How to make outsourcing work and ensure outside firms are 'on brand'
Taking high-tech or specialised contact centres in-house costs time and money if you fail get third-party service you want
I'm a big fan of organisations putting the customer at the heart of all decision-making. I also love to see organisations saying it publicly in their various communications, such as in vision and mission statements.
But there is always one proviso and that is the company must live that mantra at every single touch-point, day in and day out. Consistency is key.
For example, on the Eir website I found this: "Everything we do is built around our customers. You're an essential part of our vision of a brighter, modern and more dynamic future together". This is what Eir claim they do today. If you've had any contact with Eir over the years, you can decide if it lives up to this promise.
Now I know that's tough and delivering perfect consistency is a Holy Grail for most. Even the great Superquinn back in the day, suffered occasionally from out-of-stocks which of course annoyed some customers. But we know that the culture in Superquinn that drove this agenda, came from the top and delivering consistently great customer experience was core to the business.
The Hidden Hearing Challenge
When Hidden Hearing embarked on a culture-change programme in 2015, it put the patient at the heart of all decision-making. Processes changed, resources were beefed up where necessary, internal and external communications changed and most of all, the behaviours of its people were recalibrated.
Obstacles to becoming a customer/patient were identified and efforts made to eliminate those obstacles. For example, the 30-day refund policy was extended to 90 days. Warranties were increased from two to four years. A patient can now get free batteries for the life of the device and Hidden Hearing will keep talking to patients every few months to re-adjust devices for free.
But they have to find those customers in the first place. The marketing business model is designed to pull big numbers of relevant people into a funnel. When those customers engage they become part of the CRM system and are contacted by the contact centre to make an appointment for a free consultation. This is where a gap emerged.
Because of the specialism involved in running a contact centre, which includes high-tech telephony, IT systems, data reports and skilled people, Hidden Hearing outsourced this service.
After some time, service levels dropped and so did sales. Managing director Stephen Leddy is rightly very protective of the brand DNA, as articulated through the mission and values. The evidence was that customers were not getting the quality of care and attention at this critical first point of contact. "Simply put, the contact centre just wasn't 'on-brand'," he said.
At considerable capex and ongoing operating cost, the contact centre is now a fully functioning department in its Citywest head office, fully integrated and managed by the management team. The decision was taken to bring it back in-house so that the company can control it fully and ensure a seamless customer experience at all touch points.
Change Tips for Outsourcing
Despite this, I believe in the outsourcing model. However, I also believe that it is critical for an outsource provider to 'be on brand' or suffer the wrath of demanding clients in a changing marketplace. This is what I advise when considering outsourcing:
1 Is outsourcing appropriate? If the project requires a specialist set of skills, technology or capex that is not within your current parameters, then outsourcing is worth considering.
2 Build a plan with clear metrics: Be very clear on what your objectives are, what is essential and what is desirable, and what are the measures of success. This will enable a proposed partner to bid effectively and agree a strong service level agreement (SLA).
3 Select a provider that can deliver on your brand promise: The partner should take time to really understand your business and display that they have similar values to you. They should illustrate how they will integrate seamlessly with your people and your customers.
4 Don't let price be the main criteria: The adage, 'buy cheap, buy twice' will show its ugly head here if you select a partner on price only. I saw it with an in-house caterer who won the bid on price alone. Within weeks, the morale of the workforce dropped dramatically. Be sure the metrics in the SLA also reflect qualitative measures such as customer feedback, etc.
5 Get a dedicated team: If the provider insists on being able to rotate their own people across different organisations to cover peak trading times, watch out. This may enable the provider to manage their own costs, but not without risk to the quality of the service.
6 Communicate regularly: Don't let time zones or language prevent regular, structured and effective communications. Clear metrics and flashy reports are not enough. There is nothing to beat sitting down on a regular basis and chatting through the detail. Continue to own your own project.
Turning now to the service provider: You may be a contact centre, logistics provider, caterer, R&D specialist, contractor, IT or HR practice providing services to your clients. But if you are not offering a seamless service both to your clients and their customers, cracks will show eventually.
Customer experience in my view, is becoming the next great battleground for business. As a service provider you already know the steps outlined above. But as the market continues to change, the need for seamless integration with your client has never been more acute.
- Alan's debut book 'Premium is the New Black' will be launched in October.
- Alan O’Neill is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie if you’d like help with your business. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday Indo Business