One of the biggest concerns about outsourcing customer service is the idea of having someone else manage your front office.
How can you ensure that your outsourced customer support team is maintaining your standards? Will they help improve your customer service, or will they paint a bad picture of your company?
The reality is that outsourcing your call center services has the potential to increase customer satisfaction beyond your in-house capabilities, as long as you work with the right partner and have the right systems in place.
In fact, outsourcing to experts is one of the best ways to grow your business and boost support quality. You shouldn’t have to do everything in-house—not when someone with specialized expertise can potentially do a much better job.
If you’re new to call center outsourcing and wonder how you can successfully implement it in your business, you’ve come to the right place. This article will explore how you can successfully partner with an external customer service team to improve service quality—resulting in the best customer experience for your market.
What Is a Call Center?
By definition, a call center is a department that accepts inbound calls from customers (e.g., for support) and makes outbound calls (e.g., for surveys) for marketing purposes.
As the technology has evolved in recent years, a call center now also handles customer interactions beyond just phone calls. Customer support services now occur via email, social media, chat messaging, and other channels. Yet its primary role remains the same: to serve customers’ concerns and needs for a positive customer experience.
Call centers are also referred to as “contact centers” if your company has expanded its communication methods to include other platforms for an omnichannel customer experience. Once it goes beyond the usual phone calls, call centers are called contact centers, because they cover a more comprehensive range of channels.
Whether you’re looking to outsource your call centers or contact centers, the information you’ll find in this article still applies. We’ve mostly stuck to using “call centers” in this blog for simplicity’s sake, but you can use either term depending on the type of customer service team you’ll outsource.
Types of Call Centers
While all call centers share a similar goal of providing satisfying omnichannel customer service and a positive experience, there are three main types of call centers that handle different activities:
Inbound Call Centers
These centers often receive calls from existing customers to address issues regarding the product or service. Support teams typically monitor and record these calls to get valuable information that can be used later to improve the overall customer experience.
Outbound Call Centers
Outbound call centers operate the opposite way. These centers make calls, referred to as “cold calls”, to potential customers about their products and services. They can also make outbound calls to your existing customer base for market research surveys.
Virtual Call Centers
This is a call center with agents in various locations, who are connected through a phone support solution or virtual call center software. Virtual call centers are ideal for companies with consumers across multiple time zones or who are looking to cut down on overhead costs.
Both inbound and outbound call centers can either exist within or outside your company. And you don’t need to stick to just one type of call center. You can choose to have a hybrid of the three to handle different business tasks.
There’s also another distinction between contact centers—in-house versus outsourced:
In-House Support and Sales
You can build your in-house support or sales team using existing employees or hiring new ones. You might choose to locate sales reps in the same location as the rest of your sales team while setting up a dedicated office just for your support agents to work from. Either way, you want them to have close communication with other internal departments, especially when it comes to sharing customer data.
Outsourced Call Centers
Outsourcing means hiring a third party for your company’s call center services. They’ll hire and train employees to provide customer service, use the software required, and set up the infrastructure needed to manage operations on your behalf. Outsourced call centers have three classifications:
- Locally outsourced call centers, or domestic outsourcing within the same country
- Nearshore outsourcing from a neighboring country
- Off-shore call center from a far-away country
Both in-house support and outsourced call centers can handle inbound or outbound call center services. You can “mix and match” your call center services according to your business needs and capabilities.
For example, you can have an in-house team handle customer service calls (inbound calls). At the same time, you can outsource a call center from the Philippines—the top country for call centers—to tap potential customers (by making outbound calls) for you.
What Is Call Center Outsourcing?
Let’s talk about the history of call center outsourcing in more detail.
Companies began call center outsourcing in the 1990s as budgets became tighter and highly scrutinized. They found it more cost-effective to source from a country with a lower cost of living and wanted to take the opportunity to save on labor.
For example, U.S.-based call center agents charge up to $35 per hour, while an agent in the Philippines or India can render the same services for as low as $5 to $8 per hour. Companies are attracted to outsourcing simply because they can get quality agents at a fraction of the local cost.
