Outsourcing: In or Out for
Call Center Operations
Charles E. Day CMC, FIMC, President, Charles E. Day & Associates
Direct Marketing News Magazine
Call center outsourcing is now a widely
accepted alternative to in-house call centers. Providing sophisticated
technology and a wide range of services todayís outsourced bureaus and
agencies represent an integral part of many companiesí sales cycles
and/or customer-contact loops. But not all call centers are created equal.
They vary in many ways including size, applications offered, costs, client
servicing, access to information, training provided, quality control and
general approach to teleservices projects.
How to Select a Call Center Service Agency
Whether a companyís outsourcing needs are
large or small, there are specific approaches to selecting the right
agency. Key criteria includes:
measure refers not only to the type of capability and the number of
seats, but to actual transaction volumes of inbound and outbound calls.
These quantifiers help define the technical and human resource
capabilities at hand.
- Agency size and capability.
Close geographic proximity to the service bureau may or may not be
important. Location tends to be more important with respect to the quality
of labor pool, good telecommunications, ease of access by employees, as
well as the corporate culture represented by that region of the country.
Meet and greet firsthand the Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) and
the Telephone Sales Representatives (TSRs) who will represent the company.
When the reputation of a company is at stake, itís important to have a
firsthand look at the front-liners as well as supervisory and management
demeanor in the operating environment. It is equally important to begin
building a relationship with support staff and to understand their roles
in the overall organization structure.
Database management and reporting.
The ability to handle client databases with accuracy and great quality is
extremely important. Relational database capabilities and access to legacy
host processors remain a high priority. Since data analysis goes beyond
capturing and translating reporting function, it is extremely important
that an agency demonstrates its technical and support function for
managing this valuable resource effectively. This permits the timely
decision making required repeatedly during campaign processing.
Integrated technologies are important, as is the potential to add more
sophisticated services and equipment in the future. For inbound, look for:
ACD versus PBX modified, skills base routing, interactive voice response
capability; for outbound: autodialing and predictive dialing, list
management capability; for both: workforce management software, remote and
onsite monitoring, interface with client data systems, automated fax, and
fax on demand capabilities, Internet access, scripting software,
modification tools, disaster recovery and prevention, detail and real time
reporting, computer telephone integration, compatible and flexible
relational database capabilities, as well as, ability for third party
transfer if necessary and multi-media functionality if required. Keep in
mind that the use of advanced technologies is an indication of the level
of quality and speed in handling business functions. It may also be an
indication of TSR/CSR motivation and skill level in handling more advanced
and sophisticated work requirements.
Investigate training thoroughly including the type, quantity, frequency
and quality of support material. The supervisor to CSR/TSR ratio also
weighs heavily with respect to the time allowed during the business
process for coaching, monitoring and counseling. It is wise to look for
training programs that are campaign-specific and include role-play, voice
projection, sales and other types of communication training.
The ability to produce timely and clear information regarding results of
teleservices work is fundamental. A client's involvement in the overall
process for monitoring and providing more advanced customer service
capability can be an integral part of the overall marketing and sales
Management experience and outlook.
Managersí experience with respect to customer service, problem
resolution skills, human resources management and technology is a good
indication of how the teleservices business operates, as well as how a
campaign will be conducted. The vision demonstrated in initial interviews
and the consistency in management styles across various support functions
can be pivotal with respect to a selection decision.
Quality of service.
In addition to the onsite observations, it is important to investigate the
background and reputation of the agency's relationships with other
clients. It is equally important to get a good handle on the internal
quality assurance procedures that exist. Watch for the use of real-time
and historical reporting to keep tabs on trends with respect to list
penetration, the quality of list generated and the numbers of contacts and
problems encountered. Request samples of day-to-day and monthly statistics
for call lengths, average time on hold, call abandonment, average speed of
answer, call handling time, and queue time. Additionally, look for reports
that show percent of calls handled correctly on the first time, relative
to callbacks, availability of staff for shifts, the average cost per call,
as well as the cost per agent and per minute.
Agent satisfaction and compensation. While
not typically included on the evaluation list, and sometimes difficult to
obtain, it is important to have a good idea of the level of job
satisfaction agents describe and how satisfied they are with respect to
wages and other compensation programs. Observation of working agents in
the call center can be valuable. Listening to agents making and receiving
calls may give insight as to how customers are treated. Job satisfaction,
or lack of, may be an indication of potential turnover, retraining,
motivation and level of eagerness to satisfy a customer. High turnover and
constant retraining can lower the skill level and ability of staffers to
complete work in a timely and cost effective fashion.
Success Requires Teamwork
Benefits are achieved by managing the
relationship. This is done through conscientious call center management,
counseling of the operator and overall management of the program with good
metrics and quantifiable terms during test and contract periods. Pay
Per Performance (PPP) contracts and quality information from projects
can lead to better customization of the program characteristic to ensure
continued cost effectiveness and, of course, improved customer
satisfaction. When the call center can focus on the technology and
developing the appropriate procedures and human resource programs, the
outsourcer can then better focus on developing more effective marketing
campaigns, measuring results and inventing new and more creative ideas for
expanding customer services and a company's overall profitability.
The selection of an appropriate
teleservices partner is not always based on the size, but may depend on
other criteria such as synergy, background and experience with the defined
application. Additionally, the best pricing and guarantees of service
levels are important. There are several hundred outsourced teleservices,
and many can be viewed at www.tmcnet.com
Some of the major players include: