Outsourcing considerations Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2006
Even if you have a well-oiled, in-house call center, there are many benefits of outsourcing certain aspects of it, if not the entire operation. When was the last time you re-examined exactly what this department does?

“Often times, there are real cost savings and improved, measurable results for large corporate partners,” says Ken Dawson, senior vice president of marketing for InfoCision.

Dawson notes that many companies view their call operations as cost centers, when they could be turned into profit centers.

“Many call centers fulfill their basic needs well — for example, taking Level 1 help desk calls. But very few look at call efficiency, time to resolution, or what can be done during downtime to really get the most bang for the buck.”

Smart Business spoke with Dawson about the benefits of outsourcing call center operations, and how to go about doing so.

How can a company determine if it would be more cost-effective to outsource its call center or to keep it in-house?
There is a common misconception that it is more cost-effective to keep a call center in-house. However, in almost every case, once a company looks beyond the obvious costs of labor and supervision and analyzes the fully loaded costs, it will save money by outsourcing.

These additional costs include those for real estate, utilities, equipment, training, benefits, and so on. Many companies find it nearly impossible to fully utilize their in-house staff to achieve a profit. When a company outsources, it only pays for the time the outsource partner spends making or taking calls.

How can a company ensure that the employees of an outsourced firm will represent them in a professional manner?
In-house employees are generally perceived to be more knowledgeable and dedicated than employees who work for an outsource partner. However, when you select an outsource partner that has professional communicators on staff, you will find these communicators often receive higher overall quality scores. It’s all about the quality system the firm has in place — does it monitor, provide feedback, rate communicators and offer the proper training?

What are some additional key benefits of using an outside firm?
An outsource partner offers scalability, flexibility and creativity. Say a company is gearing-up for a big promotion or marketing campaign and a large influx of calls is expected. Rather than having to add temporary staff, the company can simply call its outsource partner, which will reassign more people to the project. One day, there might be 10 people on the project, the next day there might be 100 or more.

Outsource partners can also add value by managing outbound calling programs. Most inhouse call centers focus mainly on inbound calls. An outsource partner can design a powerful telemarketing campaign for a company, ensuring that all the legal guidelines are met.

Telemarketing is the purest form of marketing. Companies that don’t use telemarketing, for whatever reasons, are missing out on valuable feedback. The phone gives you one-on-one, direct contact with customers and prospects. You get instant input regarding promotions, pricing, new products. You learn what people really think — things you couldn’t possibly learn from other forms of advertising such as print media.

How is a program designed?
All programs should be customized. You should not settle for boiler-plate solutions. Many companies decide to only outsource certain aspects of their call center. For example, let’s look at a cable company. Say their own people are great at answering billing questions, but when it comes to preventing customers from canceling, they are only able to save 20 percent of customers. Outsourcing this function to a professional call center, where the communicators are highly experienced in saving customers, could allow them to prevent three times that amount (60 percent) of customers from canceling.

Another way an outsource partner can help is in the area of benchmarking. Even if a company is extremely satisfied with its inhouse call center, an outside firm can provide a valuable service by professionally measuring and validating the team’s results.

When looking for an outsource partner, what key factors should be considered?
Look for a high-quality partner, a company with similar values. Its people should sound and feel like — and be as professional as — your own inhouse staff.

Don’t shop on price alone; like most other things, you get what you pay for. Do they guarantee your return on investment?

Look at the quality of their benchmarking program. Do they invest in the right tools to meet legal requirements? What is the profile on their staff communicators? Is there a lot of turnover? Do they invest in training?

The bottom line always comes down to two things: quality and return on investment. When both are of high quality, you’ve probably found a good partner.

KEN DAWSON is senior vice president of marketing, InfoCision. Reach him at (330) 670-5125 or ken.dawson@infocision.com.