Look up customer service on a search engine and then switch to the pictures page. What you’ll see is predominantly photos of smiling faces sitting at a call centre desk. The irony is that this is where the poorest customer service is usually evident. If you were asked what good customer service entails, wouldn’t you agree that it is predominantly about speed, reliability, relationship and trust? Seeing as the call centre is so closely associated with customer service, why is this function so consistently outsourced, and how does this relate to these factors?
WHY DO COMPANIES OUTSOURCE:
The main reasons for outsourcing are –
- The function does not form part of our core business
- Realisation of cost saving opportunities
- Efficiencies when dealt with by specialists
- Creating a comfortable distance from disgruntled customers (being able to say it wasn’t us, it was the outsourced contractor, and not even having to do so if they deal with queries themselves)
- Simplified Control (by having limited metrics by which performance of the contractor is measured and evaluated according to key SLA’s)
WHY YOU SHOULD NOT OUTSOURCE:
- Core Business. Whatever business you are in, the customer and his satisfaction with your service or product, is always your core business. With apologies to Simon Sinek, it isn’t primarily about WHAT you do, but WHY you do it. The satisfied customer is always central to your mission. You cannot control that relationship if you have outsourced a function that has a client facing role.
- Cost Saving. You may be able to leverage efficiencies of scale and administrative or personnel costs and the availability of key staff by outsourcing, but the savings will never equal the cost of alienating your customers.
- Efficiencies. These are a question of scale. If the efficiencies can in fact be realised, outsourcing may be an option, but accountability for delivery of the value proposition cannot be outsourced, even if the delivery relates to a peripheral value added service or product such as maintenance and support or delivery of ancillary product such as cellular phones.
- Comfortable Distance. The distance created is simply a cop-out and failure to realise that the customer does not care to whom you outsourced a function. His relationship is with YOU. It does not matter who screwed up, his agreement was with you. If you refuse to personally attend to and take responsibility for the problem, you have destroyed the trust relationship.
- Simplified Control. By having the contractor answer to a few key metrics and SLA’s, you define exactly what he has to do to satisfy YOU as his client. Your client’s satisfaction does not interest the contractor at all. The collateral damage and cost thereof means nothing as the customer becomes a statistic and is measured on a scale rather than treated as a valued relationship.
Examples of what I’m talking about are call centres for cellular companies and insurance companies whom the customer knows deals with the business of several corporate clients. They can give standard answers as they pop-up on their screens, but when these are exhausted, there is no further recourse. The 0.5% failure to resolve complaints is acceptable (but of course, it shouldn’t be).
The cleaner at your local mall or gym is another example. The SLA specifies a certain standard of cleanliness and frequency of mopping the floors. So, during peak times, customers are made to wade barefoot through caustic soap (that the cleaner only handles with rubber gloves for safety purposes), after showering in showers where the drain caps are removed for cleaning. Why, because the cleaner focuses on the SLA, cleans everything in one go as it best suits him, rather than section by section so that the gym’s customers are not inconvenienced. In the meantime, no-one sees that the basins and toilets have become a total mess. Another outsourced “Customer disservice”.
The same goes for the security company standing at the gate of your business, the catering company running your staff canteen, the transport company shuttling your customers. Some of these may have good and rational reasons for outsourcing, but then the accountability should be firmly fixed internally, the controls carefully considered and full responsibility taken for failure.
In closing, ask yourself the following questions:
- How can your customer trust you if he can only reach a third party with very limited responses and has no alternate recourse?
- Can you trust a contractor to give you a differentiated level of service excellence and maintain your confidentiality if he is also serving your competitor?
- If you are striving for overall differentiation and excellence to maintain competitive advantage, will an outsourced contractor help you achieve this?
As your customer today, I can categorically say that few things irritate me more than your outsourced, non-core and peripheral services; and these are enough to make me look elsewhere. Thankfully, a few companies have started to realise the disservice they are doing themselves and are moving towards in-house services where possible and control where this is not.