Considering customer service outsourcing? Ask these 4 questions first
Customer service outsourcing is the act of outsourcing your customer service to a third-party vendor or service provider. Learn if it's right for you.
Published March 13, 2020
Last updated June 29, 2021
Have you ever heard someone say the price of growth is change?
An old boss of mine used to say this regularly, and there’s a lot of truth to it. As your organization grows, it’s guaranteed to cause a lot of change. One place where this growth-fueled change often manifests itself is in how you support your customers. The last thing you want is to see your customer count skyrocket while your customer experience and customer satisfaction suffer.
Companies in this predicament often ask a similar question: Should we consider customer service outsourcing? Your initial reaction to that question probably depends upon your experience with outsourcing. In this article, we’ll clear up some of the confusion and help you know the right questions to ask when considering outsourcing so you’re enabled to make the best decision possible.
What is customer service outsourcing?
Customer service outsourcing is the act of outsourcing some aspect of your customer service operations to a third-party vendor or service provider. A business process outsourcer (BPO) contact center is a team of outsourced agents who learn your products, services, policies, and brand voice to resolve customer requests across channels on your behalf.
Benefits of outsourcing customer service
If your initial response to the idea of outsourcing is negative, it’s possible your understanding of outsourcing needs modernizing.
International outsourcing grew wildly in popularity in the mid-1990s. This huge boom in outsourcing caused a lot of growing pains. As technology and processes have improved throughout the last few decades, these pains have mostly dissipated.
Today, shifting work to a BPO is an increasingly common move for growing companies. Here are a few benefits of outsourcing customer service:
- Flexiblity: A customer service BPO can improve your ability to staff up for a busy season or provide after-hours support
- Access specialized expertise: It’s an affordable way of getting expert help in key areas like customer support
- Agility: It enables you to quickly scale and stay focused on other areas that need your attention
Feel free to dig deeper into understanding the benefits and limitations of using a customer service BPO.
How to choose the best customer support outsourcing service
Choosing the best possible BPO for your company’s needs can maximize the benefits and reduce the limitations. Let’s look at four important questions for you to ask before committing to a specific BPO.
1. Remote or physical call center?
Remote work is a growing phenomenon for plenty of great reasons. If you already have remote employees—or if you’ve explored opening up to a more remote workforce—then you’re probably aware of the benefits and challenges that come with remote work. These same benefits and challenges come into play when considering what type of outsourced call center you’d like to work with.
A BPO that uses remote support agents brings several benefits:
- Talent sourcing: Just like with general remote work, BPOs hiring remote agents have access to the best talent they can find. Their recruiting and hiring pipelines aren’t limited by physical location.
- Redundancy: If your outsourced customer service agents are physically dispersed, you can rest easy knowing something like a power outage or poor weather won’t compromise your ability to support customers.
- Employee happiness: Remote work correlates with things like higher levels of employee wellness, fewer unscheduled absences, and greater employee loyalty.
Using a BPO with a physical call center means you risk missing out on these benefits. However, a physical call center can often solve one large challenge of using a remote team: creating camaraderie and connections. If you decide to outsource to a remote customer service team, ensure you make an extra effort to create connections among the outsourced team members and your internal employees.
2. International or domestic outsourcing?
Discussions about outsourcing often assume that you’ll be shifting work to another country. While that’s common, it’s not always true. In certain situations, outsourcing your customer service work to a domestic BPO may actually make more sense.
One of the biggest pros of outsourcing internationally is that it’s almost always cheaper. If a country has a lower cost of living than wherever you’re based, it often allows you to recruit top tier support professionals and pay them a comfortable wage while still spending significantly less than you would for the high-caliber support agents in your home country.
A second major upside to outsourcing internationally is that you’ll often find a large pool of talent is available and can cover multiple time zones. Some countries like the Philippines are home to millions of customer service professionals looking for meaningful work with growing companies.
Domestic outsourcing also brings two main benefits to consider. The first benefit is cultural familiarity. If most of your customer base is domestic, domestic support agents may more easily understand their issues and concerns. However, with a good training program, international agents can handle pretty much any question that domestic agents can.
