Call Center Outsourcing – An Emerging Option for Smaller Enterprises
Digital transformation involves the implementation of advanced technology and fundamental organizational change. Ultimately, though, it’s all about the customer. From mobile apps for secure payment to fun experiences in retail spaces, businesses seek to leverage innovation to identify and engage customers, to gain insight into preferences and habits and to make every interaction positive and impressionable.
An effective call center strategy is essential to achieving this imperative. In addition to acquiring new business, call centers must provide existing customers with top-notch service – a single negative encounter can result in a lost customer. Meeting that standard can present a challenge, especially for small and medium-sized organizations that may lack resources or struggle to attract and retain the right talent. With each touch point of the customer journey becoming a critical priority, the stakes will only get higher.
Thanks to technology and process innovation, lower costs and competition among providers, call center outsourcing presents an increasingly viable option for smaller enterprises seeking to enhance prospect and customer engagement. Indeed, as digital transformation redefines how consumers relate to products, services and brands, more and more companies are turning to outsourcing to support their customer acquisition and retention strategies.
A Changing Landscape
Providers are aggressively applying digital technology to optimize call center operational efficiency and create opportunities to enhance customer engagement. Basic Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools provide agents easy access to information from multiple sources and applications. More advanced cognitive systems with natural language processing capabilities enable chatbots to engage with customers. Sentiment analysis tools can assess typed words and phrases and identify when a customer is getting annoyed with a chatbot, and alert a human agent to intervene.
The integration of data analytics and intelligent automation, meanwhile, allows companies to collect and analyze call center interactions continually These analytics provide actionable insight that yields operational and business value. Examples include segmenting and routing callers to appropriate channels in real time, or instantly providing agents with on-screen customer data, purchase history and tips on upselling strategies.
As these and other applications mature, service providers are rapidly expanding the breadth and depth of their solution portfolios of standard offerings. At the same time, competition for new customers across all market segments is intensifying. This means call center outsourcing options are becoming increasingly affordable, as well as increasingly tailored to the specific needs of mid-sized enterprises.
What to Look For
A mid-sized organization assessing its call center outsourcing options should address a range of criteria when evaluating potential partners. Factors to consider and questions to ask include:
Technology agility and flexibility: Don’t be lured by technology bells and whistles. Instead, look for providers who take a strategic approach to integrating people, business processes and technology. More specifically, can the provider leverage smart tools to offer add-on services that address unique requirements? The ability to easily integrate technology components and deliver a tailored solution is critical to optimizing the customer experience.
Delivering insight: A customer contact center is a potential gold mine of business insight. The ability to fulfill that potential should be a critical selection criterion. In addition to basics such as customer segmentation, providers should have a well-defined strategy for ongoing data collection, analysis and insight generation. Also, many providers are integrating social media analytics into their service delivery models. That capability could be key for many consumer-facing brands.
Measuring performance: Technology is transforming call center operations, as well as the key performance indicators used to assess providers. Meaningful metrics that reflect business value are therefore essential. For example, Average Handle Time (AHT) has traditionally been a critical measure of agent productivity. In an automated environment, however, a low AHT by human agents could mean that people are handling too many of the simple issues – ones that should be resolved by the automation tool. Conversely, a high AHT could suggest that agents are focused on solving complex problems that require time and investigation.
Location: Historically, labor arbitrage has been a crucial driver of outsourcing. By applying process expertise and leveraging large pools of low-wage workers in specific geographies, service providers efficiently managed the delivery of a wide range of routine, administrative tasks. Customers, meanwhile, enjoyed significant cost benefits.
Today, intelligent automation is eroding the competitive advantage of labor arbitrage by making geography increasingly irrelevant. Put simply, a robot can work from anywhere. Moreover, connectivity and collaboration tools are expanding opportunities for remote and home-based agents.
That said, location still matters. Notwithstanding the impact of technology innovation, providers continue to rely on traditional contact center operations. In a maturing market, meanwhile, the criteria that determine an outsourcing “hot spot” have evolved. Wage rates are becoming less essential, while access to an educated workforce is critical.
Business understanding: When outsourcing customer-facing activity, a service provider directly represents your brand. As such, insight into your business is imperative. Absent that insight, you risk alienating customers and damaging your reputation. In other words, trusting a provider to engage with your customers is not a decision lightly taken.
How can you determine if a provider has the ability to earn that trust? At a high level, the admittedly subjective “cultural fit” factor remains important. Executives touring a call center operation can often sense if a provider will be an effective brand ambassador, one who will help increase customer loyalty. A more quantitative indicator is training – providers should ensure that agents are fully steeped in your business before engaging with customers. Constant churn among support teams is another red flag. When assessing providers, demand detailed information on agent turnover rates.
Digital transformation is creating new opportunities and challenges. For small and mid-sized enterprises seeking to stave off disruptors and maintain a competitive edge, call center outsourcing can be a key part of a strategic approach to customer engagement.