperlinks to support articles or videos on certain pages of the site. App companies are integrating a system wherein clients can log their request tickets within the product experience. Self-service customer support is the current trend and the future of customer care.
Clients are Willing to Pay a Higher Price for Better Experience
Developing good customer service is more than a recent trend. It has long been a wise business strategy. As it turns out, making each touchpoint remarkable enables customers to more easily patronize you, consequently increasing your profit. Research claims that some customers are willing to pay a higher price for a better experience. Good customer experience may come in the form of early access to features or premium support. Regardless, excellent customer experience is directly proportionate to your bottom line.
History of Customer Service
The creator of customer service isn’t named but its origin is usually linked to the creation of the telephone. Telephone systems gave birth to modern customer service. Without it, businesses could not establish and maintain good relationships with their clients. If customers can’t connect with you, their queries and concerns remain unanswered – thus hurting customer satisfaction and, ultimately, business.
Before the creation of the telephone, consumers had to take the product back to the store and hope the owner would give them a refund or accept the return. The invention of the telephone gave businesses a chance to contact customers with a phone call. When rotary dials were created, clients could directly connect to the appropriate line they wanted. These technological breakthroughs not only made things easier and more efficient but also allowed businesses to provide better quality customer service.
Contact Centers and the Internet Era
During the 60s, a new sector emerged. Contact centers enabled businesses to answer and make more calls, making smooth communication feasible. In contact centers, agents can converse with customers to respond to their concerns so that other employees can focus on other work.
Fast forward to the era of the internet. Public internet access became a delight for consumers and businesses alike. This presented even better customer support options. The software was created solely for customer service, making it easier to cope with high call traffic. Making customers happy has never been quicker and easier.
During the take-off of social media in 2008, businesses discovered a new avenue to support customers. Ever since then, customer service options have become even more plentiful, and businesses across many sectors are taking advantage of it to keep up with the rapidly increasing competition.
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How to Offer the Best Customer Service
Offering the best customer support requires a complete focus on the clients. This is the key to creating lasting relationships and a loyal following. One great way to provide quality service is to be reachable 24/7.
Staying virtually open day in and day out provides consumers the instant gratification they want. Clients will not be happy to see responses such as “We’ll get back to you in 24 hours.” They want an immediate response. If they can’t get it from you, they will look elsewhere—and you will lose a potential sale.
In terms of providing the best customer service, it’s wise to let customers be in control of where customer care experiences occur. Whether they prefer instant messages, email, social media, or telephone calls, as a business owner, it is up to you to make the whole procedure as convenient as possible.
With the fast-growing technology and service offers, businesses from many industries are becoming heavily fixated on customer experience and satisfaction. If you can’t provide remarkable customer service, you will lose business. A good call center firm can manage this challenge. Their ability to provide cutting-edge technology to your clients gives them a competitive advantage.
Why do Businesses Need to Get Started with Outsourcing Customer Service?
In its simplest form, customer service outsourcing is the process of contracting a group of agents who work externally from your company to manage customer support.
Outsourcing customer care makes sense for many businesses because it allows you to focus on your core business functions by freeing up your workflow to do what you do best. Meanwhile, a group of highly trained industry professionals will competently take over customer support.
Think about it, you wouldn’t try to install your office’s HVAC system by yourself, right? So why attempt to offer services that an expert in the field with a long line of experience can do better and faster?
Customer service outsourcing improves customer experience and satisfaction by streamlining your company’s performance in principal areas. A call center offers a variety of tasks ranging from customer support, help desk solutions, tech and IT support, and many more services. Regardless of where your organization needs quality improvement or lower cost, outsourced customer service can help.
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Advantages of Customer Service Outsourcing
Outsourcing is increasingly becoming the number one choice for businesses throughout the world for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s a performance optimization, innovation, or cost-saving you want, you can achieve that with the help of a robust outsourced support team.
Here are some of the top advantages of working with an outsourcing customer service provider.
1. Driving Efficiency
Efficiency is exciting for any business owner. Thanks to outsourcing, your business can remain virtually open 24/7, even on the holidays, without you doing the leg work. If you have ever dreamed of running your organization as you sleep, this is your opportunity to do just that.
