I’m not saying that companies should outsource their customer service operations. But, we have to admit that some do and will continue to do so. Furthermore, in some cases it may actually be a good idea when done right.
I worked for a number of years managing customer service teams for a large multinational outsourcer. Based on my experience, here are some of the things that you need to keep in mind.
Customer Service Outsourcing Tips
Clearly identify your objectives. If all you want is to save as much money as possible and you don’t care about your employees or the level of customer service, you can skip the rest of this list and go elsewhere. However, if you want a successful outsourcing that benefits your customers, read on.
Do your homework. Based on your objectives, research the outsourcers and their customers. Get referrals and look them up using search engines. You should look for customer service failures and try to find out how they were handled (or not). There will always be failures and complaints, the important thing is how they’re dealt with. Also keep in mind that the level of service may vary depending on the agreement.
Consider hiring a recommended consultant with experience in customer service outsourcing. If you decide to use a consultant, choose them with as much care as you will the outsourcer.
Read the contract, in detail and understand it. If you’re using a consultant, get them to comment on it. You should obviously have it reviewed by your lawyer too. But most importantly, ask questions and get the answers in writing (preferably as part of the contract). Trust me, it’s much easier to do this before you sign the agreement; afterwards, negotiating the interpretation of a clause can be difficult and impact the service delivered to your customers.
Don’t be fooled by service level agreements (SLA), decide which SLAs are important to you. Just because everyone else uses certain SLAs, it doesn’t mean that this is what you want to measure. You should ensure that the SLAs include quality components and that they’re clearly defined; simply indicating that they’ll survey your customers doesn’t tell you how often or what they do with the results.
Remember, the outsourcer is in it to make money too. You can’t have a lop-sided contract (in either direction); this needs to be a partnership. You want this to be a win-win; otherwise, your customers lose.
If you try to negotiate every penny expect the outsourcer to watch every penny during the contract. Need I say more?
Care for your people. What will happen to them during the outsourcing? Remember that how you treat them reflects on your company. Your current customer service employees know your business and, especially, your customers intimately. They are also a source of referrals and some of them may tweet, blog and talk about you on Facebook.
Keep at least one customer service specialist on your team to manage the relationship. Like any other business relationship, you want someone who knows the business and has your interests at heart. Choose someone who has a proven track record and get them on-board early in the process.
Cultural fit and language skills. Many people make a big deal about off-shore outsourcing of customer service call centres. This may or may not be an issue for you. However, you need to make sure that if the service will be delivered from outside of your geographic region then culture and language skills need to be taken into to consideration. Otherwise, you may run the risk of alienating a portion of your customers.
I really don’t think it does. However, it is possible to get to some approximation of loyalty. We can ensure that our customers’ experience with our organisations do more than meet their expectations. We can also see to it that our customers find it pleasurable to deal with our organisations and want to come back on an emotional level.
The 5 Ways to Make Customers Want More
First and foremost, respect your customers. Don’t just pay lip-service; truly respect them
This includes honesty and integrity; without them there is no respect.
Do you feel respected when someone lies to you or omits part of the truth? Why would it be different for your customers?
We all try to do what’s needed to get our customers to trust us. But do you trust your customers? Or do you make them jump through hoops whenever they have to deal with you?
Trust is the basis of our relationships. All relationships. But it has to work both ways; it is a relationship and not a one-way transaction.
Do you love what you do? How about everyone else? If the answer is “no”, some introspection is required.
This is linked to passion. If you and your team love what you do, you’ll be committed to excellent service.
Commit to delivering what you say. And, take responsibility for any hiccups along the way. Not all customers will notice but those that do will love you for it.
Make it easy to deal with your organisation. After all, your customer is coming to you to solve a problem. They don’t need you to add to it.
Go out there and look at how your business/division/department is run. Are any of these five ingredients missing or incomplete?
So what are you going to do about it?
It’s actually simple, just remember that your customers are human beings and you want to maintain a great relationship with them.
