What is call center outsourcing?
Let’s start with the basics. External Customer Service organizations exist to provide Call Center Outsourcing services to those who would like to supplement or replace their in-house operation. Outsourcing does not have to be a complete sweep of your Customer Service or Sales Department, you can hire an external center to take on certain tasks or levels of your business, or the entire operation if that’s the solution needed.
When partnering with an outsourced center, they will hire, train, and manage all resources on your behalf. With an internal customer service department, you may need to manage an internal center full of trainers, quality monitors, agents, etc., but you will likely only need one point of contact with an outsourced center, who will relay your expectations to the rest of their team.
If you are looking to add additional channels of communication to your existing operation, outsourcing is also a great way to go. Outsourcers often have existing clients using other channels of communication, and it’s a simple plug and play to assist you in extending your business. If you were to add live chat, for example, to your in-house center that is only equipped for phone and email, you would have a lot to consider in terms of systems, training, compatibility, and compliance. An outsourced center would make that transition easy for you, from the systems to the people using them.
After you decide exactly what to outsource, the next step is to decide where to outsource.
How to Know if I Should Hire a Call Center Outside of the USA?
There are three main destinations for your outsourced call center solutions, each with their own pros and cons. Assuming your company is based in the United States, a call center also located in the US would be considered onshore. Offshore call centers are located in another country, often overseas. Near shore call centers are somewhere in-between, in another country but not too far from the US coast.
On shore Call center
There are 3 main factors that we can use to distinguish between onshore and offshore call center solutions: Location, language, and cost. The most obvious benefit of an onshore call center is the location. If you need to visit the call center for training or just a check-in, it’s much easier to do so without having to hop on an international flight. Even if a call center is across the country, you won’t need to worry about passports for all of your team members, currency exchange, major time zone differences, etc. There is less prep involved in a domestic trip, and also a level of comfort for all involved. Culturally, you’ll know what to expect when traveling to another state in the US, or maybe even just another country if your call center is close by. The infrastructure is also familiar. If you feel comfortable hopping in an Uber in Michigan, you’ll have no trouble doing so in Florida. In terms of proximity alone, Onshore or Nearshore would be great options if you were looking to be more involved and hands-on with the business. We have clients who visit us 3 or 4 times per year, which would not be efficient if they had to travel across the globe.
When it comes to languages, you will find English-speaking agents in almost any location. However, onshore call centers will have majority native English speakers. The onshore agents will also have more cultural context and shared experiences with your US customers. To expand, although offshore call center employees may speak English, their day-to-day life and overall cultural context is different than in the US. Onshore call center employees will have an easier time engaging your customers in more meaningful conversion based on their shared US experiences. This is beneficial for a company with mostly US based customers, but if your clientele is more diverse you’ll want to verify that your near shore center has proficiency in all of the languages you’d like to offer.
The most common reason why a company would choose to outsource to an offshore or near shore center as opposed to onshore would be the cost. You will need to pay much higher for the proximity, culture, and experience that come with an onshore call center. Some of these costs could come close to or likely exceed the cost of running your own in-house center, but you would have the comfort of knowing it’s run in a quality fashion without the burden of closely managing it. Expivia USA offers an online calculator to compare the costs of running an in-house operation versus outsourcing, here.
Offshore Call center
ROI Solutions defines an offshore call center as providing, “a company with around-the-clock services as well as multiple language options at a fraction of the cost to the parent company. Offshore call centers can also reduce the need to invest in communications technology and help lower the overhead cost of customer support infrastructure.” While onshore call centers are often more expensive to outsource due to the quality and convenience, offshore call centers offer significant cost savings. Due to the difference in economies, the cost of handling calls, staffing a team, and cost of real estate for the center make an offshore call center more affordable for US companies to work with.
Looking at languages can simultaneously be a benefit and a drawback, depending on what you’re looking for. You’ll find a more diverse set of languages in an offshore call center, and also bilingual staff who speak multiple languages. If your call volume only requires 1 agent, but your customers speak English, French and German, you may need to hire 2 or 3 agents to cover that position in the US. In an offshore or near shore center, you’ll have a better chance at staffing 1 or 2 agents who can cover all 3. Although diversity in languages is a plus, you must also consider the language and cultural barriers. Although they may speak English, it’s usually not their native language, which makes it difficult to deviate far from your script. If you have a verbatim message that your customer service team needs to stick to, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue. However, if you’re looking for your agents to take a more conversational approach to customer service, deviating from the script and understanding cultural references, you may want to look at onshore or nearshore partners.
