Outsource Call Centre: Everything You Need to Know
It's never been more important to consider using outsource call centres for your customer service operations. Let’s dispel some of the mysteries and myths that exist around this subject and demonstrate once and for all why an outsource call centre is a savvy business option.
March 9th, 2021
The outsource call centre vs in-house customer service debate is one that has raged for decades – usually with customer service outsourcing being regarded as the cheaper option that delivers inferior quality. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In many ways, outsource call centres are the perfect solution for businesses that want to delegate costs and operational responsibilities, whilst still benefiting from excellent service that does not interfere with their customers’ experience.
In this article, we’re going to look at what outsourced call centres actually are, what they can be for your business, and why it’s all so important.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is an outsource call centre?
- Making an outsource call centre team work for you
- Challenging the pre-conceptions
- In-house vs outsourced call centres
- The benefits and drawbacks of outsource call centres
- The FM Outsource difference
What is an outsource call centre?
Essentially, an outsource call centre is a partner for managing customer communication that exists outside of your core organisation. They generally handle inbound queries, but can also do proactive and reactive outbound where required – all of which is off your payroll!
Using an outsource call centre takes your customer service department entirely off your overheads and into your operating costs, transferring responsibility from in-house to a dedicated service provider. This can certainly be more appealing for finance teams, but it also allows you to tap into experience and expertise without the risk of hiring and managing new talent.
For a more simplistic explanation, outsource call centres tend to fall into three main categories:
- Onshore - Call centre campaigns run by people in the host country (for example, the UK)
- Near shore - Campaigns run by people within neighboring countries (for example, Europe)
- Offshore - Outsource call centre campaigns run by people in distant markets, usually prefered for cost reasons
Outsource call centres work by utilising labour to man campaigns based on forecast contact volumes. This is generally done by FTE (full time equivalent) mapping. For example, understanding that you may need five agents online at specific times to handle an influx of calls.
Many modern outsource call centres charge by the contact or hour, meaning they forecast the number of contacts and how many people you’ll need, rather than paying per FTE. At the beginning of your relationship, your outsource call centre should provide full departmental backing; such as learning and development, shift and campaign management, and a background management team including a Head of Contact Centre. This will give you peace of mind and enable you to focus on other areas of the operation.
When it comes to the financial side, outsource call centre costs vary massively depending on the solution you choose. However, when taking the full cost of a hire vs outsourced labour into account, outsourcing call centres should always be more cost effective!
But knowing what a outsource call team is and does is one thing, how they operate as an extensive of your business is another!
Making an outsource call centre team work for you
If you’re considering engaging an outsource call centre, it’s important that you understand how they work and, more importantly, how they can work for your business. Making the right decision on who to partner with will lead to a more successful operation and low costs.
Who are they for?
Firstly, it’s important to point out that outsource call centres are for practically all e-tailers. If you have a digital presence you need to provide non-store-based customer support and it is simply more efficient and more effective to lean on experienced providers rather than facilitate this in-house.
This is the same whether you’re a start-up or SME looking for cost per contact based support, or a large retailer looking to onboard a full outsource call centre team. The advantage of using flexible outsource labour means you can also take advantage of the team to plug gaps if needed. For example, you can cover certain languages or time zones without having to take on new staff. This is especially effective when you consider the additional management that may be required.
In short, outsource call centres makes sense for every organisation. The willingness will often be based on the number of incumbents within the team. Replacing 20 existing agents with an outsource call centre is always a difficult decision for a business to make, but there will likely be gaps in the operation that an outsourcer could support, giving you the best of both worlds. Striking this balance is imperative for making outsource call centres work for you.
How to make it work
An outsource call centre should just work: full stop. The whole purpose of the enterprise is to make your life easier and take operational strain off your organisation!
But, as with most things, it all comes down to your chosen partner. If you go in with a purely transactional cost mindset then both parties will end up disappointed. With this approach you’re more likely to make your chosen partner feel like a commodity to be dropped at a point of financial prudence – which can severely limit investment on the outsourcers side. Instead, to make outsource call centres work, you should strike a mutually effective relationship from the start, ensuring that both sides feel valued. This is the best way to guarantee a great service.
From there, improving your outsource call centre relationship starts the same way as with all relationships: time and emotional investment.
Part of this investment is in training. Outsource call centres should provide a basic level of customer service competency for all of their agents, but in order to make the relationship sustainable, it’s important that bespoke training is provided so they can understand your business. This needs to encompass products and processes, brand voice and positioning, and first- and third-party systems – effectively making individual agents indistinguishable from in-house teams!
The final piece of the puzzle is integrating technology with your outsource partner. They should be flexible and willing to use the tech stack you provide, but should also have experience and advice on how to use this to increase efficiency.
Customer communication from human to human is a melting iceberg, and the best partners will acknowledge this and be willing to take a blowtorch to the areas which can be done better by automation or bots. A desire to make your service better by embracing contact-reducing technology is a prerequisite, and outsource call centres that resist this out of fear for their volumes should probably be avoided.
