• December 13, 2004
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

6 Secrets to Selecting the Right Contact Center Location

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Too often organizations take a tactical, cost-focused approach to customer service, instead of developing a holistic strategy that serves to build satisfaction and sales opportunities while keeping costs in check. This cost-only approach has led many companies to rush into outsourcing their contact centers offshore without fully considering other choices and such potential outcomes as the consumer backlash that some firms are now experiencing. Recently, many companies have begun to take a new approach, which some industry pundits call rightshoring--finding a balanced solution to running a customer contact center that best meets the needs of both an organization and its customers. Rightshoring may lead to a service operation that's a mix of components, not entirely in-house or offshore, nor automated or staffed with live agents. That mix will be different for each company. "Companies need to look at rightshoring as the right mix of geography, automation, and live-agent contacts to balance their customer experience properly," says Andrea Ayers, vice president of marketing, customer management group, for Convergys. "Companies have to take a balanced-solution approach to optimizing customer contacts." Consider the following six steps when selecting a contact center location with a rightshore balance: Step 1: Integrate the customer service strategy with the larger business strategy of the enterprise. It's imperative to understand the goals of the company's customer care strategy. Is it crafted to deliver a competitive advantage or is it viewed as a cost center that must constantly be squeezed for every possible savings? It is then important to understand how that customer care strategy fits in with the firm's overall business goals. Step 2: Identify customers' needs and expectations.
Every organization's customers are different--even within the same industry--and what drives one customer service strategy does not necessarily drive another. Use surveys and other market research options to determine how customers define a positive service experience. Learning what customers want or expect is critical. Is it first-contact resolution, numerous contact options, a pleasant agent, a comprehensive online knowledge center? Just as important is using that information in combination with the company's needs to set realistic customer expectations. "Customer satisfaction leads to customer loyalty," says Bob Furniss, president of consulting service Touchpoint Associates. "Companies need to work with what they get from their customers." Step 3: Determine the best mix of automated and live-agent support. Although an IVR works well in certain situations like checking account balances or flight delays, agents are more appropriate for other, more complex requests. "A company needs to figure out what type of calls are coming into a call center, and find what can be handled by the IVR and Internet and what needs to be dealt with by a live agent," Furniss says. "It's about having that balanced solution." Analyzing demographic information can help, because it may reveal such characteristics as how comfortable customers are with automation. Step 4: Research the benefits and drawbacks of various geographies. There's more to choosing a contact center location than costs. Organizations should also consider such issues as infrastructure, follow-the-sun support, and language skills needed. "An American automotive company that sells cars in Germany might want a contact center there, staffed with people who can provide the linguistic support necessary to provide customer support for Germans driving their cars," says Brian Bingham, global manager of CRM and customer care research at IDC. Similarly, "in an offshore location you could run into problems with that country not understanding how the U.S. culture works. That can become a roadblock in communicating. Companies need to look at what the different geographies can offer in terms of what their strategic goals are." Step 5: Consider how the organization's cost structure impacts the customer service strategy. To keep operating costs down, companies don't necessarily have to move their contact centers to locations where there are lower labor rates. Instead of moving all the calls offshore, companies need to define which types of customer service calls, if any, can be moved offshore, and which types of requests can be moved to the IVR or to the Web. By finding that balanced solution companies can lower their operating costs, while increasing customer satisfaction. "You need to move to the IVR and Internet what you can, outsource what you can to reduce operating costs, and keep internally what needs to be kept," Furniss says. "The result is lowering your operating costs as much as possible, and maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty, which increases ROI. It's all about finding that balance." Step 6: Decide who will run the customer service operation. Companies need to determine who will run their customer service organization. Based on finances, quality, core competencies, and other factors, is it better to keep customer service in-house or outsource the operation? Many times the best choice is a combination of the two. Whatever the case, one size does not fit all. "We've found companies that have worked tremendously well with keeping their customer contact centers either entirely in-house or outsourcing. Many companies have also worked with a combination of the two," Convergys' Ayers says. "The key depends on the strategic initiative of your company and looking for a balanced answer." Contact Editorial Intern Colin Beasty at cbeasty@destinationCRM.com
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