Last week I wrote a blog post about O2’s decision to outsource its contact centres to Capita – https://ijgolding.com/2013/06/06/i-have-an-idea-lets-outsource-customer-services-could-the-quest-for-cost-savings-damage-the-customer-experience/ . The response to the article has been huge – and may I say almost entirely positive (at least the people who have commented or spoken to me about it have been positive!). As I expected, it prompted a very healthy debate about the benefits of outsourcing. I was therefore delighted when a good friend of mine asked if he could write a response to my post. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know that I am always keen to feature guest bloggers, and on this occasion I am genuinely excited to be able to do so.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Steve West for the last five years. Steve is one of the people in my network that has inspired me to do some of the things I have up until now in the customer experience world. Not only does he know a lot of people, he knows a lot of things – about customer service, customer experience and contact centres. He has over 20 years experience in B2B Sales & Marketing, New Business Development, Customer Experience Management, Customer Relations and Commercial Management across a wide range of industry sectors including Customer Contact Outsourcing, Marketing, Business Support Services, Media and Print, Telecoms, Property and Digital Communications!! I am out of breath just writing that lot. But enough about him – the important point is that he has extensive experience of working within the outsourcing industry – so let’s hear what he has to say:
Firstly, thank you Ian for writing a well-balanced and stimulating piece that has attracted some excellent responses from both sides of the fence. I’m a true believer in the phrase ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’ but in this instance you’ve gone a long way to ensuring that Capita, O2 and their employees have all been well represented. I’d also love to see some comments from customers of O2. How do you feel about another company handling your enquiries?
As is always the case when I am asked to represent or comment on the contact centre industry I will take a pragmatic approach to answering the questions you have raised in your blog post. However, I feel I am unable to give an unbiased answer to the question ‘What examples are there to demonstrate how improving customer experience and delivering cost savings go hand in hand?’ and suggest this comes directly from a company that has formed a successful outsourced contact centre strategic partnership. More on that in due course…
My experience is that opinions on the pros and cons of outsourcing contact centres are often misguided; influenced by low quality customer experiences delivered by low quality contact centres irrespective of whether they are outsourced or not. And yes, my experience of working in and around contact centres for many years has proved that no matter how hard the industry tries to change the negative perception held by so many, there will always be a maverick operation that spoils it for the rest of the hard-working, regulated and ‘customer obsessed’ people that are a true representation of the tens of thousands of contact centre professionals in the UK. Reader, please do not be deluded into thinking that BBC 3’s ‘The Call Centre’ is in any way what really goes on in most contact centres. It’s not. And whatever solution Capita have agreed to deliver for O2 I am certain it will be professionally managed and resourced by individuals that are committed to delivering great customer service.
Also, I feel it’s important to challenge the assumption that all contact centre outsourcing is undertaken simply to reduce costs. Of course it’s a major factor, but the following are all common reasons cited for choosing to have another organisation manage your contact centre:
Now, about those questions. Before I answer them I must drop in the disclaimer that I do not have any insider understanding of the commercial agreement between O2 and Capita, the outsourced contact centre solution they will be delivering or any KPIs or SLAs that will form the basis of the service provided. Instead, I offer up the following as a representation of the considerations that should be made to deliver a consistently positive customer experience. For ease of reading I’ve used bullet points and, be assured, my answers are by no means exhaustive so please contact me directly if you would like more information on a point.
What are the ways that outsourced contact centres can embed the values of the brand they are serving? How do you get your employees to feel that they are working for the brand as well as for the outsourcer?
My belief is that the ability to deliver a client’s brand promises and positive customer experience through each and every customer interaction is dependent on 3 things – great people, efficient and effective processes and appropriate systems.
Contact Centre Agents dedicated to one client brand – if someone is handling calls for lots of different companies can you expect them to remember to switch brand values on each call?
Recruitment and selection, matching the client’s brand values to an individual’s personal values. Get this right at the very start and it will go a long way to creating a culture and environment that is reflective of the client’s brand values.
Client led inductions will help agents live and breathe the company’s brand values. The best results come from a cross-section of internal brand advocates. Also use physical and visual reminders of ‘what matters most to customers’ and how to convey the right brand message.
Use multi stakeholder training and knowledge sharing. You’ll be amazed at how input from often overlooked areas of the client’s business, such as marketing, supply chain, administration, etc., can help a contact centre agent fully understand the customer journey and recognise what could potentially cause customer dissatisfaction.
Conversely, allow the contact centre agents to give direct feedback to the client on customer satisfaction. By giving agents this freedom you encourage continuous improvement and creative thinking.
