A simple guide to help get you started.
Outsourcing your call center can be a daunting proposition. The service your customers receive is a differentiator of your business. Handing that function over to a third party can cause more than a little anxiety: First, you have your loyal employees who may be affected; then, you have the risk associated with quality; and finally, you have so many options you may now know where to start.
Is Outsourcing Right for You?
Before you even start your research into potential outsourced partners, you need to determine whether outsourcing is the right option for you.
Be wary! Some outsourcers would say, “Yes, we can handle all of your calls,” and they will do everything they can to “close the deal.” By analyzing your current model, culture, corporate goals and vision before you engage an outsourcer, you are more certain not to be swayed by their amazing salespeople, promises of better quality at a lower rate, and all the experience they have supporting customers just like yours.
Questions to ask yourself before outsourcing:
- Why are we considering outsourcing?
- Can we train a partner to handle our customer contacts?
- Is the service that we provide a true differentiator?
- Should we outsource all contacts, just a portion or just off-peak hours?
- What are our primary objectives for outsourcing? Price, expertise, location, after-hours coverage, managing call fluctuations and peaks, or something that is unique to our business?
If expertise and price are your primary drivers to outsource and you believe that you can effectively train a partner to support your interactions, then outsourcing may be for you. If after-hours coverage is your primary objective, then an answering service may be the best option.
Set Your Priorities
Rank your priorities before you start your selection process and keep firm on these priorities. Priorities may include:
- American agents versus offshore/nearshore
- Language support
- Impact on current staff (will outsourcer hire your team?)
- Technology capability (phone, chat, email, social media and text response capabilities)
- Reporting capability
- Real-time access to queues, supervisor dashboards and agent population
- Dedicated account team—high-touch account management
Picking an Outsourcer
Selecting a contact center outsourcing firm is not like buying a commodity. The partner you choose will be handling your most important asset—your customers. The customer interactions can affect your brand, corporate image and bottom line in a positive or negative manner. Throughout the selection process, keep your priorities top of mind and continue to reevaluate as needed to meet your mission, vision and goals.
The call center outsourcing business is very competitive and there are thousands of options available to you, so where to start?
- Google “call center outsourcing.” This will only provide a random list, so you will need to work through the results to find a partner that is match for you.
- Talk to other contact center leaders in your industry. Find out which vendors others in your industry use and how their partners are performing. If they have a resource that is working, then it may be worth including in the selection process.
- Engage an outsourcing consultant. Brokers generally don’t charge for their service. They can be a great resource when you don’t have time to find a vendor and you want multiple options. Outsourcing consultants typically have relationships with up to 100 call center outsourcing firms. They will do an analysis of your business and provide two or three appropriate solutions based on your unique needs. Google “outsource consultants” to start your search.
- Contact your local contact center association and see who they recommend.
If you are doing the search yourself, you want to be prepared to talk to at least 10 to 15 outsourcers on the phone. Pick three to five that best meet your mission, vision and goals.
Send Out a Request for Proposal
Once you have selected a list of finalists, send each outsourcer a request for proposal (RFP) to allow all potential partners the ability to respond to your unique needs and priorities. Your RFP should include questions that relate to your priorities and goals and which will allow a potential partner to rise above the rest in their responses.
RFPs can be broken down into sections of priority:
- Overview of your current needs and priorities
- Vendor overview
- Technology capabilities
- Training methodology
- Quality assurance practices
- Call center structure (American or offshore; brick-and-mortar or virtual, language support)
- Agent overview (where are they located, what is their background, etc.)
- Reporting capabilities and sample reports
- Access to account teams, agents, supervisors and queues
- Company financials
- Rates and pricing strategies.
(For a free basic RFP template that you can modify to your specific requirements, email me at [email protected].)
Dedicated Versus Shared Agents
Should you use dedicated agents or shared agents at your outsourced center? Consider the following when making your decision:
Dedicated agents only handle your contacts. They are trained on your products, services and culture and spend 100% of their time responding to your customers. The benefit of a dedicated agent model is that agents are more prepared to meet your customers’ needs. They only support your customers, so there is no “relearning” on a call because they have not have taken a contact for your company in a few hours or days. Dedicated agents are best for more complex or high-touch customer service, or when call volumes are high enough to warrant a dedicated agent model.
Shared agents support calls from multiple clients. They are trained on your program as well as programs for other clients of the call center outsourcing firm. They are moved among clients based on call volume. Shared agents may go hours or days between calls for your company, but with shared agents you only pay for the time that they spend on your calls. A shared agent model is best when you have lower call volumes or significant spikes in call volumes during different parts of the day.
Typical Pricing Options
There are different types of pricing models that you’ll encounter during your search for an outsourcing partner:
Dedicated agent pricing is typically a per-hour rate for all hours the agent is working. Dedicated agent pricing for offshore agents averages around $12 to $18 per hour. Dedicated agent pricing for American-based agents averages between $22 to $40 per agent hour.
Per-minute pricing is billed out for every minute an agent is supporting your customers. Per-minute pricing is typically around 35 cents per minute for offshore and 60 cents to $1 per minute for American agents.
Pay for performance is a popular model for sales, lead generation and fundraising. In this model, a flat rate or commission is paid based on a lead or revenue. Typical rates for pay for performance are 30% of revenue, but you have no upfront costs. Because of the risk to the outsourcing firm, pay for performance almost always has significantly higher costs to the company.
Pricing is not consistent because there are many variables to the contact center. The type of agent needed, the technology required and the resources and training required all play a part in the final price. If you have accurately vetted your finalist and provided them the information they need to respond to your RFP, pricing should be fairly similar from all participants.
All contact centers are unique. Your priorities and goals are different from anyone else; so understanding your priorities, goals, mission and values throughout the process will ensure that you pick the right partner to meet your customers’ needs and exceed your expectations.