Outsourcing customer service also enables you to get things done quickly since you have a bigger team of employees fixated on one task. If your internal team is in shambles managing primary functions while also responding to customer inquiries, it might be time to hand this part of customer service over to the experts.
2. Do What You Do Best
Have you ever felt like your business was designed to fulfill a certain service or function but was being hauled in another direction? Suddenly, your team now needs to solve customer complaints and inquiries — and you began as a passionate cat toy retailer.
Outsourcing allows you to hand off your customer service to call-center representatives, freeing up your and your team’s time so you can focus on racking up sales and innovating.
3. Cost Savings
Cost savings is one major advantage of outsourcing customer service. For starters, you don’t need to pay the costs related to recruitment. You also don’t need to pay your employees a full-time salary. You will only shell out money for the time that you need work done, not all the in-between time and coffee breaks. You might also receive better quality service at a lower price since outsourced employees often have lower overheads. Less apparent aspects come with outsourcing, too, such as decreasing your need for office space thus keeping office rental costs at bay.
So long as your cost-cutting initiatives do not affect your customer experience in a negative way, the saved cost of customer service outsourcing can have an undeniably huge allure.
4. Improved Flexibility and Less Risk
Seasonal and periodic work is one of the biggest selling points for outsourcing customer service. Certain periods in many businesses, such as the holiday season, incur higher traffic in the customer service department. Outsourcing customer service enables you to bring in an additional workforce when the demand requires it and downscale when those workers are not needed. This allows you to follow the inevitable ebbs and flows of the business without paying all year round for workers you only need some of the time. Outsourcing also lessens your risk and helps mitigate the stress brought by the inevitable periodic increases in employee turnover.
5. Peace of Mind
Ultimately, peace of mind is one of the best charms of customer service outsourcing. Wouldn’t it be amazing to trustingly let go of managing customer support and entrust them to dedicated professionals? Customer service outsourcing eradicates the stress that comes with the territory. Call center representatives are well-versed in handling tools and deploying strategies for complex customer concerns. They have been trained to solve problems, reduce pain points, manage interaction, and provide a positive experience for all parties involved.
6. Optimize your Business Offering
In addition to what we already said about hiring industry experts to get the job done, it’s also worth mentioning that improving your processes paves the way for opportunities that will fortify your brand, nurture better customer relationships, establish loyalty, and increase customer retention. In short, outsourcing customer service can be a catalyst for growth. When fixated on reassessing your current processes and workflow to get the outsourced team up to speed, you might gain a new perspective on how things are working or not, as the case may be.
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Get Started with Outsourcing: How does Customer Service Outsourcing Work?
There are several ways to outsource customer service. Depending on your business needs, you may prefer one over another. Generally speaking, the different strategies depending on the distance between the two parties. These strategies are
1. Remote or Physical Call Center
Remote work setup is a growing situation for many good reasons. If you already have experience with a remote workforce, then you probably already know the benefits and challenges that come with it. The same advantages and disadvantages come into play with customer service outsourcing.
BPO firms that utilize remote work setup will encounter the following advantages:
- Talent Scouting: Similar to any other remote work, BPOs hiring remote customer service agents can tap into the best talent available in their market. They are not limited to the workers’ physical location so they can work with any talent they see fit wherever they may be.
- Redundancy: If your customer service workforce is physically scattered, you can rest assured that calamities, power outages, or poor weather conditions will not jeopardize your firm’s ability to provide support.
- Employee Happiness: Remote work setup corresponds to things such as increased employee loyalty, improved employee wellness, and fewer unscheduled absences.
Employing a physical call center may cause you to miss out on the aforementioned benefits. But, a physical BPO firm can solve a significant challenge that remote teams have: building camaraderie and connection.
Both options are great solutions for outsourcing customer service. Just keep in mind that outsourcing a remote customer team will require you to put in extra effort to create meaningful connections with your outsourced team.
2. Onshore or Offshore Outsourcing?
When debating outsourcing options, you will find yourself in discussions about international vs domestic outsourcing. Although it is common to outsource internationally, outsourcing to domestic BPO firms may actually make more sense for you depending on your needs.