Challenging the Preconceptions
You don’t have to go very far into the topic of outsource call centres to find some false preconceptions – the majority of which related to offshore operations. And while there are certainly some horror stories out there, if you’ve made it this far into the article you should know precisely what to look out for when it comes to choosing a dedicated outsource partner. But while we’re here, let’s look at some of the misconceptions that still exist.
International outsource call centres tend to have a poor reputation due to quality issues and low pricing. This is especially true of traditional offshore contact centres. Whilst there are high-quality operations available in these locations, there are also a number of very cheap providers with limited language skills. For example, in some localities multiple call centres can work side by side, meaning staff turnover is high and the low cost of wages ensures FTE fulfillment is cheap for the final client – hence why it is an appealing option for many.
This poor reputation can bleed into outsource call centres as a whole, however, with people assuming the industry is based on low pricing and subsequent low service levels. This is increasingly becoming a false conception of the industry, as technology and new customer behaviours allow greater efficiency and a reduction in costs, without a loss of quality in the customer experience. This is further supported by a backlash against ‘traditional’ offshore outsource call centres from customers, who expect to talk to representatives local to them.
So it's clear that whilst the stereotypes of poor communication from offshore outsource centres still exist, it’s important to understand and appreciate that this is by no means the whole story. Better, more robust solutions do exist and they can provide an exceptional level of service that is nothing but a benefit to your brand.
What’s the Difference Between In-House and Outsourced Call Centres?
As we’ve already established, an outsource call centre exists separately to your internal organisation. They are a service provider, not contracted employers. But aside from the obvious, there are some key differentiators between the two solutions: in-house vs outsourcing.
The primary difference is cost – outsource call centres are simply cheaper. For all the reasons stated above.
Another perceived difference is emotional investment. It can be tempting to want to keep customer communication in-house on the mistaken view that your people will care more and be more involved. A good outsource call centre will make agents feel part of your team. So to all intents and purposes they are a member of your business and invested in your success. This is extremely important to foster in order to guarantee success.
Finally there’s the issue of scale. Growing a full-time customer service team in-house is difficult as the number of non-frontline roles grows. For example in support, admin, training etc. Having these solutions outsourced as well allows you to focus on business growth rather than the minutiae of contact centre management.
The Benefits and Potential Drawbacks
The main reason for using an outsource call centre remains cost. This doesn’t necessarily mean a desire to go for the cheapest alternative, but the cost of running an in-house customer service team is high due to the often unconsidered additions. Typically the decision will be framed as: “I can hire someone for £17k so why would I pay an Outsourcer £19k for the same hours.”
But once the prospect starts to consider the costs beyond salary it becomes clear. Add in 30% straight away for NIERs, then add a desk and equipment, training time, management time, absences and leave, and it quickly adds up!
The other reason to engage outsource call centres is for quality and experience. Many contact centres have industry experience which means they understand the customer requirements and have people and processes in place to deal with them. The ability to tap into this experience is attractive for forward-thinking customer service managers who want to deliver the best experience as quickly as possible.
In theory there should be no downsides to an outsource call centre. You’re bringing in a reputable partner, with experience, who could help by using their flexibility and established processes to ensure a positive experience for both your business and your customers.
However, there are inevitably potential pitfalls to be aware of:
- Make sure there’s no adverse impact on either brand sentiment or customer satisfaction scores. With outsource call centres, you’re using agents who have not developed around your business and have limited communication with product and service departments, meaning there is a level of removal from the final customer experience. This is addressed by proper product and process training and ensuring you pick a partner who appreciates the importance of becoming ‘part of your team’.
- Understanding your outsource call centre’s approach to first-time resolution. Will they take longer to solve a query in the first phone call, or will they defer the problem or another time in order to hit arbitrary contact volume Service Level Agreements (SLAs)? So much of customer experience is based on a speedy and accurate resolution – so this needs to be the outsource call centre’s priority.
- Invest in agreeing your brand identity. This goes beyond tone of voice memos and strict logo guidelines, it means treating the team as a part of your business for shared success. Otherwise, the sense of distance will translate to the customer who will feel you’re not sufficiently invested in their experience.
The FM Outsource Difference
The key difference with our outsource call centre model is flexibility. By offering solutions based around cost per contact and cost per hour means you are not paying for dedicated agents but for productive performance, meaning there’s no costs around wastage and shrinkage.
Secondly, our unique approach promotes a technology-first strategy to the point of reducing our own contact volumes. We can advise on automation, self-serve, and bots from a position of positive experience.
Finally, the quality focus of our team is a big USP. We have a bespoke scorecard system for agent management which is much more in depth and comprehensive than many competitors and the result is a team which is well above average on everything from product knowledge to customer satisfaction. Combined with the flexible pricing model means we can hit the twin goals of user experience and cost effectiveness in a unique way.