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Making a Call on Customer Service Outsourcing

Answering the phones may seem like a simple part of running a business – we all do it all the time, so how difficult can it be? Actually, as an integral part of offering excellent customer service, how you handle telephone calls is crucial to get right if you want to succeed as you grow.

The Institute of Customer Service’s July 2018 customer satisfaction index report looked at where the top 10 performing organisations differentiated themselves from others and found that the areas where they performed particularly well with customer interaction included ease of contact, employee helpfulness and competence, and speed of response. They also had markedly higher satisfaction with phone and website experiences.

All of the above rely on great call (and other contact) handling. The question for businesses – large and small – is what’s the most cost effective way to deliver that level of customer care? The decision on whether and when to move from an in-house facility to outsourced services will vary by company, but there are some pertinent questions that everyone can ask themselves to help make that call.

1. Is your call answering service delivering what you need? If so, is the focus on call answering affecting other operations?

Smaller and start-up businesses can’t always justify having full-time call answerers, so people handling the phones may have to split their time between several roles in order to pay their way – for example doubling up as your accounts team.

In order to answer the question, check if your telephony provider offers a call tracker like the one offered by BT that can show you how many calls hit an engaged tone or are missed, how long it takes you to answer calls and if they are left to wait on hold excessively – demonstrating whether your in-house approach is effective enough, or whether staff are missing calls when busy with other tasks.

If either your call handling or other functions are suffering from split resources, now could be the time to simply outsource some outside call centre support.

2. Can your in-house function cover all the hours you need?

Whether your company serves international markets or just the UK or local area, in today’s world people still expect to be able to reach you outside of standard working hours, whether over the phone or via social media, a web-based form or email. A problem left overnight can be much more difficult to handle the next day when a customer feels they have been waiting for a response, even if you have been officially closed. But can you afford to provide 24-hour cover?

Increasing your in-house call handling team’s hours may seem like a great idea but it can be expensive – you’ll need to expand your team (including management) to cover shifts including unsocial hours, open your offices 24/7, extend the hours of your security cover and so on. Once customer expectations are raised by the offer of a 24/7 service, you need to deliver in full.

A good customer service function operating 24/7 is expensive to deliver in-house and the volume of calls outside office hours may not justify the cost. An external call centre where you pay by the call and have access to trained staff who can deal with your customers at all times can be a cost effective outsourcing process.

3. Could you handle an increase in calls?

Even if your team can manage the call volumes now, what about in six months, a year, or even five years from now? If your business growth outstrips your capacity for call handling you might shoot yourself in the foot with a subsequent reduction in customer service satisfaction. As with all staffing issues it’s best to plan ahead for an affordable solution rather than trying to make big changes on the hoof.

As well as taking into account long-term growth plans, it’s also worth considering any new marketing campaigns that will lead to a spike in calls, or whether there are any times of the day or week when you could do with some extra support. Outsourced customer service needn’t mean a 24-hour service; you could arrange extra support just for when you really need it to provide the necessary cost savings.

Firms of all sizes should consider whether the number of call handlers needed can be feasibly employed in-house or whether it’s more cost effective to use a customer service outsourcing company that specialises in answering inbound calls.

4. Is lack of capacity becoming a risk?

Is your in-house team missing calls? If you’re not there to handle them directly, customer complaints can get amplified very quickly over social media, meaning your minor headache grows disproportionately into a nightmare that could have been avoided. Even back in 2014 the BBC was writing about why it pays to complain on Twitter – and while they highlighted the positives of delivering great customer service at that point for all to see, if you’re already struggling to handle your calls, chances are you don’t have much time to focus on social media either.

Having a team in place with the capacity to handle all calls can help deliver a speedier resolution to issues for customers, hopefully gaining you online praise for a great service rather than criticism for a job not well done.

5. Is it more cost effective to outsource?

While smaller businesses may not be able to afford any dedicated call handlers at all, larger companies may find that the increasing level of business being done over the phone makes an in-house call answering facility an expensive option.

When judging cost effectiveness it’s important to remember all the costs involved in running an in-house function – salaries, pensions, office rental, IT kit and software (including licences and obligatory upgrades), cover for short notice sick leave, recruitment, training, ongoing HR support and so on.

Once you know what the costs are, monitor what you’re actually delivering in-house and try to quantify it, and perhaps even go so far as working out the cost per call.

Then consider whether your current team actually meets your needs or whether the spec needs changing at all – for example, do you want to extend the opening hours, do you need a better CRM system, or do you want your call handling staff to carry out jobs such as sending out brochures on request or liaising with the warehouse to facilitate orders?

Then take a look at the market for call handling providers that you think could deliver your needs. Vet them well and make sure you’re clear on how they will fit your business in with their other work, whether they will work to scripts and workflows that you specify, and whether they have the ability to answer calls in other languages if required. Ask about their staff training and their own customer satisfaction levels. Check their systems can integrate with your CRM system. Do they have all the right data protection and privacy measures in place – e.g. are they GDPR compliant?

Understand how you will be charged and check the contract length. Then see if their charges compare favourably to your costs for delivering the solutions in-house.

6. Does it feel right?

This may seem like the most basic question but it’s the one to consider last. After looking at your in-house capacity and capability, and the comparative cost of outsourcing, does it feel like the right time to make the move?

Businesses of all sizes can reap the benefits of having a well-trained, professional call answering team on hand without all the HR and training worries that go with it, and senior managers will most likely agree that being allowed to focus on core business would be time better spent.

So why not check out the options to see if outsourcing could be the answer for you?