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Call Centre Outsourcing Guide

If you’ve reached the point of considering call centre outsourcing there are a lot of elements to consider. We’ve put together a helpful call centre outsourcing guide below that provides you with information and advice on how to get the best outcome from call centre outsourcing in Australia.

If some of the abbreviations/acronyms are unfamiliar to you be sure to check out our Ultimate Contact Centre Glossary that may also give you a laugh or two along the way!  Just click the + symbol to open up each section.

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Outsourcing Guide

There is no limit now on what can be outsourced. Typically though it falls into three categories:

  • Full Outsourcing – the entire contact centre operations is outsourced to a dedicated provider including staff, technology, processes etc.
  • Partial Outsourcing – only selected call types (often the simpler ones) or during certain times (e.g. nightshift) are handled by the outsourcer
  • Overflow – designed to support existing in-house operations during peak periods

Contracts can be supplied by the Outsourcer or yourself – either way it will form a critical component of your outsourcing relationship.

Of course everyone hopes that it will remain forever in a top drawer because of the amazing relationship you have established however people move, companies change hands etc and ultimately the contract will always form the basis for whats expected by both parties.

In my experience the move to outsourcing is often done quickly and the contract is often rushed through without the appropriate due diligence or its been put together by lawyers with little to no understanding of contact centre operations so the finer details are often excluded.

Despite the time pressures, do not skip this critical component and if you don’t have the skills, engage someone who does. It will save you both a lot of time and money in the future.

Invoice 

An easy to understand invoice all make life easier for both you and the outsourcer. Too often I have seen cost models and the associated invoices require someone with a degree in mathematics, statistics and engineering to try and figure it out!

The best way to ensure you have an easy to understand invoice isbn investing the time upfront in having a clear contract, a clear pricing model and clear KPI’s.

The largest expense an outsourcer has are its people often representing up to 85% of their costs, and with call centre staff typically paid weekly or fortnightly, cash flow is important to the outsourcer.

Like most business the longer the invoice period the higher the cost to the outsourcer. As such its common to see invoice periods ranging from one week to one month.

Payment Terms

Will typically range from 7 days to 60 days with the longer terms often factored into the pricing. Alternatively some outsourcers will often 60 day payment terms with discounts for early payments. Either way you are paying for the longer terms so if you can afford it, always opt for faster payment terms.

A big driver for outsourcing is to reduce cost. The location of the outsourcer is the largest influencer of price – refer to our Call Centre Off-Shoring Guide to provide you with an overview of the different options available.

Is the outsourcer easily accessible to you? If you need to travel by air, is it close to the nearest airport?

What about for staff, is it easy for them to get in and out? With turnover in contact centres typically around 40%, is the outsourcer in a high population density area?

Is parking provided and is it close to public transport? Do the agents have sufficient space? Was it noisy? Is there lots of natural light? Is there room for growth of your campaign? If dealing with sensitive information what is the security like? All these items impact the quality of the customer experience and the tenure of staff.

There are a variety of ways that outsourcers can charge for their services. Common models include:

  • Per Hour
  • Per Minute
  • Per Call
  • Per Sale/Lead/Appointment
  • Monthly retainer

Typically the higher the risk of getting paid, the higher the margins outsourcers will apply. In practical terms the lowest risk model for outsourcers is an hourly rate as they have a defined income and can therefore apply lower margins so typically this is the cheapest option. In a sales environment, per sale/lead/appointment models are a higher risk so by comparison to an hourly rate model, they will normally cost you more.

Its also not uncommon to link the pricing models to performance – again the same risk logic applies.  The higher the risk of the outsourcer not achieving the targets, the more margin they will apply to offset the risk and cover any loss of income due to penalties or lack of sales.

KPI’s/SLA’s should be agreed up front and form part of your contract. Some of the typical things to consider are:

  • What is the frequency of measurement? Its much harder to achieve Grade of Service targets measured in hourly intervals than over a month.
  • What needs to be measured? Grade of Service, Abandoned Calls, Lead Conversion, Longest Wait, Quality Scores – there is an endless list to choose from. Selecting the right ones will ensure the campaigns success is aligned to your expectations.
  • How much is objective or subjective? Quality in particular can be very subjective if the right tools and processes are not in place.
  • How often are they reviewed? Its not uncommon particularly for new campaigns when there is little information that a number of assumptions are made. So how often should they be updated?
  • How many is too many? Its one thing that contact centres are not short of – data! But having too many KPI’s may actually be to your detriment.
  • Will they drive the right behaviour? We’ve all heard examples of call centres having Average Handling Time targets – so for some agents once they reach this threshold they simply wrap up the call so they don’t get in trouble for exceeding the target!