I sure hope you do! How else can you lead the company if you don’t have a clue about what your customers want and need?
How do you get this information from your clients?
Really? When did they last speak to a customer? Sure, they’ll have graphs and numbers but do they really connect with your customers? Some do, but I wouldn’t count on it…
You could always…
This is a little better. Unfortunately, sales people usually talk at the customer. You send them out there to sell, not to listen. The great ones will listen but how many of them do you employ?
Let’s try again…
Ask Customer Service
Now we’re getting somewhere! These are the people that you pay to listen to and help your customers every day.
You speak to Sales and Marketing every day; when is the last time you went to have a chat with the front-line? This is really something you should do more often.
What else is there?
Why are all of these options mistakes? What do they all have in common? In all of these cases, you’re counting on second-hand information!
I know you’re busy; we all are. I’m asking you to invest ten minutes to:
Call a Customer Today!
You can call a customer:
- That has spent the most money;
- That has complained recently;
- That did, or did not, respond to your latest survey;
- Or, randomly.
What’s important is that you actually speak to them.
Do it once a week, or once a day. Once you get into the habit, you may actually appreciate it. I’m certain your customers will!
When is a customer service issue not really the problem? When the root cause is elsewhere.
For instance, when a client escalates or complains because it’s taking a long time to fix a product defect, have you looked at why the defect exists? There may be a step missing in the quality assurance process. Unfortunately, most companies will assume that the customer service team isn’t setting the right expectation or that the team that corrects product defects is understaffed.
All of these answers are potentially correct but you’ll never know if all you look at are the customer service “numbers”. You really need to dig in to find the back-end issue.
If you don’t, you can placate the customer, lay blame on the service rep, get frustrated or do nothing. Unfortunately, you haven’t really solved anything and it will reoccur.
What can we do?
The important thing is that we take a good hard look at what happened. I find it particularly useful if the process is cross-functional since it isn’t about laying blame. The objective is to find a solution to the underlying cause.
Do you have a way to identify back-end or upstream problems that are causing grief for your customer service team?
How do you use it and what success have you had?
I quit! Yes, I quit smoking a few days ago.
After being a pack a day smoker for many years, I know that there are also side-effects to quitting. (It also isn’t my first try.)
[Before you leave, I assure you that there is a segue to customer service here; bear with me a little longer.]
One of the more problematic side-effects to quitting (at least for me) is the mood swings. I know I can be irritable, snippy and a downright pain in the rear (and if I forget my wife reminds me )
Now, being irritable and a pain in the rear end is not a good trait in customer service situations. As many of you know, my day job entails dealing with customer complaints and escalations daily.
Obviously, to find a solution, we first need to know that there’s a problem. In customer service, it’s important to be aware of how emotions affect us and those around us.
This awareness isn’t just about knowing when we’re moody or irritable as has occurred to me over the past three days (yep, by the time you read this, I’ll have been three days off of tobacco). We need to be generally aware of our emotions and of those of the people that we deal with. Only then can we use that knowledge to make rational decisions for the benefit of everyone.
Customer service situations are often delicate and knowing how to walk the line is important.
As many of you know, my day job entails dealing with customer complaints and escalations daily. Self-Awareness Obviously, to findAs many of you know, my day job entails dealing with customer complaints and escalations daily. Self-Awareness Obviously, to findIn my case, when I notice that I’m not my usually happy, optimistic self and I need to deal with a customer now, I have to use that knowledge. If I don’t, self-awareness is just another worthless concept.
So, I look at my options. Can I put off making that call? Maybe a colleague can handle it? Sometimes, a polite email asking the customer when they would be available to speak with me can allow me to interact with the customer immediately while putting off the direct verbal contact.
How about you?
When dealing with customers, colleagues, friends, family, etc. how do you use emotional awareness, particularly of yourself, to make better decisions and improve outcomes?
Please share them so we can all learn from each other.