The debate over international outsourcing is passionate. With protectionists and free trade advocates drawing battle lines. Isn’t ironic that neither side ever mentions domestic outsourcing to customers? Since the 1970s, when consumers gladly pumped their own gas to save a few pennies, companies have been outsourcing service positions to their customers. The proliferation of e-commerce has contributed to a significant reduction of service positions in established corporations.
Outsourcing jobs to customers can be advantageous to both parties. The cost and management reduction leads to more competitive pricing. The convenience is appealing to consumers. Overall, it is a good idea as long as we balance self-service with quality information and full service availability. Encouraging customers to shop, troubleshoot, and correspond online is great as long as there is an option to contact a knowledgeable operator throughout the process.
If you are considering outsourcing to your customers, keep these points in mind:
Encourage self-service by offering an online shopping discount. Provide detailed product information, and an extensive frequently asked questions area on your site. Every promotion, correspondence, and marketing venue should include your URL.
Reassure your customers that you are standing by to help if they have any problems by including contact information on every Web page. Establish response standards (24 hours for e-mail; 20 seconds for answering calls) for every contact point. Customers tend to search for answers before they call or e-mail. They have already invested time so they want a quick resolution.
Invest some of the labor savings in employee education and wages. It will improve quality and morale. Employees become a part of an evolutionary process instead of playing the elimination game.
Review all proposed service enhancements from the customers’ perspective. Technology can be seductive and lure you down the path of continuous upgrades with little or no return. Quality service increases convenience without adding issues.
Recognize that some processes should not be outsourced. Anything that reduces security or service should remain an internal function.
Every company should seek continuous improvement, especially when it comes to customer service. If you are not evolving, you are dying. Just remember to keep everything in balance and perspective.
Debra Ellis is president of Barnardsville, NC-based operations consultancy Wilson & Ellis Consulting .