Nowadays, call center outsourcing has advantages beyond cost-efficiency, including things like fewer staffing issues, 24/7 support, and enhanced monitoring. While the global call center market grows at 5.5% CAGR from $339 billion in 2020 to $496 billion in 2027, the outsourced segment is predicted to grow even faster, at 5.9% CAGR for the next seven years. As a result, outsourced call centers now hold nearly a quarter of the global call center market (22.9%).
These statistics may sound great, but what does call center outsourcing mean for your business?
The Importance of Call Center Outsourcing
Call center outsourcing enables small businesses to have high-quality support without forming an internal customer service department. Not only is creating one time-consuming and resource-depleting, but companies with tighter budgets might not even have this option because of the price.
No matter the size of your business, the option to hire third-party assistance enables you to match the support quality of a market leader (without prohibitively expensive labor costs).
Outsourcing means growing your team into a larger workforce, which increases company efficiency and flexibility. The result is that management can focus on business objectives instead of painstakingly maintaining a customer service department.
With call center outsourcing, your company increases its scalability, simplifies the customer service process, and boosts its support quality.
When Should You Outsource Your Call Center?
While outsourcing your call center can give you high-quality customer service, there is no straightforward answer to the question of when is the right time for your company to consider this business strategy.
So instead, we suggest that you conduct a cost analysis to determine if the money saved (or value created) is worth the risks that inevitably come with outsourcing.
Here are some situations where you should strongly consider outsourcing your call center:
- When answering or making calls isn’t a core business function for generating profits
- If developing and maintaining an in-house call center team wastes valuable time, money, and energy
- Your current employees didn’t train to be call center agents, and it’ll cost your company too much money and time to increase headcount and develop knowledgeable agents
Does call center outsourcing still sound like a viable option? If so, let’s look at the specific advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing call center services to get a complete picture of outsourcing as a business strategy.
5 Pros of Call Center Outsourcing
The list below is not exhaustive, but it lets you have a better grasp of the pros and cons of outsourcing call center services for a better customer experience.
Here are five benefits that call center outsourcing can bring to your business:
1. Lower Costs
By outsourcing your call center, you reduce considerable costs associated with training, hiring, and maintaining a support team. You also cut down overhead expenses.
And even if you’re currently spending zilch on fulfilling your customer service, outsourcing call center services can free up valuable time that you can put elsewhere for more significant returns.
2. Fewer Staffing Issues
Call center outsourcing to another company removes the task of managing a customer service team. You won’t have to worry about whether your employees are doing their jobs well, because this responsibility shifts to the service provider specializing in running your outsourced call center.
3. 24/7 Support
While an in-house team typically works a regular 9-to-5, outsourced call centers usually work around the clock. Your customers will have someone to talk to even if they call your company in the middle of the night.
Plus, you won’t have to spend so much money on overtime to keep your employees in the office for 24 hours a day.
4. Overflow Solutions
In reality, you don’t need to choose between doing business entirely in-house or outsourcing everything overseas. You can have a hybrid model, where you use an outsourced customer service team only when there is an overflow of calls or tickets to manage.
As a result, you can strike a balance that makes the most financial sense. One way to do this is to have a preset arrangement with an overflow contact center in another country, whose schedule is based on peak seasons or call times.
5. Enhanced Monitoring
The only job of a call center is to provide excellent customer service. Because it’s their specialty, they tend to have enhanced monitoring abilities and technologies within their infrastructure.
This kind of structure can provide you with valuable data that you can use to extract customer insights from—allowing you to peek into your customers’ needs for refining your products and preventing future complaints.
5 Cons of Call Center Outsourcing
No business strategy is foolproof. Outsourcing call centers is not any different. Here are some of the risks that come with outsourcing call center services:
1. Overseas Customer Service Agents
Most customer service agents overseas are competent, but it only takes a couple of bad apples to ruin the customer experience and affect your entire business.
