The new rules for customer service outsourcing in a changing world
Customer service teams have seen an unprecedented level of disruption this year. Some have had surges in ticket volume, while others have seen business plummet. Agents have to do more with less, all while they’re adjusting to working from home.
Regardless of your specific situation, you may be considering customer service outsourcing as a potential solution. Peak Support is a customer service outsourcing firm focused on servicing high-growth companies. In the last six months, we’ve seen companies turn to outsourcing to handle backlogs that developed because of supply chain disruption; handle surges in ticket volume due to growing demand.
If you’re thinking to outsource customer service, you have to know how your outsourcer has weathered this storm, and how it will weather the inevitable disruptions that are still to come. It’s critical that your outsourcing partner provides excellent service - customers who have a bad experience are 4x more likely to go to a competitor. So, how do you know what customer service outsourcing company is right for you? And how do you know if they can handle your needs in this new landscape?
We’ve published a complete guide on outsourcing customer service, which can help you answer many of these questions. In this article, we focus on four questions you can ask to get the information you need, as well as some answers that may show they’re a good fit.
How well have they adapted to a work-from-home environment?
Almost 42% of the US workforce is working from home up from less than 5% previously, which has brought some new challenges. Just like everyone else, outsourcing companies have had to make adjustments so they’re still able to provide quality service with remote customer service agents and remote call centers.
Some outsource customer service companies, including Peak Support, were already partially, or fully, remote. Having that set up meant they experienced less disruption, and were better-equipped to handle the changing landscape. However, for companies operating solely out of physical locations, such as call centers, making the change has been far more disruptive.
If they didn’t have a home requirement before, they may have needed to scramble to get remote customer service agents in place and make sure things like technology and security requirements were met before continuing service. Though many may have figured it out in the meantime, it’s good to know how it went previously just in case there are more lockdowns.
So, ask potential partners how they’re meeting the new work-from-home challenges. How much was service disrupted when their area was first locked down, and how long did it take to reach pre-pandemic service levels, if they reached those levels at all?
Furthermore, how have they adapted to the technical challenges of working from home? For example, you might ask what the average internet speed is for those working from home, or if they have minimum requirements for internet speeds to ensure their staff are able to keep up with demands.
There are other considerations about outsourcing from home too, such as how they’re dealing with background noise. It may not sound (mind the pun) like a big deal, but if a call is really noisy, the customer’s experience suffers quite a lot. At Peak Support, we use software called Krisp.ai to minimize the impact of background noise like barking dogs.
Furthermore, ask how they’re handling data security with people working from home. Are agents working from home allowed to use their own personal computers, and if so, how is security managed on those devices? How does the outsource customer service company ensure that agents’ WiFi is password protected?
What locations do they offer and what has life been like in those places over the last 6 months?
The reality of having lots of locations means there will be differences with how things are going locally at each office. Essentially, how well are different countries an outsourcer is operating in handling the virus? Have there been lots of outbreaks, or multiple rounds of lockdowns?
Some international locations have had more of an issue handling the pandemic, which could have a direct impact on their ability to keep up with client demands. Knowing whether or not customer service agents have returned to the office, if they’re still working from home, or a combination of the two, are needed details.
For example, those in the rural US oftentimes don’t have access to high-speed internet. For agents only handling email tickets, that’s probably not an issue. However, if they’re using a VOIP to take calls, that could be problematic, as it requires more bandwidth.
Really, it comes down to figuring out if their staff is able to handle what you need them to.
How are they recruiting, onboarding, and training new team members?
Everyone, agents and employers, is adjusting to the new work-from-home climate. For some, it’s not been as jarring a switch. Perhaps they already employed some remote customer service agents, so they had measures already in place. However, for those operating in call centers, or something similar, it may have been a very large shift.
With that being the case, it’s critical to understand how they’re recruiting new talent. At Peak Support, we're 100% remote and have been since day one, so we're constantly getting a steady stream of candidates who want to work from home. Are other outsource customer service companies able to do that? How do they interview? How has their interview process changed?
Another new reality is training the staff that they successfully recruit. For large call centers, classroom training has been relatively common, but isn’t an option in many places currently. Ask how they’re handling the new reality and try to get a pulse check on how it’s gone so far.
What is their business continuity plan - and how well did it work?
A business continuity plan is a roadmap a company uses to get back on track after going through some sort of crisis. As we’ve been made well aware of this year, things can change very quickly and it’s incredibly important to have measures in place to handle issues when they arise.
It’s a near certainty that any customer service outsourcing company you may be hiring needed to use some sort of business continuity plan over the last six months. Since we’re not out of the woods yet, it’s pertinent that you ask how their plan worked, how they communicated to clients, and how they’ve adjusted their business continuity plan for any new issues that may arise. Not only will this show how prepared they are, but it will also indicate how quickly they can adapt to changes.
To get a more unfiltered view, ask for customer references and talk to at least two. Customers have less incentive to put a positive spin on things and you might get a better read on the situation that way.
The world is a little weird right now. As we try to get things back to some version of normal, we need to be cognizant that certain things have changed. Things that worked in a pre-pandemic world may no longer hold up.
For those looking to bring on an outsourcer to help outsource customer service, it’s important that you’re taking the new climate into consideration during the vetting process. Be sure to ask how things went, and get insight on how they plan to make sure things go smoothly moving forward.