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  • May 1, 2014
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The New Roles of Customer Service Outsourcers

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outsourcing providers "for a number of strategic reasons" that don't necessarily involve costs. Among them are business flexibility, access to skilled talent, best-in-class technology, and the ability to blend delivery locations and models.

Another big part of the changing contact center outsourcing landscape has been the nature of the customer interactions themselves. It used to be that customers had to call a service representative for something as simple as resetting a password or placing an order. Now many of those services are automated, meaning that only the more complex tasks are being handed off to customer service representatives in call centers. These calls require the person on the other end to have both an advanced knowledge of the company's products and services and impeccable communication skills.

"As outsourcers, we're under more pressure to get it right," Kokes explains. "Now, a customer goes to Google first, and if he doesn't find his answer there, he goes to the company Web site. If he doesn't find it there, then he calls, so by the time the call comes to us, there are already two strikes against the company."

Companies are also selecting outsourcing providers based on their ability to deliver deeper customer engagement and customer life-cycle capabilities. Multichannel and omnichannel resources are especially in demand as companies look to respond to the increasing number of mobile consumers using smartphones and tablets to reach out to companies via email, chat, text message, the Web, social media, and mobile applications.

Loynd predicts that over the next five years, outsourcers that can differentiate and compete on multichannel capabilities and value-added technology solutions will have an edge over those that largely compete on cost, location, and labor.

Among these value-added services is social media management. It's no big secret that many companies are still unsure about how to proceed with customer service via social media channels, and so they are looking to outsourcers "more than ever for guidance on social media strategies, technologies, and tactics," Loynd adds.

"Social media is a definite trend for us," Kokes says. "We're seeing a lot of customers really starting to adopt social. We're seeing a lot of social communities, and we are acting as the moderators for those as well."

Service requests are changing in other ways as well. Just ask Bristol, who says Desert Call Connection is increasingly being asked to not only provide the industry staples of inbound customer service and technical support, but also to supplement them with a mix of outbound sales, lead generation, data capture, and reporting/analytics. "That's now a big part of our business," he says. "Companies are looking to outsourcers for their level of expertise in this area. They're looking to [outsourcers] to optimize every single phone call."

Companies are also looking to Desert Call Connection, among others, for cross-selling and upselling during typical service calls.

Kokes says customer acquisition is another new priority for his clients. Contracts that include revenue sharing based on financial performance are also becoming more common, he notes. "These gain-sharing contracts, where outsourcers and companies agree to share financial gains as a result of continuous improvement and/or innovation, will also become more viable," says Kate Leggett, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Technology, Not People

Perhaps most intriguingly, technology-based services are expected to see the most growth, with a compound annual growth rate surpassing 12 percent, compared to about 3 percent growth for traditional, agent-based services, according to Frost & Sullivan's research.

Loynd defines these technology-based services as "contact center services delivered using technology solutions, including automated customer care, analytics, hosted and cloud-based contact center applications, and managed services."

"For companies, there is little or no desire to have physical hardware, solutions, etc., on premises," Kokes says. "They expect us to provide them with a virtualized environment."

Michael DeSalles, principal analyst in Frost & Sullivan's customer contact practice, adds to the list of technology-based services a number of other offerings "that do not require agent interaction, such as automated alerts, notifications, and reminders, but 

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