Moreover, issues can certainly arise if you outsource from a less-reputable company. If overseas agents are speaking English as their second or third language, it might be harder for them to handle complex customer issues. They also may not have knowledge of cultural differences in all the different regions your company operates.
2. Lower Customer Satisfaction
Outsourcing customer service might lower customer satisfaction, if not done correctly. Some reasons this could happen include:
- Outsourced employees won’t be as knowledgeable about your company or products.
- Your business won’t be the top priority of external agents; therefore, they might put in less effort.
- Customers might prefer to speak only with agents within their own country.
- Some people might have difficulty understanding customer service agents who speak with an accent.
- The caller might be transferred multiple times to different agents and departments.
Many companies have successfully outsourced call centers without losing customer satisfaction. This comes down to having a greater customer understanding, choosing a capable third-party company, and monitoring the performance of their hired customer service team. Nevertheless, the risk of bad customer experience is present in call center outsourcing, so it’s something to be aware of when selecting a partner.
3. Lack of Familiarity With the Business or Product
Outsourced agents tend to have less knowledge about your product or service than an in-house rep would. This can significantly impact customer service delivery. Agents who are unfamiliar with your products might very well ruin a customer’s experience since they’ll be less capable of handling complex problems.
Customers tend to blame the business as a whole if they don’t receive good customer service. If your agents can’t solve their issues, customers may deem your product poorly made and abandon your brand altogether.
4. Increased Security Risk
Call center outsourcing will inevitably increase your company’s security risk. The more people you give access to your customer data, the higher the chances of a leak or security breach.
Also, you could be more vulnerable if your company is working primarily online and isn’t reviewing its security protocols regularly.
5. Decreased Authority
With every new person added to the chain, the authority of the customer’s interlocutor weakens. When you outsource to call centers, your customers might feel uncomfortable with your business, earning you a poor reputation.
While these risks are inherent to outsourcing practices, you can mitigate them if you choose reputable, capable, and responsible companies who train their agents well. In other words, outsourcing to the right partner can lead to higher customer satisfaction overall.
In deciding whether or not to outsource call center services, our advice is to weigh your company’s priorities and identify what will contribute the most to a successful customer experience. After all, the purpose of having a call center is to service your customers as seamlessly as you can—helping them achieve better customer success.
3 Best Practices for Call Center Outsourcing
Ready to consider call center outsourcing? Here are three of the best practices of the practice to ensure that you start on the right foot, boosting customer satisfaction with a larger and more economical workforce:
1. Identify which process should be outsourced vs. kept in-house
As mentioned earlier, call center services can include both inbound and outbound calls. We suggest that you decide which of the specific processes you’d like to outsource or keep in-house by going over a list of tasks:
- Customer service
- Help desk
- Inbound sales
- Email and chat services
- Order taking and processing
- Disaster response
- Appointment setting
- Lead generation
- Market research
- Production promotion and telesales
Identify which of these you’d like to outsource based on your company budget and objectives. This will help you select the most cost-effective partner whose specialties match your needs the best.
2. Define processes and expectations clearly
Not all call centers are the same—some will offer more services than others, while some might lack the necessary resources and capability.
Because of this, you need to screen your prospective companies thoroughly and ensure that they can cover all your required bases (those you’ve identified in the point above). They should define all their processes clearly and agree to meet your expectations before signing the contract.
3. Ensure that they have reliable security protocols
Choose a call center that works within the cloud, as installation will be much faster and cheaper than doing things in-person. With the rise of technology, there are cloud-based call centers out there that can manage large numbers of agents working from multiple sites, while still keeping your data secure.
Call Center Software for Customer-Centric Teams
If you’re unsure where to start with call center outsourcing, the team at Aircall is ready to help you.
Aircall is a cloud-based phone system that helps large businesses stay in touch with their customers. Aircall also has the highest security measures around disaster recovery, breaches, and redundancy to protect sensitive business data.
With Aircall, you can transform customer experience with IT-approved cloud call center solutions for both sales and support teams alike.
This article was originally published on September 2, 2016, and has since been updated.