“This is Peggy”
Unfortunately, when you think of outsourced customer service, one commercial springs to mind. It opens with a man somewhere in Eastern Europe munching on a sandwich in a room filled with circa-1970 phones ringing endlessly. He finally answers one, saying "This is Peggy."
We've all laughed at the commercial because we feel the pain. Offshore call centers work hard to hire and train agents to "Americanize" the voice at the end of the line, but no matter how hard they try, we know we aren't in Kansas anymore. Yes, offshore outsourcing does offer reduced costs, but, you must also be prepared for the "down" side that can include decreased performance, declining customer satisfaction, bad PR, and above all, frustrated customers.
There are several options when considering outsourcing vendors - offshore, near shore, and home shoring - but how do you know which one is the best solution for you?
Offshore is a popular option for companies whose priority is to reduce expenditures. Callers are sent to India or the Philippines (or some other location) where they can offer 24/7 coverage, but simplicity is the key. Calls usually require tightly scripted responses dealing with basic questions or simple tech support. Most vendors can offer their services ranging from $12 to $14* an hour, nearly half the cost of a traditional U.S.-based brick and mortar operation. The downside can be customer dissatisfaction and decreased performance levels.
Near shore offers a solution based on the proximity or "nearness" to the U.S. Outsourcing vendors in Canada, Mexico and South America offer less cultural disparity and labor is inexpensive allowing near shore vendors to stay within the competitive range of offshore vendors. Pricing can range from $14 to $30*. Again, the downside can be customer dissatisfaction, still some cultural disparity issues, and decreased performance levels.
On-shoring brings customer service back in-house or to a U.S.-based outsourcing vendor. It offers more complex call handling, and the ability to see your agents; but it also has its own set of challenges such as physical facility costs, support and staffing needs in order to meet peak volumes or seasonal demands balanced by fixed overhead costs, equipment, training, recruiting and retention.
Typically, pricing for on-shore and in-house services ranges from $26 to $30 an hour,* much higher than either offshore or near shore competitors. These facilities can provide specialized and highly technical services such as case management for healthcare needs and support for the latest technology and equipment.
Call times are longer; and more extensive training and retention become bigger parts of the equation. Valuable dollars are lost to high attrition, and it's difficult to find quality experienced customer service professionals within the geographic limits of the call center facility.
Virtual call centers or the @home option is the future of customer service. Talent is recruited from a nationwide pool, allowing access to more qualified individuals that fit your specific needs. Hours and locations are flexible allowing employees a true work/life balance. These vendors are finding untapped reserves of individuals who might not otherwise be in the workforce.
For instance, stay at home mothers, seniors, students, even individuals dealing with health issues or those who need income while caring for family members. Workers are usually older, more educated and are highly motivated which translates to better retention, as well as a more dedicated workforce. All it takes is a land line, a computer, a corded headset, and broadband technology.
Software and other applications are cloud-based providing a secure virtual interface for both voice and data meaning your customers won't know they aren't sitting in your office. Pricing is competitive with other options and based on the type of service provided and experience required. But, most companies realize that a quality customer experience is worth much more than the just the lowest price.
The rise of social media offers additional challenges to the customer service experience making the decision of which model and vendor to choose much more important. A bad experience can easily go viral. Between chat rooms, forums, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, your customers will know within seconds of either good or bad news about your product or service which dramatically increases the potential of losing existing or potential customers.
On average, a disgruntled customer tells at least three people about their bad experience. That negative experience can easily multiply several times over using social media which translates into serious long-term repercussions such as damaging or reducing the company's brand or reputation for many years to come.
No matter which option you select, evaluate vendors based on what fits the needs of your business and your customers. Consider all the options and all the elements in the mix and then make the decision that fits for you.
*Hourly rate estimates are based on a number of factors and industry sources including Datamonitor and IDC and reflect fully loaded agent hours.
Rob Duncan is Chief Operating Officer for Alpine Access, Inc., the leading provider of employee-based virtual contact center solutions and services. Recently named the best contact center and CRM outsourcer for client satisfaction by Datamonitor's Black Book of Outsourcing, Alpine Access' clients include ten of the Fortune 100 companies in the financial services, communications, technology, healthcare, retail, travel and hospitality sectors.