Outsourcing customer service gives you access to a specialized workforce without distracting from your core business competencies. But your customers don’t know – or care – if you use a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) to communicate with them. They still connect the quality of support they receive from this external provider with your value as a business.
The value of outsourced customer service is set to increase to $81.5bn by 2023.
Customer expectations are also increasing.
Is it possible to relinquish some of your influence over your operations by outsourcing support and still meet those expectations?
The short answer is yes. How, exactly, is a longer answer – one which we set out right here.
First, let’s review
Feedback is the backbone of support quality. Your quality assurance program needs a structure that delivers agents the information they need to improve via reviews.
Metrics help you set KPIs and understand benchmarks. But the qualitative data, harnessed through reviews, is critical for all companies who outsource. When you are not on the floor to see trends and spot agent knowledge gaps, numbers alone can’t tell you how to improve. Reviews flesh out your understanding for a better connection with performance.
The right quality assurance software connects companies to customers, no matter how support is structured.
Does the way you structure your customer service team affect quality?
Although some companies keep everything in-house regardless of size, the larger a company grows, the more likely they are to look into outsourcing options to supplement or replace in-house teams or account for seasonality in hiring. That can take several forms:
- Outsourcing all support to BPOs
This means that the company does not have their own support team. Instead, they focus on supplying the BPO with all the information they need to solve support for them.
- Outsourcing a support tier to BPOs
For some companies, tier 1 agents are outsourced while escalation specialists remain in-house. Fewer take the opposite approach, outsourcing tier 2 agents and keeping frontline agents in-house.
You might think an in-house QA specialist gives you better insight. But, especially in cases where the company outsources across multiple vendors to cover multiple regions or timezones, that logic doesn’t always follow.
Mixed families don’t mean dysfunctional. All models of support setup with BPOs can be successful if the right processes and communication pathways are in place to facilitate quality customer service.
The structure you choose is not a determinant of quality.
Your vendor is.
Below are three common problems saddled with outsourcing, along with several ways to fix the issue. But if your vendor you outsource to doesn’t cooperate with your (quality) priorities, find a BPO that does. The market is certainly large enough to accommodate. Otherwise, your outsourcing will cause more problems in-house.
Problem #1: BPOs experience higher employee attrition
Attrition is one of the best indicators of how employees are valued.
Employee retention is a universal problem in customer service, so be aware that the employee tenure may be shorter than you think. The length of time customer service employees spend in one job depends on industry and age, among other factors.
2.2 years is the average length of service for support agents ages 20 – 34.
Nice’s 2022 attrition report looked into US and UK-based vendors, finding that BPO agents were more likely to quit sooner than in-house employees. In general, larger companies have higher attrition rates.
However, this is not good for customer service quality. The processes of hiring and onboarding new employees are time-consuming and costly. It also stands to (logical) reason that agents with more experience with a company are better acquainted with the product and company tone of voice.
Many teams also rely on senior members who have more depth of knowledge to help with their quality program:
- Rentman, for example, entrusts its more senior members with conducting reviews.
- At Sky Betting & Gaming, an advisory team – consisting of the most knowledgeable of the group – operates a Slack channel to consult on more complicated issues and add to the knowledge base.
Ways to combat the problem of employee attrition with outsourced partners
- Investigate how much value a BPO puts into its employees. Do they invest in training?
Investigate how you, as a provider, can bolster career progression. For example, promote top-performing agents into the quality or training process.
- Salary is important to us all. The people who are on the customer frontlines (AKA customer service reps) should be valued.
Make sure your chosen BPO/s pays appropriately and consider establishing raises to directly reward employees.
- In general, the bigger the company, the higher the attrition rate.
Consider outsourcing to multiple smaller providers rather than one bigger one.
Problem #2: An extra degree of separation
When you outsource customer service, you want to delegate agent management. But you don’t want to trigger the ‘silo effect’. The silo effect happens when communication fractures and information is not shared between departments & teams.
In essence, you don’t want the benefits you reap from outsourcing to come at the expense of quality and customer satisfaction.
So, how do you combat the extra degree of separation between business and customer when customer service is outsourced?
A successful partnership between a BPO and business comes down to two things: training and communication.
Advice from a support training specialist
“Continuous training should be at the core of the quality maintenance efforts. Not only product training, but also power skills training – focusing on communication and agility.
What is also important here is to set clear communal processes. Just because support is outsourced, it doesn’t mean that the goals are different! What is important here is to blend the outsourced team with the in-house related departments and teams.
The outsourced team shouldn’t feel like an outsider and should be involved in the company updates. Blending teams in a collaborative environment is not an easy task, but it’s something that we have all been preparing for in the last two years where remote and hybrid work have left their mark.
Furthermore, the outsourcing company needs continuous feedback throughout the hiring and training process. Fearless feedback is the force behind constructive and honest discussions.
Workforce allocation is handled by the outsourcing company, but having input from the client is very important for a healthy relationship.”
Problem #3: Consistency & calibration
Consistency is a hot topic right now in customer service.
Chat, email, call, Social Media, bots, video – the ways in which businesses communicate with customers are expanding. But customers crave consistency across channels, so companies also need to maintain a consistent voice across platforms and people.
Add outsourcing into the mix, and – ouch – it gets complicated.
We discussed goals previously, and that is relevant here too. If BPOs are aware of and aligned across company goals, there is at least a benchmark for success. Something to stick on the fridge (maybe even literally).
The 3 ways to maintain consistency
1. Knowledge base
At Klaus, we advise all companies to clearly define internal standards and procedures.
A single knowledge base that gives all agents access to protocols and procedures is low-hanging fruit when it comes to consistency.
2. Structured onboarding
The expression ‘start as you mean to go on’ is apt here. Give all agents the same diving board to jump off, no matter where they work.
A strong onboarding process introduces:
- Customer personas and target users
- Company values and communication rubric
- Product training
- Common user scenarios
- Tools and proceedings
We operate and recommend a ‘buddy’ system to promote shared learning and non-formal guidance (this aids company culture & well-being also!).
3. QA Calibration sessions
The first thing you can do to keep your agents in line is to have your reviews in line. It starts with who does the reviewing.
Misaligned or biased reviews lead to inconsistent grading and skewed quality metrics.
At Klaus, we recommend monthly calibration sessions for most teams. Get your reviewers together to either:
(a) review conversations blind, then discuss grades after,
(b) review conversations together to facilitate discussion,
(c) review conversations with agents for transparency.
Reviewing the reviewers
If you have outsourced your quality management in addition to your support team, it’s best to set up a process where you perform some spot-checks on the quality reviews. This is where you review the grade given by the reviewer to ensure that they are following your own quality standards.
Adding spot checks alongside your regular calibration sessions means that you can still be in control of the quality standards of your (outsourced) support team!
Educational Content Specialist at Klaus
Overall, outsourcing your customer service team doesn’t equate worse quality. But as BPOs are growing and outsourcing is gaining even more traction, it’s important for the ‘outsourcers’ to be conversant in best practices.
A takeaway how-to-keep-customer-service-quality-high-in-outsourced-teams checklist The name of this list maybe needs a little work
- Choose the right partner.
- Set clear, communal processes.
- Establish a thorough knowledge base.
- Offer career progression and rewards.
- Consider smaller providers.
- Offer structured onboarding.
- Provide continuous feedback.
- Hold regular calibration sessions.
If you’re looking for some inspiration about managing quality across borders and BPOs, we highly recommend reading about Glovo’s customer service strategy.