Location is an obvious differentiator of an offshore call center, but what does this mean? If you are outsourcing your customer service business, you are also outsourcing the management of that operation. The outsourcer will take care of staffing, training, and quality monitoring on your behalf, so your level of involvement will be up to you. If you have a consistent, simple operation that requires very little upkeep and retraining, then you may only need to visit your offshore call center a few times. Communicating virtually is not the most efficient, but it may be all that’s necessary to keep your business running smoothly. Proximity is not as big of a factor if you are taking the hands off approach to managing your call center partner.
On the other hand, coordinating a more complex operation that requires more in person training would be difficult with an offshore center. Not just with the long flight time, but also with the large difference in time zones. For example, 3pm EST is 3am in Manila, the capital of the Philippines which houses many offshore call centers. Keep in mind when traveling that your sleep and work schedule will be flipped, and you may need to allocate extra days before and after your visit to adjust. Dougie Cameron details the sleepless nights of a global operation in this ICMI article.
Near Shore Call centers
I saved near shore for last, because it’s somewhere in the middle of the previous two options. Choosing a near shore call center is not as black and white. You will find that these centers are somewhere on a spectrum of the aforementioned pros and cons. You can find near shore centers in countries like Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. They’ll vary in proximity, price and culture so it’s important to know what you’re looking for in an outsourced partner before making a decision. We complied a list of 6 things you’ll want to consider when choosing a nearshore call center on our blog.
Although all nearshore call centers are typically in the same hemisphere as the US, some will be easier to travel to than others. For example, a business in California prioritizing proximity may find it more beneficial to work with a call center in Mexico as opposed to Puerto Rico, while many businesses in Florida partner with providers in South America.
Aside from proximity, you’ll want to verify that the infrastructure matches your needs. If your headquarters is located on the coast and susceptible to natural disasters, you may find an inland call center beneficial. You can look to your call center partner not only as an extension of your business, but also as a contingency in case something happens to your main site.
Compare prices not just in numbers, but also in their specialties. One nearshore call center may be priced higher because they have access to highly trained talent with technical skills, but maybe that’s not your niche. On the other hand, if that is your niche you can weigh the price against the value that location can provide.
Each of these three options of onshore, offshore, and nearshore is no better or worse than the other, it all depends on where your priorities lie!
Call center based in Colombia
To give you a better sense of the nearshore call center experience, let’s dig into Bogotá, Colombia as an example. Bogotá is considered “nearshore” because although it is a different country, it’s not a far trip from the United States. Depending on where you’re located in the US, Bogotá may only be a few hours away on a plane.
Colombia, and Bogotá specifically, also has a great workforce to choose from. As the Capital, Bogotá has a lot of bilingual talent, some of whom are native English speakers who moved there to study Spanish. You’ll find a quality English level in Bogotá, and you’ll also find that the Spanish is fairly neutral. There are many different dialects of Spanish, and the range can vary immensely from Spain, to Mexico, to Puerto Rico for example. Nearshore Americas writes, “The Colombian accent, especially in Bogota, is widely considered the most neutral. And that makes a huge difference when fielding calls from all over the Spanish-speaking world.”
In addition to this, you’ll find an educated workforce in Bogotá. Students travel from all over Latin America to attend the Universities in Bogotá, and according to TopUniversities.com, the capital was nicknamed “The South American Athens” due to its extensive education system and libraries. It was also the first Latin American city to be granted the World Book Capital title in 2007 by UNESCO. This is all to say that your Bogotá call center will be staffed with agents working toward a higher education, and a management team of experts.
How to choose the best outsourced contact center
Find Your Focus Point
In order to identify the best call center provider for you, you must first identify your own needs. A good outsource partner will work as an extension of your company, like a piece of a puzzle. What works for others may not work for you, so it’s helpful to first map out what you’re looking for in terms of location, language and cost as detailed above.
Create a Detailed RFP
Once you’ve mapped out what your own puzzle looks like, you’re ready to search for the matching piece. We’ve detailed the steps of hiring a customer service outsourcing provider on our blog. Creating a detailed RFP (Request for Proposal) is a great place to start. Spend some time putting together a strategic questionnaire that elicits the responses you’ll need to judge if the provider is a good fit for you. For example, if high quality is a big focus for you, you can inquire about how they measure quality in their center and what resources they have to monitor it. There are centers with entire departments built out dedicated only to quality assurance, while others may be focused more on quantity over quality. Neither approach is wrong, but you’re looking for that piece that fits your puzzle.
