Outsourcing customer service operations has something of a black eye. There are legions of horror stories and anecdotes about the frustrations of speaking to a non-native English speaker to solve customer problems.
"Big Fortune 500 companies outsourced some of their customer service to India and Pakistan, and really got into some deep trouble with their customers,” says Kathy Gray, director of business development at XACT Telesolutions, a contact center outsourcing agency. “They’ve since bounced back, but it kind of labeled [outsourcing] as a negative.”
In spite of this, many enterprises still turn to outsourcing customer service. The challenges involved in meeting staffing needs are so dramatic that they become expensive and time consuming to handle internally. Outsourcing may make sense financially, for example, in an overflow situation, when calls need to be answered that would otherwise be in a queue or on hold. Other times, companies are focused on building a business and they see it as making better business sense.
"[Companies] face two options: Do I expand my current team or do I pick up a partner who can help me manage this traffic?” Gray says.
Other companies choose outsourcing in order to handle overflow that they can’t manage due to huge spikes, such as during a crisis or a peak time. Gray referred to a scenario where XACT stepped in to help a company with a crisis management issue, in which the company had to quickly take a customer service team from 10 people to 100. Then there is the busiest and most critical time of the year for retailers, the Christmas season.
"A company may have a customer service team of ten people at normal times of the year. Now, all of a sudden, here comes the holidays and they need a workforce of fifty people,” Gray says. “We can help you with telephone support, manage emails, and Web chat. A call center agency is a good place to get your business process achieved, to get the seasonality for your staffing needs, and then take that responsibility in-house when seasonal trends downsize again,” she adds.
The company cited research from eMarketer, which forecasted that online shoppers will spend $61.8 million during the months of November and December this year.
“The element[s] of e-commerce that needs to be streamlined into business process [are] the customer service and the sales,” Gray says. “This is not like walking into a physical store; you need to be supported and served.”
"The growth of online sales doesn't mean there's less of a need for customer support,” added Lynn Fick, president of XACT. “In fact, quite the opposite. Because there's no physical representation of the company online, customers often have more questions and concerns."
Gray also pointed out that social media is a big concern with companies that know that their reputations can either be boosted or busted when it comes to customer service.
“Your customers can tell you very quickly and precisely what they think of your organization,” Gray says. “The last thing you want to do is be in a position where something has caused your customer base to turn on you, and they’re attacking you through social media. It’s much better to put a workforce team in place that can assure your customers that everything is okay.”