Outsourcing Customer Communication – Are You Missing an Opportunity?

At a customer conference earlier this year, a Customer Service Director from within the Utility industry spoke about some of the measures they were taking to drive customer satisfaction. One such measure was the fact they had in-sourced a variety of customer communication functions.

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While there was an understandable rationale behind some of their decisions, her organisation may be missing opportunities to drive both end-customer and business benefits. It also reinforced the view that some negative perceptions still remain around inbound communications outsourcing.

In fact, whilst there is a continuing trend to outsource and offshore a variety of internal functions such as IT, HR and accountancy, there has been a noticeable shift the other way when it comes to customer facing (inbound communications) functions. Companies understandably want to feel that they own this, and that the accountability and responsibility for customer management starts and ends with them. It should. But there is nothing wrong with getting help to do this more efficiently and effectively.

There is clearly a lot to be gained by the emotional connection offered from a ‘local’ agent, regardless of contact channel (voice, email, web chat), particularly where empathy is required. Additionally factors such as local ‘voices’, head office proximity, personal experience, personalisation and the like are all important considerations in the drive to achieve a ‘right 1sttime resolution’, minimise handoffs, nurture a customer-centric culture and ultimately enhance customer satisfaction. All are very important but all still very achievable with the right outsourced model.

Approached in the right way, and for the right reasons, the significant benefits associated with an outsourcing strategy are there for the taking.

In an article, Paul Smedley, executive director of the Professional Planning Forum (PPF), articulated this eloquently. He said “You can easily get better customer service with an outsource partner than you can in-house. People outsource because they want to do it better and because they don’t want to invest in it themselves. There are some organisations that have been award-winning for customer service that is outsourced. And to do that they invest quite a lot in being clear about what it is they want to do, so the discipline of outsourcing can help some organisations to be clearer about what they are really trying to do for the customer. So if you invest in that, it is really going to help.”[1]

In other words, although outsourcing requires investment, it still enables the client to retain ownership and accountability, whilst ensuring the most appropriate allocation of resources.

The main considerations for a successful outsourced (both on and off shore) service partner are about having the ability to put the right processes in place, a solid management structure, integration of multi-channel communications (as opposed to single, siloed channels) and a cultural and strategic alignment with your business and the outsource company. This can include shared endeavours of innovation and training to integrate the mindset of the teams, cultural inductions so that agents ‘live and breathe’ both the sector and the organisation they support and so on.

In terms of demystifying the customer communication outsourcing stigma, it ultimately boils down to which elements are placed where. But what if organisations could have the best of both worlds? For example: A blendshore approach with an onshore team of local agents managing the more complex customer queries, backed by an offshore team managing the straightforward transactional processes driven enquiries. The point is, with outsourcing, an intelligent blend of process management is achievable.

As highlighted in the example above, to counter the offshore concerns there is a growing demand for onshore outsourcing, or a hybrid of the two, ensuring that out-of-house service expertise can be leveraged, while addressing consumer issues with the lack of ‘local touch’ and language barriers.
Partnership alignment is fundamental in ensuring the smoothest integration of services, transitions/handovers and ultimately managing a customer’s experience. In return, this expanding relationship with an outsourced service partner can bring further benefits by opening up new opportunities, highlighting best practice from other industries, best of breed technologies, the latest innovations and more. (One such example is Robotic Process Automation but I’ll leave that case for another day).

There are clear business benefits to outsourcing in accelerating and executing an enhanced customer experience, but this requires commitment from an organisation to do it for the right reasons, with the right model and to want to “do it better”.

[1] Contact centres: To outsource or not outsource – how do you know? Neil Davey, 2013