Include an element of ‘brand understanding’ in your coaching, training and incentivising. Your ‘scorecard’ needs to measure the contact centre agent’s understanding and delivery of the brand values alongside the obvious performance metrics.
Encourage relationship building. Client / outsourcer review meetings are not just for managers. Contact centre agents need and want to be immersed in the rapport and discussions of the campaign to check their own personal learning and development.
Include the outsourced contact centre agents in company incentives, discounts or service/product promotions. The contact centre agents should feel like they are an extension of the client’s brand and organisation, so give them the chance to be part of the team.
Be as unscripted and natural as possible. Of course you need to be able to direct and inform callers but do it in a way that is as human as possible.
Finally, have fun! Contact centres (both outsourced and in-house) are renowned for running competitions, incentives and games to motivate and educate call-handling agents. Designing experiential sessions that investigate what the client’s brand values look, feel and sound like bring them to life and really engage people into living them.
Process map the entire customer journey (from ‘outside in’) to cover all current customer contact touch-points and create a planned process map of what it will look like during and after the move to the contact centre outsourcer. An often overlooked element of the transition of service, this will highlight where potential ‘moments of truth’ that could damage the brand can be prioritised and closely monitored.
Use the transition of service as an opportunity to review all current customer contact processes, rather than simply ‘lifting and dropping’. Consider whether there are any processes that can be improved, removed or consolidated to improve the customer experience.
Core customer service processes should not differ between the client and the outsourcer. Customers want consistency so there should be no change to the way they’re dealt with, whoever they speak with.
Meet with the client’s process management team and frequently review the efficiency and effectiveness of processes. Customer demand doesn’t stand still so neither should the way that customers are served.
Where possible, measure customer satisfaction against the client’s in-house operation as a benchmark as soon as possible and develop on ongoing system of measuring and checking CSAT, NPS and brand values between the client and the outsourcer.
Listen to the outsourced contact centre agents’ feedback on the effectiveness of processes. They are the ones using them every day and hearing directly from customers if they are working and supporting the brand values.
Measure and report on the right things. First contact resolution, customer effort score and CSAT will all give you insight that the outsourcer is delivering the brand message.
Outsourcers often have access to the very latest telephone systems, IVR platforms, speech analytics and infrastructure and have experience of implementing projects for many different clients. Different brands can be best served through different technology solutions and systems so don’t assume that one size fits all.
Technology works at its best when it doesn’t get in the way of common sense and this is never more true than in the contact centre. Brand values should be easy to deliver so don’t overcomplicate the ability to do this by having too many systems and platforms that can negatively affect the customer experience. Nothing gives you bigger bang for your buck when handling a customer’s call than having a single customer view, with all the relevant information directly in front of you.
Consider a shared single platform. Ideally, the outsourcer should be work remotely and directly onto the client’s CRM systems to ensure consistency.
Make sure that adequate training is given to the outsourced contact centre agents. Skimping on this area may lead to some agents not being able to deliver all of the brand values all of the time, so check for learning and understanding.
Give the outsourced contact centre agents access to client Intranets and Wikis. Being up to date with the rest of the client’s business will allow everyone to share improvements and best ways to convey the brand values.
Finally, it would be comforting to think that O2 and Capita have created a checklist like the one below to ensure that the outsourced contact centre partnership will be successful in delivering great customer experiences:
- An obsessive focus on O2’s customers – understanding their needs and delivering O2’s brand promises at all times.
- The outsourced contact centre solution will have a high degree of accountability, ownership and empowerment.
- All project stakeholders will be O2 brand advocates with a strong understanding of the values of trust, integrity and respect.
- The value and contribution of the outsourced contact centre to O2 and its customers is realised and openly communicated.
- There is a genuine feeling of teamwork with high levels of morale and commitment to the customer.
- Open communication is vital between O2, Capita, the contact centre operation and the customer – we will all listen to each other, value what is being said and act upon it appropriately.
Like Ian, I wish O2 and Capita all the best in their partnership. For such an iconic brand it would be a huge shame if the O2 customer experience did deteriorated from a change that can, and often does, improve customer retention, loyalty and advocacy. I welcome Capita or O2’s comments on my response and look forward to any other feedback from you, the reader.
Steve West is Business Development Director with Jaywing (http://jaywing.com/agency/what-we-do/contact/) and a Board Director of the South West Contact Centre Forum (http://www.swccf.co.uk/). I would encourage you to connect with him on LinkedIn – uk.linkedin.com/in/stevewestbristol/
If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org