Hosting the Host � Lessons in Outsourcing Customer Care Staff

Updated · Aug 01, 2001

By Chuck Sykes, Senior Vice President and General Manager, the
Americas, SYKES

Some of the largest consumer-facing companies in the world are looking
to solve what we call the “triple whammy” — how to get the best
customer support performance, at the best price while treating customers
like the world revolves around them.

Jupiter Research is projecting that with more complex products being
sold over the Web, voice interaction will be the support of choice, and
e-mail will follow. Businesses are already finding that the number of
customer interactions is growing, despite the era of online
self-service. Customers are moving to the Web to shop, but they want a
higher level of contact and right now they are turning more frequently
to the telephone.

People still want to interact in a human way — they still need to
talk, so you have to find a solution to meet this expectation. Offshore
and hosted facilities can help alleviate the pain in managing this rise
in customer demand.

A new report from Frost & Sullivan estimates that the market for
outsourcing inbound and outbound customer care, help desk, and
telemarketing, will be worth US $60 billion by 2007. The opportunity is
there for the providers — but what are the opportunities,
advantages, benefits, and potential potholes, for the companies in need?

For an organization that needs a contact center to service customer
demands and interaction there are some options. You first need to decide
whether you can afford to locate, build, equip, staff and operate your
own contact center; whether a joint venture is feasible; or if you can
outsource the entire job to a reputable company.

Here are few thoughts to consider for each path:

The lock, stock and barrel route. Be prepared to commit up front
and ongoing multi-millions in capital to locate, build, equip, staff and
operate your own contact center. If you have the expertise, or can hire
an experienced consulting organization to achieve your goals, this might
be a good choice.

The carpool path. Joint ventures can be a good way to share
risks and rewards in an area where you do not have total expertise. Your
partners need to understand the intricacies of local government,
staffing and cultural issues, as well as technical infrastructure.

The hired hand approach. By outsourcing the entire job to an
experienced contact center business you gain control of how you want
your customers treated, and at what costs. Be sure to decide up front
whether you want the company to link up with your systems and also gauge
their reputation in the country you have selected. Once you decide to
outsource to the hired hand, ask yourself the following questions to
ensure the best partner in the initiative:

  • Has the management team run a contact center of the size and
    scale required to get the job done?
    Hands-on experience cannot be
    underestimated. The number of skills required span from workforce
    scheduling to training, call handling and data-mining. Selecting an
    outsourcer that can provide skilled staff and management from a CRM
    background, as well as the systems and site expertise will provide

  • Does the organization have a full understanding of any local
    government regulation, employment and business issues in the offshore
    An in-depth knowledge of local tax issues or employment
    laws is imperative. On the ground, a provider should also be able to
    source and prepare regional businesses to support a new call center
    location, (such as telecom, security firms and other vendors). All
    contacts need to be examined by a trusted provider who understands the
    local culture as well as the expectations and standards of your

  • Can you get the right staff? Customer service or technical
    support agents need to be carefully selected and trained. The location
    needs to have the raw talent available and the right mix of part- and
    full-time employees to keep the contact center at optimum operational
    levels, while allowing for the fluctuations in volume and demand.
    Offshore facilities in developing markets offer an open and untapped
    labor pool, and one that can be trained and developed to a companys own

  • Channel capabilities — can the center handle all incoming
    contacts, including voice, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), fax, as
    well as e-mail, for example?
    Your customers want to be able to use
    any channel of communication they choose. Voice is the hardest channel
    to take offshore, but remains important in making your customers feel
    part of something local, close and comfortable.

Companies using a hosted center want guarantees that by putting their
customers in someone else's hands service levels won't fall. As a
checklist, in order to be there for your customers at every stage, what
steps should a host provider follow and what should you expect if you

  1. State of the art technology. Some of the main ingredients
    of a top tier outsourced solution would include: a software system with
    open architecture to link with you and support a heterogeneous
    environment of carrier networks; ACD (automatic call distribution), PBX
    (private branch exchange or private telephone switchboard) , IVR
    (interactive voice response), Web, and e-mail platforms; and
    complementary software applications.

  2. Less investment risk. As businesses improve customer service
    to help them become more customer-centric, there is a risk that
    companies will invest considerable time and money building
    second-generation CRM systems and find themselves fenced in when
    customers start demanding third and fourth generation services.

  3. Synchronized reporting and routing. The service solutions
    should allow you to obtain a real time view of customer contacts and the
    software needs to make contact-routing decisions for populating agent
    desktop applications.

  4. Trained, customer-centric, staff. A highly skilled and
    customer-centric workforce trained in technical skills and “soft” skills
    will engender a close bond between your brand and your customer.

  5. Flexibility. As your business expands, or as you face peak
    customer contact periods in the customer life cycle, you need an
    outsourcer that can ramp-up quickly to support your growth, as well as
    tool-down during slower business periods.

If someone else is playing host, you should be able to sit back and reap
the benefits for your customers, if you've covered these bases and found
a solid partner. Any provider needs to have the expertise in
understanding, using and supporting the technology to maximize the
investment in a hosted service. But only when combined with the right
people and processes to manage it will this deliver a world-class
service that meets the triple whammy on all sides — giving support,
at a fair price, for the best customer service.

SYKES has been providing expert outsourcing and consulting solutions to the world's leaders in the technology, finance and communications industries for over 24 years.

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