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Outsourcing Sales and Service Calls

If you’re thinking about outsourcing your sales or customer service calls, or if you’re selecting a new outsourced service provider, remember that your decision can not only affect your career, but your company’s revenue and profitability for years to come. Choose carefully. Outsourcing some or all of your calls, emails, and/or chat is a common business practice, but selecting and then managing your provider requires management oversight, and a lot of it.

Companies outsource for good reason: cost control, access to expertise and state-of-the-art technology, and minimization of capital investment. Service providers (business process outsourcers, or BPOs) that provide service on behalf of their clients often have the potential to outperform their clients’ internal capabilities. They have access to the latest technology and they can often do it for less because they can allocate physical facilities across more call volume while spending less on wages, salaries and benefits.

You do not always get what you pay for, though. If you find the lowest cost bidder, their low cost could result from under-investment in technology and/or wages that are too low to attract competent personnel.

If you do pay a higher price for better quality, you may still not receive it unless you manage your service provider properly. When you outsource customer contact, you give up a substantial amount of control over interactions with your customers. The more control you can retain, the less risk to your business.

Although all service providers state that they want to partner with you, keep in mind that your service provider is not your financial partner. They are in business to make a profit. Plan in your budget for at least one manager onsite at the service provider. Your new partner may question this approach and might tell you they can save you this unnecessary expense since they already include project management in the service they provide.

Beware the service provider who does not welcome onsite management. Allowing someone from your company into their facility at all times is very difficult for the service provider and requires a large degree of tolerance on their part. However, a refusal to comply with your request means that you will lose a substantial means of quality control. The best providers will allow you full access to the facility (within reasonable limits of security and confidentiality), including office space for your vendor manager.

Keeping the control issue in mind, here are some suggestions to follow when selecting a provider:

1.       Always use an RFP, and always document your agreements and understandings with a written contract; one that you write or have considerable involvement in revising.

2.       The best service partner depends on the type of work you plan to outsource, and success depends on the people who will manage it.

3.       Make sure that when the service provider responds to your RFP, they show you the actual site that will perform the work. Their response document should apply only to the site you visit.

Here’s an example. Your RFP states: “We require that you have a diesel generator for back-up power supply.” Service provider response: “We have two power feeds to the facility, an enterprise-class uninterruptible power supply for the computer and telecommunications systems, supported by a diesel generator on 24 hour standby.” You select this vendor. They staff your project in Ohio. By the way, the diesel generator supports the Florida facility (the one you visited). They plan to get one for the Ohio site soon.

Another example: You agree to have your program handled in the Florida site because it’s an easy drive from your office, and you visit frequently, but it’s not in the contract. Six months into the program, the provider moves your program to Ohio because they need the Florida space for a new client. Yes, it happens.

Some general factors to consider when selecting your service provider (there are more):

Overall

Location – access to major airport
Distance from your corporate office
Size in the industry
Dedicated or shared teams
Client list
Management personnel
Previous experience

Sales Process

Professionally organized tour
Knowledgeable, empowered sales person
Who will be your client advocate?

Workforce

Work ethic
Wage rate
Morale
Business culture
Attrition

Training

Professional, experienced training department
Multiple training rooms
Number of positions per room

Telecommunications, Technology, and Security

Major telecom equipment supplier and desktop software apps
Major long distance carrier
Redundancy and diversity in the voice network
Technology refresh policy (how old are those desktop PCs?)
PCI compliant? HIPAA compliant? Other standards?

Facilities

Class A office space (how do the employees feel about working here?)
Condition of furniture (will yours look like that?)
Check out the cafeteria (large enough, clean enough?)
Access to workforce
Public transit

Company Organization

Organization chart
Escalation contacts

Performance Management and the Customer Experience

Agent measurements and frequency
Service level metrics, measured hourly, daily or monthly?
How often to agents receive coaching and how is it tracked?

Disaster Recovery

Power supply
Telecom backup
Written disaster recovery plan
Physical plant

Interview your management team before you sign the contract. Do so as if you were hiring them — because you are. Develop a team to evaluate the selection decision. Borrow or hire someone in your company who has previous experience with selecting and managing service providers. Add a representative from your sales and customer service departments to your team. Write down your program standards and requirements, your metrics, your expected response times, and what you expect from your provider for each. These standards should be in your contract, if not already in your RFP.

Once you know which service provider you plan to select, use their bid to make your final decision about outsourcing. Look one more time at doing the work internally and compare your internal cost with the service provider’s total estimate for the project.

If you choose to outsource, your most important responsibility from then on will be managing your service provider. Pay careful attention to your reports, your bills, your quality controls, your contract, and your relationship. Visit often. Listen to calls together on a regular basis, onsite, in real time. Your reward will be superb service delivered in a responsive, flexible and professional environment at an economical cost.



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