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Enterprise Guide to Outsourced Call Center Companies: 5 Compelling Reasons to go Domestic
Evaluating outsourced call centers can be a tricky and time-consuming process. We’ve distilled all our experience with offshore and domestic companies and created this guide for large and enterprise organizations looking to outsource.
Operating your own in-house call center requires a hefty investment in both technology and staffing, but the control it offers can be invaluable. On the other hand, an outsourced call center can move the needle quicker and offer its own set of benefits, particularly in times of uncertainty.
For many of our customers, the big question is: What's better for their organization’s customer service needs... offshore or US-based call centers?
Our research shows that foreign/offshore call centers and BPOs are generally cost-effective up front, but come with downsides that can be much more costly down the road.
We’ve already explored in-house vs contracted call centers pretty heavily, so let’s dive into the domestic outsourced call center versus the offshore outsourced call center discussion.
Arguments for Going Domestic - Outsourced Call Center 101s
Our research indicates that the most popular reasons organizations end up with a domestic provider for their inbound and outbound call center needs are the following:
Keeping your Brand Close
You and your team have worked tirelessly for several years to create and protect your brand. So it stands to reason that taking shortcuts with your call center outsourcing is a tough sell even if it's cost effective.
Keep in mind that not only is compliance with laws and regulations essential for some industries, but preserving the connection you have built with your customers is invaluable..
A common theme we hear from our partners is the importance placed on interactions between contact center agents and their customers remaining consistent throughout the entire experience.
The best of both worlds would be for U.S.-based call center agents can to be trained to understand your products or services. This not only helps existing customers, but engages in consultative selling and helping ensure customers purchase the right product.
Fewer Customer Service Issues
You probably know firsthand that call center outsourcing companies that have non-native English speakers are likely to cause frustration and disgruntlement in your customers who will then perceive your brand negatively. This is of course the case even for digital channels as well, but it's easiest for someone to drop the ball on call support.
Hint: several disruptive companies in the space make use of gig economy for CX support. Work from home parents, retirees, college students, and military spouses and veterans make up a large chunk of this workforce.
These agents are usually great candidates for this sort of work, and they also understand the nuances and subtleties of the English language as well as the typical consumer behavior in our country (if necessary for your brand).
Efficient and Streamlined Communication, 24 hours a day
With no more than a 3-hour time difference, your US-based customers can benefit considerably from the massive bandwidth available from domestic call centers during normal business hours. Most disruptors in this space offer plenty of bandwidth during the night hours via their staff working from home.
Dealing with low offshore bandwidth during a spike in tickets is not fun, even worse if your outsourced call center is not up 24 hours a day and your customers can't get a reply within 24 hours.
There is no doubt that the improved responsiveness and agility that come with a U.S.-based call center will deliver improved customer satisfaction, improving your brand reputation in the process.
Minimize Language and Cultural Barriers
If your customers and call center agents speak the same language, it can even improve the relationship between your customers. It’s frustrating and hassling to fumble through a telephone call with gaps and loose ends due to language barriers. On the other hand, a CX professional (armed with the right tools and decision making) can make a bad consumer experience into a great one.
The Vetting Process Overview - Domestic Call Center Outsourcing
Why is vetting a call center so important? Now more than ever, the call center you will choose will be intertwined with almost all other aspects of your business and you need to do your market research.
Call center services do not work in vacuums, and you have to keep this in mind. Instead, they have to be closely aligned with your business needs including marketing, sales, shipping and perhaps even manufacturing and other departments in your company so that they can be an effective in their duties
The steps to hire a call center for your customer service or sales support can be a daunting and complicated task for many companies. This is because it is quite difficult to give up some control and also trust the service to your company’s customers to an external group.
Bottom line, don’t just read the terms and conditions of the agreement with your prospective call centers. Get to know the contractor on a deeper level. Your gut is a very good indicator in most cases, and if you don’t like being around the people that represent your company, then chances are you won’t like working with them either!
Also, review the contract with your counsel and see how you can get out of it if needed. See our article on call center SLAs here. You don’t want to get locked into a contract for a long period without any recourse if there are underperformance issues, or more importantly, if there are intangible breaches.
Call center vetting is important because by selecting the best domestic call center that can become your symbiotic partner, your company can offer 24-hour access to experienced and high-quality customer service professionals.
5 Questions to Ask Every Outsourced Call Center
1. Where are your call centers located?
This is one of the most important questions of course. And don’t let them mislead you if only a small segment of their workforce is in a certain location.
That there are many different factors that usually go into the domestic call center site selection process, which are mainly driven by the specific needs and preferences of the company and/or its clients or customers.
For example, costs, labor laws, time zone, business continuity, natural disaster risk, etc. The list of call center site selection criteria tends to go on and on. Don’t forget to Google the company (including subsidiaries and parent companies) as well. You might find their call center in the Philippines had a week long outage recently due to a weather event, for example, while other call center companies in the Philippines were unaffected.
If you’re going domestic, remember to consider choosing a domestic partner that is far enough from you geographically that they don’t experience the same event, such as a hurricane, at the same time.
Did you know that domestic call centers may need to pay premiums for a customer service representative to work night shifts? Keep in mind that your provider may pass on these expenses to you in some situations. This is why if you would like someone to answer overflow telephone calls during business hours, then choosing an outsourcer within your time zone will work best for your company. It is important to make sure that you understand the way shift times will impact your overall costs before making a final decision.
Limitations Imposed by Existing Contracts
This is another key consideration. In many cases, your current contracts might necessitate choosing call center outsourcing partners in specific geographic locations. One of the best examples is in the healthcare industry, due to privacy laws such as HIPAA, as well as others. Many insurance companies, for example, mandate that providers choose a U.S-based call center (sometimes even on a state-level) for patient-facing processes.
2. What is your approach to recruiting talent?
You probably know that call center recruiting is often a unique challenge. And it is important to determine a prospective call center’s approach to recruiting talent. There is no doubt that successful customer care reps need a unique combination of aptitudes and skills, and most call centers experience high turnover rates. How many distressed calls could you handle per hour, day after day? Our article “Enterprise CFOs: How to Reduce The Costs of Customer Service Training and Onboarding” covers the topic of attrition and other call customer service woes).
Role of Technology
Many call center outsourcing firms leverage technology when it comes to recruiting the best talent.
Technology is likely to help a call center company with many aspects of their recruiting, such as:
- Resume screening
- Interview scheduling
- Skills testing
- Interviewing remote call center candidates, and
- Communicating with potential candidates
If the prospective vendor has the right recruitment technology stack at hand, it will help them hire better people and improve candidate experience. And this will benefit you.
Company Open-House Events
Some call center outsourcing providers utilize open house events, which is a great recruiting strategy and an indirect way to see first-hand the customer service and soft skills potential employees have. This strategy lets candidates have a brief browse around the company office. These employees can determine where they could end up working and also see their potential colleagues in action to see if this work is really for them. They would get a snapshot of what their job entails, instead of hearing about it second-hand. Lowering turnover at the outsourcing company can benefit your bottom line indirectly as well.
Consider if the contact center vendor employs the following
- Critically evaluates the competency model with a hiring team in order to ensure that it’s suitable for the specific they are recruiting
- Builds their candidate sourcing strategy from the various competencies that are established for each distinct and unique role
- Screens candidates for the specific "five star" competencies and experience associated with each call center rep role, as well as identifying any communication barriers early on.
- Revises their sourcing strategy as well as candidate screening processes as positions evolve
3. What criteria do you use to determine if an agent is a good fit for your customer?
Your vendor may screen potential candidates based on a variety of criteria, like personality, experience, skill, fit, passion and motivation, during the agent hiring process. And regardless of their list of prerequisites, it is important to know precisely what makes a successful and effective agent.
For example, to determine if an agent is a good fit for a specific customer, the vendor must ensure that the candidate is properly trained on the customer’s products and services as well as their overall industry. Also, make sure that your vendor evaluates the agents to ensure that they:
Pay attention to detail
You know that taking customer service calls can often be monotonous. This is because agents usually answer the same questions or receive the same type of complaints day after day, countless number of times per hour. As a result, the agents can become complacent once the have a certain amount of call volume.
Have strong communication skills
Customers have questions and concerns that need to be answered and issues that need to be resolved. Most inbound call volume will have queries and questions, but a good and experienced agent does not take anything for granted. Make sure the vendor you choose hires agents with strong communication skills.
Are friendly and demonstrate flexibility
Make sure the agents your vendor hires project a warm, courteous and friendly image, and you're one tiny step closer to raving reviews of your customer service. Call center agents must be able to maintain a positive demeanor or else they shouldn't be in the field, period. Going the distance with a warm and friendly attitude is a prerequisite we feel, whether it's web chat support, social media monitoring, and even general answering service needs. This is especially the case for the outbound call center employees who focus on cold calling, cross selling and appointment setting.
4. What is an area you consider an opportunity to improve within your agency?
This is another important question, and the answer to this question will suggest how serious your call center outsourcing vendor is about improving and evolving with the changing needs of the customers and their industries. Some disruptions in the outsourcing call centers space are heavily leveraging AI (artificial intelligence) and interesting integrations with their client's knowledge bases and CRMs (here's how Simplr does it).
Some of the core competency areas that outsourced call center agencies should look to improve are:
Give Employees Targeted Feedback
There is no doubt that regular quality-of-service assessment is critical for the effective operation of any call center. Managers should take the time to listen to their employees’ performance and then offer targeted feedback so that they can improve. As they say, customer retention is difficult if your employee retention is not sorted out first.
This is another area where many outsourced companies can improve (they're usually located in areas where land and construction is cheap). This especially makes sense if the call center is in a location that is prone to extreme or inclement weather conditions. If your vendor has only one call center and it’s closed down because of a hurricane or sustains irreparable damage from a tornado or an earthquake, how will the agents answer customers who need help?
While streamlining business processes might seem obvious, note that it is a task that a lot of call center outsourcing companies do not invest in. Make sure the vendor you are choosing has plans to improve and streamline processes to improve efficiency.
5. Pricing Model and Policies Around Overtime and Surge pricing?
Pricing plans and policies around surge and overtime pay will likely affect your costs, so you should be upfront in asking about it. Per hour cost and per resolution costs is but one part of the equation. For example, note that FLSA requires call center employers to pay their operators and agents one and one-half their standard rate of pay for every hour they work over 40 hours in any workweek. Note that this includes time spent on starting the computer to download any work instructions, work-related emails and computer applications.
To make sure your call center outsourcing vendor’s scheduling method is both effective and beneficial for your business, understand how they ensure each agent’s availability. For example, if shifts have gaps, then it is better to fill them with new hires than pay the overtime per hour for multiple agents. Usually, filling them out with current call center agents going on overtime can lead to a decrease in productivity. This is because paying for an exhausted sales agent to go overtime is not practical in many cases; your vendor may pay for their time but not their productivity.
Once you have something scoped out, remember to carefully read your SLAs with your counsel, focusing on setup fees, service levels, usage rates, training costs, call minimums, expansion and contraction of call volumes and the obligations and rules.
Also, don't forget to inquire about other services and contact center needs that you may need in the future. Think order processing, email response, appointment scheduling, message taking, email management, data entry, process automation, customer identification, call center sales and telemarketing, call routing and voice response setup and other miscellaneous answering services. Also, consider whether a 24 hour call center with 24x7 immediate response times is important for you.