4 Signs You're Ready to Outsource and 5 Steps for Making It a Success

Managing customer service is a common problem for start-ups, and it can be difficult to make the decision to opt for outsourcing support. Fast-growing companies feel it's a core element of their overall strategies, which is why they've kept it in house to guarantee the satisfaction of their customers. However, when done right, outsourcing can deliver the same levels of customer care and brand continuity with the added benefits of scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness.

When should you consider outsourcing your customer service? Here are some common signs that you might be ready to outsource:

  1. You need guidance. You need to start building out your customer service at scale but are unsure of what is possible or the steps to take to make this happen.
  2. Your company is expanding into new territories. It is often useful to work with a partner that has the knowledge, scale, and experience to provide customer service in different languages, time zones, and cultures.
  3. Your customer service representatives are facing a spike in inquiries. You know that your current set-up can't cope with the increased volumes, and you are concerned about scaling while continuing to meet customer service expectations.
  4. Your team is growing rapidly. You find that you are busier dealing with hiring and managing staff for your contact center than actually listening to your customers.

Once you have determined that you're ready to work with an outsourcer, you'll need to evaluate your needs, develop a process, and plan for the transition. Here are the 5 steps that will help you make it a success:

#1 Evaluate the role of customer service for your business.

Before you can define your outsourcing strategy, you must define your needs. Is customer service a core competitive advantage for your company? Is its primary function to drive revenue opportunities through cross- and up-selling? Should there be an emphasis on keeping costs down?

Define pain points that are preventing you from providing an optimal service, like struggling to scale, inadequate staff training, or spiraling costs, to determine how an outsourcer can support your operations. A partner can also provide you with access to best-in-class technology, such as chatbots or robotic process automation (RPA), to help you improve efficiency. Larger players can also leverage a network of cost-effective global contact centers to give your customer service the best value depending on your needs.

#2 Understand your operations.

One of the benefits of working with an outsourcing partner is that it can help a company to be more organized and consistent. Documenting and defining your customer service processes forces you to think carefully about your operations and will pay major dividends further down your outsourcing journey.

Instead of seeing customer service as one large function, you will start to see its component parts, giving you insight into how you can improve this area without losing touch with the core needs of the customer. Since an outsourcer will manage operational functions, you are free to focus on what customers are actually saying and what it means for your business.

#3 Define your culture.

When bringing in an outsourcing partner, there is a concern that the service won't reflect the culture of the brand. Since start-ups typically provide their customer service in house, it often closely reflects the culture, attitude, and branding of the company. However, there comes a point when start-ups begin to scale rapidly and it is no longer desirable or possible to cope with the growing volumes of customer interactions.

The way to get around this is to clearly define your culture. The right partner will not only understand your culture but will have concrete ways of expressing it in each interaction. See how they approach hiring and training customer service representatives and make sure you audit their human resources and training processes, as whoever they hire will be representing your company.

#4 Find the right fit.

When short-listing providers, visit as many as possible and look for companies that have a strong track record of success working with start-ups and understand the unique challenges that these types of companies face. In terms of preparing a request for proposal (RFP), these are the key steps:

  • Write your own detailed, thorough RFP.
  • Help potential partners meet your expectations by clearly stating your objectives.
  • Be transparent about the procurement process.
  • Ensure potential partners have sufficient time to prepare a comprehensive response.
  • Set clear dates for milestones in the process.
  • Set an expected timeline for the partnership, including transition and expected go-live.

When formulating an agreement, the best approach is to design contracts that work both for you and the outsourcing partner. This means clear incentives and rewards for success, as well as penalties if service-level agreements (SLAs) have not been met.

#5 Prepare for the transition.

Once you have selected your partner, it is important that you begin preparing for the transition. The length of this period should be agreed upon in advance, with key milestones to ensure the project is on track and to minimize potential disruptions. A good practice is to have a dedicated staff member or small team to facilitate communication with your new partner and to ensure there are no misunderstandings surrounding time scales, procedures, and deliverables.

There will be a learning curve for both of you, but there are steps you can take to speed this up. Allow your outsourcing partner to make site visits to analyze your operations and speak to staff so they can understand your culture and better organize the transition. This takes an upfront commitment in terms of time but can result in huge savings down the line.

In highly competitive markets, outstanding customer service can set you apart from your competitors. An experienced partner can provide crucial support by helping you to understand your core business needs and map out and document the key processes. They can then design and build an effective solution that works for you, while retaining the unique culture of your company. The best solutions offer the perfect blend of the right people with proven experience, enhanced with the appropriate technology.

Fara Haron is CEO of Global BPS at Arvato.

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