Is outsourcing customer service risky business?

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Outsourcing occurs when a company opts to send business processes to another company, usually overseas, to handle the task. Many companies perceive this as very beneficial for two reasons.

The first is that it is cost effective and, secondly, it allows staff to focus on core competencies rather than invest time, energy and money into processes another business can easily handle for them because no specialized skill set is required.

The bigger question is what processes should and should not be outsourced? For instance, what about customer service? Is outsourcing customer service risky business? Yes and no. But businesses need to do their homework. The following are all bases that need to be covered before hiring another party to take care of this process.

Quality of customer service

A business knows its customers best. Outsourcing customer service to another company, especially one thousands of miles away, might be a disservice to customers. Customers want to know the people they are talking to thoroughly understand their needs, wants and requirements. Outsourced outfits, either domestic or overseas, may not thoroughly be in tune with the company brand which can impact the quality of customer service.

The best people to offer this kind of customer support are front line employees located within the business, not an outsourced company who has been given prompts to answer questions employees really don't understand or have experience in. A customer wants to receive direct and excellence in response; this can happen best if answers are given directly from the business who serves them. They know their products and services best. Can the outsourced company provide this and provide it well? Some can and some can't, so be careful when choosing, the saved money may not be worth it in the long run, but can be if the right partner is chosen.

First point of contact

A business considering outsourcing customer service should think about who they want on the front line and as a first point of contact to customers. While outsourced employees are somewhat of a stakeholder in the business, this isn't their priority because chances are their company handles more than one businesses' customer service and they are doing a balancing act trying to satisfy all of the businesses. This isn't necessarily in the best interest of the customer. On the other hand, onsite employees who work for the business a customer has purchased from have a direct stake in whether or not the business grows and flourishes.

Who would be the better first point of contact for a customer, someone with a direct interest and knowledge about the company's operations or someone who has been hired to do a job with pre-approved scripts? Can the partner show the same level of knowledge customers expect?

Language barriers

There are only so many scenarios a business can write prompts for, and chances are more frequently than not customers will ask questions which cannot effectively be addressed by fabricated standardized answers.

Optimum customer service are representatives who are able to answer questions on the fly which might be unexpected queries. They'll also be knowledgeable in how to address them, and if they don't know the answer, they'll know how to find out and get back to a customer quickly.

Language barriers can be a hindrance in the customer service process because a customer wants an immediate, or at least relatively quick, answer. They aren't going to want to go around in circles trying to get answers which can't effectively be addressed and/or walking away from the communication with unresolved questions. Although, Business2Community cites this one as being a myth, so definitely one to investigate, there are companies where this isn't an issue.

Length of hold time

Since outsourced customer service entails calling into a line, the hold time can be lengthy by the time a customer service representative can answer the call. In the past, many businesses who outsourced customer service found wait times were often 30 minutes or more and then calls often transferred which entailed more hold time.

Fast forward to today and this is unacceptable as a norm for a call to be answered. Customers will not respond well to this at all. However, finding a good center can alleviate these issues. This one is probably far less of an issue than it used to be.

Poor connections in calls

This too has gotten a lot better as technology progresses, but there is also the consideration there may be a poor connection due to distance. This can be frustrating for both the customer and the outsourced employee to have a conversation and to address the customer service issues in a satisfactory manner.

Outsourcing customer service is pretty risky because it can directly lead to loss of customers. Some of the largest U.S. businesses have learned the hard way how damaging outsourcing customer service can be and have begun pulling back outsourcing customer service and allowing this process be one handled in-house.

Customer service should be treated as valuable as other business processes, but perhaps even more so because it's a specialty unique to that business. Customer resolution to satisfaction should be the primary consideration and, unless a business knows what to look for when hiring and can be sure the company handling customer service inquiries can effectively accomplish this, outsourcing customer service is a risky venture and business may suffer because of it.

Sending jobs offshore is a sensitive subject in the U.S., and often brings out passionate viewpoints. Despite the societal fallout from outsourcing, many businesses continue to engage in this practice. This is because from a strategic view, outsourcing helps maximize profitability and, in many ways, provides an avenue for the business to grow and focus on core competencies. From a business standpoint, it's pretty feasible.

However, when outsourcing customer service, either overseas or even domestically, this can be risky business. Businesses need to think long-term not short-term when it comes to this decision. Choose well and choose wisely if going to outsource customer service.

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