The second big potential upside with domestic outsourcing has to do with perception. In some cultures, outsourcing work to another country might be viewed unfavorably. Navigating this decision requires thought and sensitivity. If you believe your customer base would be particularly upset that you’re shifting work overseas, then domestic outsourcing may be the best bet for your organization.
Lastly, don’t think you can only choose between international or domestic outsourcing. In many cases, a hybrid model including both international and domestic customer service agents can produce fantastic results. Hybrid models may involve segmenting work based upon each team’s skillset, or finding temporary solutions to put in place while you train up international agents to be true experts in your products.
3. Which location should you choose for outsourcing?
If you’ve decided that you’ll reap more benefits from using a BPO with agents from another country, then the next logical question is clear: What country should you outsource to?
As mentioned in the previous section, certain countries have an abundance of talent that make them great options for outsourcing. Some common locations for international outsourcing include India, the Philippines, Mexico and Central America, and Bulgaria.
The biggest thing to consider when choosing an outsourcing location is what your business needs. For example, if you need customer service agents who speak European languages, you may need to outsource to eastern Europe. If you’re looking for agents who speak English and Spanish, locations like Mexico or the Philippines could be a great fit. For general customer support outsourcing in English, the Philippines is a great option. That country has millions of college-educated call center professionals who speak fluent English with a very limited accent. In addition, agents in the Philippines can serve any time zone, so it’s an excellent choice if you’re ultimately aiming to build a 24-7 operation.
Additional things to consider include literacy rates, technological infrastructure, political stability, cultural factors, and of course, costs.
4. Dedicated or shared agents?
It’s not uncommon for businesses to outsource to BPOs that use shared agents who respond to customer service tickets for multiple companies. While this option may be necessary if your ticket volume is really low or you can’t afford a dedicated team, it brings some understandable difficulties.
Since they support multiple companies, shared agents will likely struggle to become intimately familiar with your product and to answer customer inquiries in a nuanced way. If you decide to follow this strategy, consider only sending simple tickets like password resets to your outsourced team.
Dedicated agents, as you might guess, are solely focused on providing support for your business. This brings a number of advantages:
- Dedicated agents can focus on becoming very familiar with your product, brand and culture.
- Dedicated agents are easier to integrate into your team.
- Dedicated agents can often develop a better understanding of your company strategy and can more easily provide feedback to help you improve your products and services.
Outsourcing support vs. in-house support
This article introduced four important questions to ask when you’re considering outsourcing your customer service. While outsourcing can bring great benefits, it’s not necessarily always the right option.
In certain situations, keeping your support team in-house may be a better choice for you. Consider keeping the team in house if:
You’re not ready
Let’s say you have tickets coming in every day, but it’s not enough volume for a full-time rep. You could find an outsourcer who staffs part-time agents. But the reality is, at that stage, you may get more benefit by talking with your customers directly. This isn’t always true - Peak Support has several clients who opted to take customer support off their plate early, so they could focus on other things. But it is something to consider.
It’s not really a customer support team
In particular, consider whether your customer service team is truly providing support - or if they are providing a function that is core to your business. If your business is providing contract bookkeeping services, you shouldn’t outsource your bookkeepers, or you should do it very, very carefully. If your support team is your product, you may want to keep it in house.
In addition, companies typically keep support in-house if they are providing high-level account management. This is particularly relevant for firms that service large enterprise customers. Let’s say, for example, you sell software to hospitals. You could potentially outsource some aspects of the support team’s work, but at the highest level, the relationship should be owned by an in-house expert.
Your industry is highly regulated
Some industries, such as medical cannabis, require customer support reps to have certain certifications or to reside in certain locations. This will make it more challenging to find a good fit in an outsourcer.
You rely on government grants
New legislation in New York State would reduce your ability to get state grants if you outsource call center jobs overseas, though outsourcing in the U.S. is still a good option. If you rely on state aid, check the policy pipeline in your state government to see if this could be an issue for you.
What’s the bottom line?
Customer service is critical to the growth of your business. Outsourcing your customer service can feel like you’re trusting someone else to take care of your child, and that’s why it’s so important to research and make an informed decision.
While it may feel daunting, outsourcing is also a proven way to effectively scale your customer service and provide support to your growing business. If you’re struggling to stay on top of your support queue or to provide an excellent customer experience, outsourcing to a reputable BPO may be the key to unlocking future growth.