The holiday crunch time is almost here, and your contact center needs to be ready. In previous columns we’ve looked at seasonal staffing alternatives such as shared staff arrangements and local agencies. Now we’ll get to outsourcing, or contracting with another company to handle some or all of your call demand.
The main reason that businesses outsource call center functions is to avoid the resource drain and costs associated with initial set-up and ongoing operation of a function that is typically not the core competency of the business. Developing and running a call center is expensive, and many companies find they can accomplish the call handling operation more cost-effectively by outsourcing it than trying to do it inhouse.
Outsourcing does not need to be an all or nothing solution, however. A business such as a catalog can still maintain call-handling operations, but simply choose to send overflow calls or seasonal demand calls to an outsourcing partner as a supplement to an internal call center operation.
There are many benefits to be considered in using an outsourcer to handle inbound or outbound calling. In some cases, routing calls to an outsourcer can actually be cost-effective compared to inhouse operations.
Because inbound calls arrive in peaks and valleys, traditional call centers are by nature inefficient. During periods of low call volumes, agents may be idle and equipment is not used.
In an outsourced call center, multiple clients’ calls tend to smooth out the peaks and valleys meaning a greater utilization of equipment and staffing resources. And given the large size of most outsourcing operations, there are typically more staff and phone lines available to handle even the biggest of spikes in call volume due to marketing or advertising campaigns.
An inhouse center may have difficulty dealing with unanticipated increases in volume due to insufficient telecommunications capacity or labor resources. In this case, outsourcers can also be used for just the additional load that the call center cannot handle during peak times.
Internal call centers tend to focus most of their training on specific products and services, with not as much emphasis on general call-handling skills or knowledge of call center operations.
Outsourcers spend much more time training agents to be generalists on the front-end, so they are prepared to adapt quickly to a particular customer’s needs. Training may be more comprehensive in nature, actually resulting in better overall quality of the call handling process.
Due to the nature of most service level agreements, outsourcers typically do rigorous call monitoring to ensure the customer’s calls are being handled in a professional, quality manner. They tend to have the most sophisticated equipment in place, and supervisors and quality specialists are highly trained in monitoring and coaching techniques.
Daily performance assessment is part of the agreement with most clients. So outsourcers monitor more often and more thoroughly than an inhouse center where supervisors may not have the time to devote sufficient time and attention to it–particularly during the busy season.
Since there are so many different outsourcer options in the call center industry today, it is competitive among outsourcing companies. This high level of competition typically results in high levels of performance if the outsourcer is to survive in the business.
Outsourcers can be held to higher levels of performance than perhaps internal call centers, since the customer can simply take away business if performance standards are not met. Internal call centers may take longer to respond to customer demands and there is typically not as much of a significant consequence if performance levels are not met for some period of time.
Despite growing customer expectations, many companies cannot afford to operate their call center seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The small numbers of calls that arrive in nonpeak hours make it prohibitively expensive to operate at certain hours.
So availability to customers during those times is limited to self-service options for many call centers. An outsourcer can provide this service for a company at a much lower cost per call and help the business maintain round-the-clock availability.
Getting the “just right” number of staff in place to answer the calls is one of the biggest challenges for a call center – no matter what the time of year. Adding a peak, short-term demand makes this task all the more challenging.
The key to successful seasonal staffing is a good forecast to accurately predict incoming call center demand for the coming period. You’ll then want to weigh all the options carefully to ensure you fill those seats in the most effective way possible to take maximum advantage of those seasonal catalog orders.
Penny Reynolds (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a founding partner of The Call Center School, a company dedicated to the education and development of call center professionals.