• November 29, 2007
  • By Michael Roy, vice president, client management & solutions, StarTek

Outsourcing to Third Parties is Hardly Second Nature

Communications companies that engage outsource service providers typically face challenges in maintaining their brand image because the third party may provide inconsistent services to end users and subscribers. By following a few simple guidelines in selecting an outsource service provider, a company can ensure it maintains its brand image, and as a result, improve revenue and profits. Though they once handled all or most of customer service in house, Communications companies have found that the right outsource service providers can provide more consistent staffing, scale and cost-effective infrastructures than they can develop and maintain themselves. The challenge is selecting an outsource service provider that treats the company's brand as its own. The outsource services provider must integrate with the client's culture, operations and marketing to deliver a consistent brand message to the end customer. The customer doesn't know -- and often may not care - if the service is being provided directly by the company or by an outsourcer, as long as the reason for their call is resolved. They will associate any customer service experience -- good or bad -- with the Communications company. Customer loyalty is closely tied to brand experience with each customer touch. If the experience with a particular brand is bad, the customer is likely to leave for a myriad of competitors waiting in the wings. If the brand experience is consistently good, the less likely the customer is to leave or "churn", even if a competitor offers a better price. In fact, the customer is proportionately likely to buy more services (voice, video or data) from his or her current provider. Therefore, the outsourcing deal must similarly focus on quality of contact, customer satisfaction and issue resolution rather than on a lowest cost per call model. Providing excellence at every customer touch is essential to retention, opportunities for average revenue per user (ARPU) growth, and a catalyst that often separates brand market winners from market losers. In recent years, we have seen leading companies focus less on cost per transaction with their customers and more on quality. The resulting loyalty is felt not only in reduced churn, but more so in increased revenues per subscriber as customers are receptive to the bundled cross-sell of new, high value (and often high margin) services. Cross-selling is becoming more important than ever to Communications firms as they offer triple and quadruple service plays-- voice, video, high speed internet, mobile communications and associated content. Many outsource service providers don't have the right combination of industry experienced employees, technologies to manage, track, report or analyze meaningful data, and industry best practices and processes. The outsourcer may view the relationship with the Communications client in terms of a contract rather than a true business partnership. Communications companies should look to outsource service providers who can deliver focused industry knowledge and consistent support services across all service cycles of the client's business. Seek a partner that knows your industry. If a company offers voice, video or data services, find an outsource partner that knows these services, can align in culture, and bring best practices that deliver greater efficiencies. Find a provider appropriately experienced in B2C, B2B, and back office service delivery to not only meet minimum contractual metrics, but contribute towards the companies' immediate business goals. Outsourcing program opportunities -- all specialized and essential to Communications providers -- include:
  • Acquisition,
  • Bundled Sales,
  • Order Entry,
  • Service Delivery,
  • Customer Care,
  • Technical Support,
  • Loyalty/Retention,
  • Process Improvement, and
  • Installation/Repair Cost Reduction.
Organizations should also closely examine the recruitment, hiring and training practices that the outsource service provider uses to attract, prepare and retain its employees. The development of its leadership, focused industry expertise, and the strategies it deploys to ensure best practices across all areas of the customer care and service delivery lifecycle are critical components of a successful outsourcer. Telecommunications technology has changed more in the last 10 years than it has in the previous 100. DSL, VoIP, VPN, and 3G are just a few of the terms that were virtually unheard of in the mid 1990s yet are commonplace today. And the rate of change won't slow down anytime soon, so the outsource providers training program has to be ongoing and vigorous to keep employees abreast of the service offerings and technology, as well as the benefits of these technologies and services for end customers. Companies should seek a firm that will be a business and brand partner, not merely an outsourced contractual vendor. The business and brand partner should have resources and technologies that complement what the organization has in house. This minimizes integration issues between technologies as well as helps to maintain the consistency of the brand image. An industry focused partner can then overlay best practices, applications or technology that further add efficiencies or improve customer satisfaction and service delivery. Finally, look for an outsource partner that is flexible, nimble, proactive toward your business goals and has a collaborative corporate culture. About the Author
Michael Roy is vice president of Client Management & Solutions for Denver, Colo.-based StarTek, a leading provider of high value business process outsourcing services to the communications industry.
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