One of the biggest upsides to offshore outsourcing is that you get to take advantage of a lower cost of living than that in your home country. With the lower cost of living, you can hire top-tier customer service agents and pay them a comfortable salary while still paying considerably lower than you would with the same quality agents in your local area.
A second major benefit to offshore outsourcing is that you get to take advantage of a diverse pool of available talent. Countries like the Philippines are home to many customer care agents looking for relevant work with growing businesses. Additionally, outsourcing internationally where the time zone is different enables you to cover multiple time zones and provide round-the-clock support for foreign customers.
Domestic outsourcing, on the other hand, brings two primary advantages. The first is cultural familiarity. Customer concerns and issues may be understood and rectified easier by local agents due to fewer language and cultural barriers. However, given the right training and education, international agents can answer the same questions the same way.
The second major benefit of onshore outsourcing relates to customer perception. Some clients might view outsourcing to a foreign country less favorably. Deciding between the two options needs thought and sensitivity. If you think your customers will be upset with offshore support agents, then perhaps domestic outsourcing is your best bet.
Finally, don’t think that you only have to choose between two options. In some cases, a mixed model where both domestic and international customer support agents are recruited produces amazing results. Mixed models may include dividing work depending on the team’s expertise.
3. Location of the Outsourcing Firm
If you’ve decided to outsource to another country, the next question is to which country will you outsource your service needs.
As mentioned earlier, some countries have a plethora of industry experts, making them a good option for outsourcing. Some countries to consider for offshore outsourcing are the Philippines, Bulgaria, India, Mexico, and Central America.
The most important factor you need to consider when selecting a location is organizational needs. For instance, if you need agents who are fluent in European languages, then you may need to outsource to Eastern Europe. If you want agents who can speak English and Spanish well, then countries like the Philippines and Mexico make the most sense. The Philippines makes a good option for general customer care outsourcing. The country has many college-educated call center professionals who can speak English fluently with a limited accent. An added benefit: agents are willing to adjust to different time zones, so it makes a great option if you’re looking for round-the-clock operations.
Other factors to consider when selecting a country include cost, technological infrastructure, literacy rates, and political stability.
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4. Exclusive or Shared Agents
To get started with outsourcing, you need to choose between dedicated or shared agents. Shared agents are those who reply to customer support tickets from multiple companies. It’s not uncommon for businesses to choose this route, especially if your call traffic is low or dedicated agents are too expensive. However, this option does come with inevitable difficulties.
The main problem is that shared agents are less likely to become intimately familiar with your product or service since they respond to customers of multiple companies. If you select this option, you may want to consider only giving your outsourced team simple tickets such as password resets and the like.
Alternatively, dedicated agents are those whose sole focus is to offer support for your company. Dedicated agents bring many benefits because they can focus on your company alone. This enables better familiarity with your company’s branding voice, culture, and product or service. These employees are also much easier to integrate with your internal team. Lastly, they will be much more likely to develop a deep understanding of your business strategies and offer feedback for improvement.
Get Started with Outsourcing: Cost of Customer Service Outsourcing
In-house customer support incurs higher costs and takes away more resources. For example, the average annual salary for customer service agents in the US sits at around $30,688 plus $4,663 in benefits. Multiply that by the number of agents you need to include in your team. You also have the customer service manager whose average annual salary is $39,694 plus $6,032 in benefits.
In addition to that, you will also spend money on office space and other infrastructure. To get a better picture, here is a breakdown of costs for a 4-member in-house customer service team:
|Salaries & Benefits||$141,284|
|Customer Service Manager||$45,726|
|Computer and Software||$3,600|
|Total||$259,955 per year|
Conversely, the average pricing of call centers in the different regions are outlined below
|Region||Pricing per Hour|
The prices listed above serve as a guide in calculating cost. Ultimately, outsourcing will depend on many other factors including the duration of calls, call traffic, and the kind of support you get. Consider the features you need. Do you need round-the-clock support or can you make do with only typical office hours? Do you need multi-lingual agents or English- speaking agents? Do you need multiple channels such as social media, chat, and email, or is your phone enough?
Get Started with Outsourcing: 3 Questions to Determine if You Should Outsource
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you figure out if you need to outsource customer service:
1. Are there other functions you can do better and that produce more value? If yes, then you should do those higher-value tasks and outsource customer service to the experts.
