Outsourcing has come a long way. I can remember publishing my first book in 2004 and still needing to explain the benefits to sceptical executives. This is not so common now that outsourcing has become an accepted part of boardroom strategy. Today, it’s more unusual to see that a company rejects outsourcing.
In some areas of business it has become an essential strategy. It used to be common for many companies to reject the outsourcing of their customer service contact centre because they wanted to maintain that process of customer contact in-house. Now look at how complex the customer service function is. It’s almost impossible for any organisation to have such scale that it makes sense to retain the customer service team internally.
This is because the customer service function has been turned on its head in the present decade. Previously companies offered a phone number and email address that customers could use to get in touch – at specified times. Now the customer chooses when they want to communicate and how. Often the customer is not using any official channel at all, perhaps writing a personal blog or commenting on a social network, but they still expect an answer.
So managing this relationship with the customer has become extremely complex. Companies not only need to respond at all hours, but manage multiple communication channels and use data analysis tools to keep track of what customers are saying about their brand or products. Reviews and ratings also need to be monitored, in addition to the popular social networks.
Keeping track of this and introducing data analysis and multichannel communication has made outsourcing mandatory for any company that values their customer relationship – and who doesn’t? This has redefined the border of organisations in general. Teams work together on customer service issues and the same company doesn’t necessarily pay their salary.
This has become normalised in many organisations. Some people work inside the client organisation, some are inside the same office, but paid by an outsourcing supplier, and some individual freelancers might also be thrown into the mix. However, I think that all companies are about to see a wave of further change in the way they structure their business – driven by the way that customers are interacting with brands.
Let’s step back for a moment and consider how the customer journey flows – that path from learning about a product then purchasing it and possibly recommending it to others. It used to be defined by a pre-sale period where your marketing, PR, and sales teams are responsible for pushing a message to the customer then the customer service team would take over once a sale is made.
Now the customer journey is far more complex. Customers are interacting with brands all the time using various channels. It’s much harder to define a journey from an interaction to a sale. If I ask an airline about the movies available on a flight using Twitter then does it mean I’m thinking about booking that flight or I already have a ticket? And should I be treated differently if I’m just thinking about making a purchase? If a supermarket shares recipes on their Facebook page and a discussion comparing various ingredients is started then are these customers really planning to buy the ingredients that they are talking about?
All the various ways in which brands communicate with customers are blending into one because the journey has become so circular. Gartner wrote a paper about this last year where they predicted companies need to blend all the departments that engage with customers into a single team they called the Customer Experience Hub.
Think what this means for the organisational structure of your business and the various outsourcing relationships you currently manage. If PR, advertising, marketing, sales, and customer service all need to be merged into one customer engagement team that is coordinated and centrally controlled then you might be asking at least four different supplier companies to work together.
If your suppliers work on your site then it might be a fairly simple process – apart from the politics of who leads the new team. But if your PR or marketing company just takes a brief then works on it remotely it might be harder to get them working together with your customer service team.
A big change is coming and because every company in every industry has a need to engage with their customers this is going to affect every organisation. How can you rebuild your organisation and your supplier relationships so that your customer experience team is built around the needs and expectations of your customers?