How to...choose the right contact center outsourcer.

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They have efficient cost structures, access to low-cost, multilingual, and often supremely qualified staff. Call center outsourcers have something many firms want, but without the right awareness and planning an outsourcing relationship won't deliver its promised ROI. Outsourcers can't deliver quality interactions to your customers without demonstrable industry knowledge and a proven plan to absorb and disseminate information on the particulars of your business to their staff as your needs and your market change. The key to understanding the potential return on an outsourcing arrangement is to first understand the inefficiencies and challenges facing your current customer contact solution and then to set targets for the outsourcer to meet to improve the situation. A narrow cost-cutting initiative that does not incorporate customer satisfaction, first-call resolution, and knowledge sharing considerations will not ultimately deliver business improvement. If increasing sell-through rates is important, take the time to craft a contract structure that compensates agents adequately, since they are not directly receiving reviews and bonuses from your firm. Some outsourcers will be more amenable to performance-based compensation than others, which should help shake out those who are simply in the business of closing phone calls in favor of those interested in aiding the growth of customer relationships. "Is your partner willing to put skin in the game and guarantee results?" says Steven Sacks, CRM offering director for outsourcer EDS. "That means we put penalties against [poor] results, but if we exceed expectations, we take extra rewards." From performance metrics to the tougher questions of customer satisfaction and agent performance, communication must be two-way and ongoing. "If the [contact] center is built and managed to operate such that it not only resolves the problems brought to it, but also steps back and tries to figure out why people are calling in the first place, it can provide the business feedback and real value," says Dave Brandt, vice president of operations at Computer Generated Solutions, a technical support outsourcing specialist. Vetting outsourcing partners is something best kept internal to the organization, preferably among the same executives currently responsible for internal contact management. "It's a little easier to select an outsourcer [internally], and it makes you feel more comfortable with the decision," Sacks says. During the selection process insist on seeing real client reporting rather than perfect-world mock-ups, with the names changed to protect the innocent as appropriate. "It should be easy to get them to give you examples," Brandt says. Although cost savings are a powerful lure in the outsourcing market, spend time carefully considering whether a given low-cost option suits the business objectives of your contact center in the first place. Sacks says that this is particularly relevant for outsourcers working on a flat cost-per-agent-minute basis with no meaningful performance metrics attached. "Think about it--is that the way you want to be priced? What incentive do I have as an outsourcer to be more productive for you?" As call center outsourcing options have blossomed both in the United States and internationally, the slate of choices might seem overwhelming. Stay focused on the objectives you define for your outsourcing project, rather than being led down a path to a service offering that does not suit your business.
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