Alex Holmes runs Marketing and Accounts Influx. Alex introduces the benefits of using Support as a Service and explains how to make sure that the service is of high quality.
Outsourced support is traditionally known as a cost-cutting measure for companies that know they need to answer customer questions but are unconcerned about the quality. Deloitte found that 59% of companies that have outsourced did so specifically to save money. This focus on efficiency and cost savings has led outsourcing to have a terrible reputation when it comes to the quality of customer service.
However, companies that see customer service as more than just a cost center are partnering with outsourcing vendors that care equally about quality. From wanting to expand their available hours, to keeping up with volume surges over a holiday, there are many reasons to want to grow your customer service operations externally, while keeping a focus on the customer experience.
This is where Support as a Service comes in. There is a new wave of outsourcing companies popping up that want to turn the public perception of outsourced solutions - which is good news for both support teams and customers!
Where outsourcing is seen as focused on cutting costs and trimming the extras, Support as a Service is designed as a fully-featured, integrated, on-demand support team. With the capability to deliver fast resolutions, 24/7 support, increase sales, customer satisfaction and revenue per customer, Support as a Service offers flexible outsourcing solutions without sacrificing quality.
Just like Software as a Service (SaaS) products usually offer better quality, more cost-effective software than if you built the same tool internally, Support as a Service makes it possible to expand your support operations without needing to find the time and space within your headquarters to support the necessary headcount.
Support as a Service providers do things a little differently than traditional outsourcing. That means a focus on sustainability, agent performance and client relationships. All of this helps companies like Influx provide the same or better quality than internal customer support teams. Here’s how we do it.
Whether you’re looking for a new Support as a Service vendor, or hoping to improve your existing vendor relationship, there are many different aspects to providing quality outsourced support. Here are four things to look for when growing your support operations externally:
The more tightly integrated your teams are, the easier it is to align on quality. Integration shines through in the processes you use, the language you communicate with and your shared values when it comes to customer service. A few ways you can help to build this integration are:
- Using the same technology: from the help desk to the conversation review tools to performance management software, your outsourcing partner should work on the same platforms as you are. If they need to jump between software to do their job, they’ll be more focused on the processes than providing great service. At Influx we’ve built integrations into the main helpdesks so that we can collaborate with our clients across any software they choose. These shared platforms also allow us to pull reports for agents and managers to understand how they’re doing, and where improvement is needed.
- Standardized training and onboarding: by building a training and onboarding program together, your outsourcing partner and you will ensure every agent is trained to the same level, quickly. Combining your outsourcing partner’s expertise on growing teams quickly with your product and industry expertise creates teams of skillful, motivated agents.
- Defining your brand values and communicating them: in Klaus’ guide to call center quality assurance, they walk through the importance of determining what customer support means to your brand. Whether it’s quick, efficient help or a more consultative, proactive approach, defining and communicating what exactly you’re after is critical to the outsourcing team meeting your expectations.
At Influx, we’ve tried a number of different team structures. The best we’ve found in regards to agent retention, the quality of the work and the overall performance of the team is to hire local managers for each team.
All of our agents report to local managers. Local managers lead a team of agents who are working across a variety of client accounts. Because the manager is located in the same timezone as the team, every agent gets to experience hands-on mentorship. All agents receive weekly 1:1s, career training, advancement opportunities and regular performance reviews through their local manager. This works substantially better than an external manager. Agents stay motivated because the feedback is coming from someone they work with every day and who knows their skills.
Each client account also has a team lead which is responsible for communication with the client - such as training schedules, reporting, etc. The team lead works in the same timezone as the client’s head office, and helps to synchronize client requirements between managers in different time-zones. This allows our clients to maintain a 24/7 team, or expand to weekend support, while still working normal 9 to 5 hours.
This on-demand nature is a big part of what makes Support as a Service different from outsourcing. When management isn’t located miles away from the team, agents can get ongoing, relevant feedback that helps them perform consistently.
Team calibration across external and internal teams are critical to providing great quality customer support. What one team perceives as a quality answer might be completely different than another. Is speed a top priority for your customers? Or is it more important to take the time to put together a very thorough answer, addressing potential future concerns as well? Is your brand friendly and casual, or do agents need to keep language formal and more professional? Without making it clear what quality looks like to you, your outsourced team won’t be able to achieve it.
The best way to calibrate across multiple teams is to build a scorecard and communicate it constantly. From weekly 1:1s to monthly reporting, every person on the team should know exactly what a quality answer looks like to your company. As mentioned above, Influx manages most of our professional development programs locally, but with close input from our clients. QA scorecards help to determine whether agents are performing at the level they need to be, or if more coaching is needed.
Support as a Service providers also rely on customer satisfaction scores to ensure customers are happy with the service they are getting. Benchmarking the external team’s performance to internal agents helps to ensure that customers are equally satisfied with both teams.
Call centers have one of the highest turnover rates in any industry. This is especially true for outsourced centers. Depending on who you ask, call centers have an annual turnover rate between 30-45%. This is often because employees are treated as replaceable - they don’t receive ongoing training, skill development or any career guidance. If they leave to find something better for the long term, which they inevitably will, the outsourcing team will simply hire someone in their place.
But to deliver consistently great support, agents need to be motivated and they need to stick around. If your outsourcing partner is always training and recruiting new agents for your account, you’re not going to see any improvement in quality over time.
Investing in agent development means providing feedback, opportunities to grow skills and appropriate compensation. We agree with Klaus that conversation reviews (or QA) are a fantastic way to continue improving the skills of agents.
Whatever you call it, taking the time to define quality and communicating it to agents consistently will ensure your outsourcing operation isn’t cutting corners. Working closely with your outsourcing partner to measure and improve quality over time will make sure your customers are delighted with the service you provide - even as you continue to grow.
If you’re thinking about using Support as a Service to scale your team, read about how Influx helped Manly Bands scale from a husband and wife team to a global brand known for their 24/7, always excellent, customer service. !