Getting Started with Outsource Contact Centers

Recently a client was considering selecting a contact center (or call center, or customer engagement center…we’ll stick to the term contact center) and reached out for guidance.  What stood out in this conversation was the amount of trust they expected to place in their short-list of potential contact center partners.  What’s weird is that the brand is totally awesome, and the reason it’s awesome is because they’re super anal about every detail.  But for some reason, the contact center element seemed a reasonable exception.  The assumption was they would engage the contact center, sign the agreement, and all would be well.  That’s kind of like sending a cheque for $30,000 to your local car dealer and expecting them to deliver you the car that represented the best value for that money.  We would never do that because, while we love our car dealers, we also recognize they’re in business to maximize profit.  The same is true for contact center outsourcers.

Getting Started With Your Contact Center Outsourcer

Briefly, below are some of the fundamentals of contact centers essential to managing your brand experience.  Being aware of these details will help you ensure your contact center partner is serving up the customer experience you are expecting:

Shared Environment or “Shared Resources”

The amount of inbound calls you anticipate, along with your budget, will determine whether the agents answering your calls will only work for your brand, or if they will work for a variety of brands.  Unless your call volume supports a dedicated team, chances are good that you’ll have what is known as “shared resources.”  This means that when a call comes in, the agent will hear a “whisper tone” that quietly whispers the name of your brand to the agent (through their headset), and then the agent’s screen displays the appropriate greeting (while not all contact centers use whisper tones, many do).

What to Watch For – The Dreaded First Call Syndrome

If your call volume is light, it’s likely that your agents will receive many more of the calls they’re used to before they get their first call for your brand.  In other words, whatever training they had could be ancient history before they say their first Hello to one of your customers.  The result is that they may stammer, place the customer on hold while they get information, or in a worst case scenario provide false information.  While it’s the job of the contact center to minimize these risks (and they’ll probably do the best they can with their resources), the brands that succeed at this stage are the ones that manage this closely.  Not doing so can risk creating avoidable customer related issues driven by insufficient training and preparation to get the first calls right.

When Every Call is the First Call

A lack of call volume (or, more accurately, call frequency) also creates the risk that any learning the agents benefited from on their first call(s) is forgotten in the span of time it takes for them to receive subsequent calls.  The result is that every call feels like the first call, with the unfortunate agent stumbling through script and procedures, while struggling to remember what do to next.  The outcome:  Every customer experience is sub-optimal at best and disastrous at worst.  Many brands leave it up to the contact center to ensure all calls are handled professionally (I’ve never been sure what that really meant).  Keep in mind that call centers are low margin businesses.  The safest path is to assume that your contact center will default to the worst customer experience your brand will tolerate in order to keep costs low.  That’s not an indictment of contact center outsourcers, it’s simply a fact of doing business in a very busy, resource constrained environment.

What You Can Do About It

If you’re considering a contact center, or see yourself in one of the scenarios above, there are steps you can take to help ensure your customers receive the level of support you have envisioned.  Here is a short list of what you can consider:

During Contract Negotiations

Get it in writing:  Discuss call quality before you sign the agreement.  Contact Centers want to do the best job they can for you.  Make it easy for them by clearly defining the quality standards that you expect.  As well, valid questions include how frequently will agents be coached?  What does written documentation of coaching look like?  Who decides if calls are meeting quality standards? (Answer: You do, with the contact center’s input!); What is the process for you to listen to recorded calls?  What is the process for change should calls not meet quality standards?

If You’ve Already Signed your Agreement:  Squeak!

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease:  My mother used to say when I was a kid, and I have never found it to be more apt than in working with outsource contact centers.  They are busy places, often running short of the human resources needed to provide the best service to all of their clients.  The unfortunate result is that to get the best service for your customers, you’ll have to take my mom’s advice and be a squeaky wheel.  This doesn’t mean being “high maintenance” necessarily.  You can be of significant, genuine assistance to your contact center partner by offering to provide agent coaching and training when necessary, and by providing frequent call listening and feedback and clear direction.  If you’ve already signed your agreement, make sure your contact center outsourcer is held accountable to your standards, and don’t be shy in helping them achieve those standards.  If they’re serious about providing a good experience, they’ll appreciate the help.

The Buck…Guess Where it Stops:

Yep, with you.  If your customers call and speak to an agent who is unprepared, your brand pays the price in lost sales and a poor customer experience, and your call center outsourcer will get paid regardless.  Therefore the onus is on you to do what it takes so that you have confidence that your customers are treated to the best call with every call. 

Feel free to Share!

If you found this helpful, that’s awesome!  Feel free to share with any brand you may know who is considering entering into a contact center outsourcer relationship.  No one wants to learn the hard way.  :)

Feel Free to Reach Out!

Also, the above is really only the tip of the iceberg.  Send us an email and book a free consultation.  Let us help you avoid some problematic errors and ensure that when your customers call you, their experience is an adequate reflection of all the great work that has gone into making your brand fabulous.

Posted by Pat Perdue Pat has been working with contact centers for over 20 years

Posted by Pat Perdue Pat has been working with contact centers for over 20 years


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