Request Historical Data
In addition to your pointed questions, ask some general questions about their track record with performance. Net Promotor and CSAT scores are metrics that can give you a good sense of how they interact with their customers, and how they will interact with yours. Case studies from their current clients can also be helpful. You’ll see examples of their achievements, but also get a sense for what they consider to be a successful accomplishment.
Experience the Culture
When it comes down to it, the best action you can take before choosing your outsourced contact center provider is visit the center. Once you narrow your search down to your top two or three contenders, take a trip for a site tour of each location. You’ll learn a lot about the company culture, and also what the surrounding area has to offer. In these uncertain times, you can also request to do a virtual site visit. Map out an agenda where you’ll have a chance to sit down with the heads of each department over videoconference, and also meet with a few Supervisors and Agents to get the full picture.
Pros of outsourcing your callcenter service
The Balance Small Business online lists these 7 advantages of outsourcing, which apply to businesses of any size.
- Lower costs
- Promote growth
- Maintain operational control
- Offer staffing flexibility
- Provide continuity and risk management
- Focus on core tasks
- Develop internal staff
Lower Costs and Infrastructure
We spoke a bit about the lower costs associated with offshore and nearshore call centers, but it’s more than just the staff. There are a lot of expenses outside of running the day-to-day operation that you may not expect. Running a successful customer service department requires training, quality monitoring, re-training, and the right tools for success. In addition to that, you’ll want expert management staff who can thoughtfully create and update those training programs, and select and manage the most efficient tools. The call center world is ever changing, and you’ll need to keep this in mind if you want to keep up. An advantage of outsourcing is taking that burden of staying up to date on trends off of your plate.
Outsourcing to a call center partner that is committed to being an expert in the field at all times is a good investment to ensure your business is always moving and growing in the right direction. Not only will a good outsource provider research and recommend new systems when they become available, but they will often have a deal with system providers to offer tools to multiple clients at a lower cost. If you were to purchase that tool just for your company, you’ll likely pay a higher monthly fee for licenses than a call center that is servicing multiple companies. With that in mind, call centers can provide lower costs for staff, management expertise, and systems, and also promote growth in your business for the same reasons. Moreover, they can promote growth in the physical sense, as there is often room to grow into a call center at no extra charge, while growing an internal operation often entails purchasing more space.
Staffing flexibility is also a big benefit of outsourcing your call center. Your staffing costs can double or sometimes triple if you are looking to extend the hours of your in-house call center. 24/7 support can be costly, but your outsourced provider may offer this at little to no extra charge. Many outsource providers already have the infrastructure for this type of support, so it isn’t difficult to add hours or even provide flexibility if you need to ramp up and down during certain seasons. Call centers can also provide holiday support, especially if it’s a US specific holiday.
Find your Balance
There is a balance that you gain when outsourcing when it comes to focusing your business practice. When putting your customer service business is in the hands of experts, they will elevate that side of your operation. There will be more of a focus on customer service, while on the other hand you can refocus your internal resources elsewhere. A win-win!
Cons of outsourcing your call center service
It’s important to be aware of the cons of outsourcing, because it’s not the right move for every business. However, awareness of these disadvantages can help you in selecting the right outsourcer for you.
Forbes lists the three major cons of outsourcing as lack of control, communication issues, and problems with quality.
Lack of Control
If your business requires complete control over your customer service operation, then outsourcing in general may not be the best way to go. However, if you do your research and select a partner that has experience and expertise in your industry, then the decrease of control will feel more comfortable. This is where your RFP and site visit come into play, as you want to select a partner who you can trust to elevate your business.
Communication and Quality
The same idea goes for communication and quality, you’ll want to consider how the time zones match up with yours and what issues that could potentially create. When you’re visiting the center, take note of how the management team communicates with each other and put yourself in that dynamic.
You’ll also want to consider the outsourcer’s company culture as it compares to your own. Not every piece will be the best fit for your puzzle. Even when you find the matching piece, it will not be a seamless process 100% of the time. It’ll take consistent and clear communication from both parties to make the partnership work!