Maintaining Satisfactory Customer Service in an Outsourced Environment

[This article was originally published in Field Service News on January 22, 2019]

As customers become more sophisticated, the market more complicated, the economy more volatile, and the services community more demanding, it is also becoming more difficult to manage all customer service-related activities in-house. As a result, many businesses have turned to outsourcing in order to ensure that they have the required staffing and resources to get the total job done.

While some businesses may outsource only in non-core competency areas such as accounting and payroll, secretarial and clerical, or even telesales, others may outsource entire blocks of their core business activities to firms specialising in distinct areas such as field service, technical support, customer service, sales management, manufacturing and production, human resources, quality control, etc.

However, whether the organisation’s customer service functions are staffed by full-time company employees, part-time support personnel, outsourced agencies or personnel, or any combination thereof, one thing remains certain; the company’s customers and prospects must receive consistently high levels of customer service and support, regardless of whose personnel they happen to be dealing with at any given moment.

Most managers agree that the key ingredient for success in running a services business, whether it is run exclusively by an organisation’s own full-time employees, or supplemented in part by outside personnel, outsource agencies or other third parties, is to have all of the workers that represent the business in the marketplace put on a cohesive and consistent front when they deal with customers and prospects. It is important to remember that customers will not care what type of employee representing your company was rude to them on the telephone, or did not provide them with the desired level of customer service – all they will remember is that your business failed to get the job done.

There are many good reasons for why a services organisation might consider outsourcing; but before entering into any specific outsourcing agreement, you should first prepare yourself, and your employees, for the most effective way to manage this complementary workforce. We suggest six basic recommended guidelines:

  1. Train your outsourced personnel as if they were your own employees. Make sure they understand the products and services you sell, the markets you sell to, and the way you normally conduct business. If your business involves dealing with highly demanding customers such as hospitals, banks or aerospace, etc., make sure they share the same “sense of urgency” that your own employees have when they deal with these types of customers.
  2. Take any outsourced customer contact workers on a short “field trip” to show them how your customer support center works and, if direct customer contacts will eventually be made in the field, take them along on a few customer calls first to show them the way you normally treat your customers.
  3. Provide the manager of the outsourced operation with a fail-safe “back door” to a full-time manager at your company, even at the C-level, if necessary. Let the manager know that he/she is not in it alone when help is needed.
  4. Get daily reports in a standard reporting format (e.g., problem or exception reports) every morning to ensure that everything is in order, and that no special problems are developing.
  5. Give your outsourced employees samples of your company’s products or other items, product pictures or services marketing brochures. You may also want to give them some small gifts with your company’s logo or name on them, such as T-shirts, mugs, pens, desk calendars, a picture frame, etc. This might be especially helpful in dealing with an outsourced night crew or other off-shift workers who would otherwise have no real contact with your full-time company personnel. Some businesses arrange for an Open House lunch or reception for their outsourced personnel for the purpose of having them meet the full-time staff.
  6. Problems should be confronted immediately, head on, with the outsource manager. When your own managers are faced with a problem, they typically know exactly what to do – they have been there before. However, the same problems may be new to your outsource managers, and they may need some immediate help from your own management.

Outsourcing is basically a “partnership” designed to deliver quality equal to or greater than that which you yourself would provide. We have found that too often these agreements are handled more as a “’vendor” relationship, rather than as a partnership, even to the point where the in-house person responsible is often referred to as the “Vendor Manager.” Sometimes, simple things like this set the wrong tone right from the start – and things can easily go downhill from there. It is crucially important to create an atmosphere whereby your partners feel they are part of your company’s service delivery infrastructure, and not just an add-on.

Treating outsource vendors and their employees in the manner described through these six suggestions is the first step to creating a win/win alliance. However, it is typically the attitude of the key people that often makes the difference between success and failure in any relationship. By following these six suggestions, a services organisation can maximise its chances for cultivating an environment that would allow for the attainment of desired levels of customer service and satisfaction.