2. Is this the best way to spend your time and resources? If managing customer calls is not the best use of your time, then consider outsourcing it. Look for something else to do with the freed-up time.
3. Can customer support be managed more efficiently and with better quality by others? If your answer is yes, then let the experts take control.
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Get Started with Outsourcing: What can my Company do to Start?
Of course, getting started with outsourcing is no easy feat. Many businesses struggle to find their way in the beginning. However, when done properly, the benefits of outsourced customer service far outweigh the cons. It’s worth spending extra time and energy planning and getting everything figured out so you can get the best from your outsourcing investment. So, here’s the nitty-gritty part to help get started with outsourcing
1. Be Sure to have Buy-In from the Top
Making sure that your partnership becomes a success and your outsourcing investment pays off requires commitment. You will not reap any benefits without doing some work. If your executives only want to decrease costs, then you may not possess the time and resources necessary for long-term success.
2. Understand your Brand’s Voice and Tone
Regardless of the communication channel you use – call, text, social media, or instant messaging, your customers will become accustomed to the way you talk to them. When you outsource customer service to an external support team, they need to sound exactly like you. This means you must be explicit during the training period. Provide sufficient examples and be ready to work with your outsourcing provider to help them fully comprehend your approach.
3. Figure out What You Want to Achieve
If you know that you need certain tasks taken from your shoulders, but do not know exactly what that would entail, then you have much work to do. You can figure out what you want to achieve by brainstorming with the outsourced team about the tasks you would like to delegate. Then create a document outlining the job. Consider your overarching goals and work backward to determine the required steps.
4. Talk to Several Providers to Find the One that Gives the Best Fit
Different BPO firms fulfill different needs. Some firms are better at managing high-volume and high-recurrence calls while others are more accustomed to solving complex, in-depth problems. Other factors you may want to consider include language barriers, time zone crossovers, ease of training, and minimum call volume.
5. Anticipate Spending Upfront for Training and Recruitment
Outsourcing customer service is a long-term investment. It will take time to recruit and train customer service agents. Don’t be afraid to invest in test runs to ensure that the outsourced team suits you. Invest in training programs in the same way you would with any new employee. Since most customer service agents won’t have the benefit of face-to-face interactions with your in-house team, make sure that they intimately understand your organization’s brand story, values, mission, vision, and goals.
Note that outsourcing is not just about cost and skills. You also need to consider organizational culture and personality. Skills and competencies can easily be taught but a good work ethic and attitude are a bit harder to pass on.
6. Hand Over Control and Trust the Professionals
Many business owners are so driven that they become impaired by perfectionism and controlling tendencies. These failings can make outsourcing difficult. So, relinquishing some control is critical.
Outsourcing to industry professionals opens many doors for opportunities. It allows you to save time, improve productivity, and drive innovation. It also means that you can get the job done to a higher standard. Working with customer service professionals means less stress, better quality outputs, and more learning opportunities. So, set aside the martinet in you and you’ll be amazed by the results.
7. Make an effort to understand the outsourced team’s culture
It’s a great opportunity to work with industry experts who bring diverse backgrounds and experience to the team. However, if your outsourced customer service team is not located in the same county or is not of a similar culture, it pays to take more time communicating directives and setting expectations straight.
This step will require a hefty dose of patience both from you and your outsourced team. But if you take the time to learn what they value, how they like to work, and what doing business in your new outsourced team’s culture entails, they will definitely appreciate the effort.
8. Ask the Right Questions During the Hiring Process
The recruiting process often needs to be modified for outsourcing customer service, especially if the outsourcing team is based in another country. Here are some key questions we recommend you ask:
- What functions do you offer?
- What is your asking price for the service?
- Tell me something about your infrastructure.
- What security measures do you have in place? How do you handle sensitive information?
- What is your customer satisfaction rate?
- Do you have references?
9. Take Baby Steps
Outsourcing customer service is not a process to be rushed. You don’t need to make big commitments right from the start. Instead of signing up for long hours from the get-go, why not take small steps? Perhaps hire chat agents periodically or when projects come up. You can scale this up over time or increase it as customer demand grows. Or employ more agents when you finally find the right staff and feel more comfortable about making a commitment.
10. Build a Partnership with Ongoing Communication
The most successful customer service outsourcing initiatives are built on partnerships where there is two-way communication. What’s working properly? Where are training and improvement needed? What are the call center agents discovering that could be useful to the in-house team? All of these should be properly communicated. If you want, you might consider appointing a link manager to facilitate communication between you and your outsourcing partner.
Remember that outsourcing customer service is not a way to rid yourself of all support responsibilities. Rather, you must treat your outsourced agents as an extension of your team. In so doing, you can create more value from your initiatives and solve potential problems during their infancy.
11. Consider Legal and Security Risks
Before allowing a third-party service provider to have access to your customer’s private information, you must first examine their data security protocols. Don’t forget to check your legal obligations and assess your internal security. Check in with your legal department before signing a contract. Some hiring teams create specified access for their support team while saving the high-level access to in-house staff.
12. Don’t Step Too Far Away from the Business
This occurrence is on the other end of the spectrum to letting go of control. On occasion, businesses let their outsourced team have a bit too much leeway in running day-to-day support operations. This can be risky for your company.
Realize that no one will ever guide the company forward with the same drive you do. This is worth noting before you get carried away by outsourcing.
13. Take Time to Understand your Incoming Support Inquiries
Set aside time to understand your consumer’s most common queries. Can certain types of interactions be easily solved with self-help support? Can you more quickly direct inbound calls to the appropriate support agent? Understanding the most common problems your customers run into allows you to re-analyze your processes and make changes accordingly.
14. Set Metrics to Assess the Success of your Customer Support Strategy
Lastly, it’s imperative to routinely monitor the performance of your outsourced customer service team. Make sure they are aligned with your goals and strategies. Set performance indicators and other metrics such as first-call resolution rates, the average time in queue, average handle time, and call abandonment rate to measure agent performance. Remember: what gets measured gets done.
Data analytics plays an integral part in the success of your company’s customer service initiative – whether in-house or outsourced. It gives you an idea of how well you’re managing costs, how easily your customers can rectify issues with you, and how happy they are with your service.
Other qualitative customer support factors to assess include the agent’s ability to communicate effectively, and their level of empathy and knowledge. Although these factors are a little bit harder to quantify, you can gauge them through consistent interaction monitoring.
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Get Started with Outsourcing: Type of Customer Support to Choose
Now that you have decided to outsource your customer service, it’s time to explore the different support solutions available at your disposal. Here are three types of support from which you can choose:
This is generally a safe option since clients won’t expect a fast turnaround. The industry standard for an email response is around 24 hours, which gives the customer support agent a reasonable amount of time to research the problem and appropriately respond to the customer’s inquiry.
A good point about email support is that it takes away the common problem customers have with outsourced customer service: the difficulty of understanding the agent or of being understood.
2. Call Center
Contact centers are a great option, especially if you have high traffic customer interaction. If you go for this route, it’s crucial to select a call center firm wisely. Customer service agents often manage multiple outbound and inbound calls in a day from different companies. The rate of employee turnover can also be an issue if you go for this option.
3. Social Media
In conjunction with traditional support solutions, many companies manage customer service issues using social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Oftentimes, customers’ queries are easily resolved with instant messages which makes social media a great communication platform for customer service. The real-time replies allow customers to receive a response without waiting too long.
Other businesses take it even further by searching their company name on social media, looking for complaints and issues they can resolve.
Get Started with Outsourcing: What to Look for in a Customer Service Partner
The key to getting started with outsourcing is to find the right partner. For that, you should be attuned to what your organization needs in terms of customer support. Work with an outsourcing firm that fulfills that need. For example, if you’re a large enterprise, figure out the company’s capacity to manage in-depth interactions with clients or high traffic calls.
Alternatively, if you have clients from all over the world, look for an around-the-clock multilingual customer care team. If you have complicated products that require technical knowledge or may cause frustrations to your clients, then go with a firm that is acquainted with handling difficult customers.
Lastly, assess multiple potential outsourcing partners. Be sure to check their track records, and consider having a chat with one of their previous clients.