To ensure the contact centre agent provides the best possible customer experience its critical they are armed with the right information. This can be as simple as scripts or a Frequently Asked Questions cheat sheet through to complex Knowledge Management Systems that provide answers and support material in real time to agents on the phone.

There is often a fair amount of work involved in the preparation of this material – this can either be supplied by you or the outsourcer will develop or modify your existing materials. Either way its an important conversation to have.

Depending on the size of your campaign and the operating model, quite often the outsourcer will need to recruit specifically for your campaign. Outsourcers can do this using their own internal recruitment departments or often they will outsourcer this function to a specialist recruiting company.

Regardless of the method, the success of your campaign is ensuring the staff hired are going to match your brand and be equipped with the necessary skills to complete the tasks required.

Some outsourcers will involve you in the recruitment process, from signing off on the job advertisements through to sitting on the final selection committee whilst others will exclude you completely from the process.

One of the other significant advantages of outsourcing is the ability to offer your customers technology that would otherwise be cost prohibitive. The type and complexity of the technology will have a bearing on the overall cost to you so its important that your requirements are matched to the outsourcers capability for both what you need today, but also for the future.

Common Technology:

If none of the above acronyms make sense be sure to check out our Ultimate Australian Contact Centre Glossary 

As the outsourcer is representing your brand its critical that you have access to whats going on! Outsourcers vary in the amount of data that they will supply ranging from reporting on agreed Service Levels only through to full visibility.

The frequency of reporting can also vary from real time (you can access live queue stats) through to monthly reports. The type of reporting can also vary with real time apps through to reports that are collated and sent to you each month.

Whether an agent is dedicated to your campaign or is shared amongst many other campaigns can have a big bearing on cost, as well as the customer experience.

If there is sufficient volume then the majority of campaigns will have dedicated staff meaning they only had calls specifically for your campaign. This enables the training, coaching and quality assurance to be highly specialised in ensuring your customers receive the best possible customer experience.

If your campaign has low or sporadic call volumes the outsourcer will often ‘blend’ your campaign with others campaigns meaning staff may be handling multiple call types for different organisations.

This provides maximum efficiency for the outsourcer, but also increases the risk of agent errors given the large amount of information they have to recall.

Outsourcers often work on defined ratios of management to agents with the most common element the Team Leader to staff ratio.

The ratio is often determined by the complexity of the transactions, the experience of the agents and the margins involved in the contract.

The typical range is between 1:10 to 1:17. In basic terms the lower the number the more time the Team Leader has to conduct coaching and support the team.

To ensure the staff are performing to their best, constant training is paramount. Training can be broadly split into three areas:

  • Product Specific – Some of the training required will be product specific so its important that up to date training material is either supplied by you or maintained by the outsourcer.
  • Soft Skills – This covers a broad range of elements including Rapport Building, Overcoming Objections, Etiquette, Tone etc
  • Technical Skills – how to use the phone system, the CRM system, how to look up information, update records, pause recording etc.

Many outsourcers have structured programs that track the amount of training each agents receives so you can be confident that the staff managing your customers are being trained appropriately. Of course the proof is in the results – and thats covered in out Quality Assurance section!

No one ever doubts the effectiveness of coaching but as the constraints of reporting, managing rosters and other admin functions get piled onto Team Leaders its typically one of the first things to suffer.

Typical methods of coaching include:

The amount of coaching is often factored into the pricing provided by the outsourcer. I’m yet to see a good contact centre not spend the time on coaching so make sure you understand just what the staff working on your campaign will receive.

Depending on what services you are outsourcing will have a big bearing on the type of Business Continuity you require. Like a lot of the other elements, a robust Business Continuity Plan will have a bearing on your overall price. Typically Business Continuity provides for a seamless transition if the outsourcers location or technology experiences any difficulties.

Things to consider:

  • Do they have an alternative site that they can relocate staff to if the primary site becomes unavailable?
  • Do they have back up system/power if their primary technology platform crashes?
  • How quickly can services resume in the event of an issue?

Whether or not its worth paying additional costs for a high level of redundancy is often a commercial one and is dependent on the nature of your campaign.

Approaches differ widely amongst Outsourcers ranging from dealing directly with the person managing the campaign (often a Team Leader) though to a dedicated account manager.

There is also some variation depending on the lifecycle of your campaign – you may have a dedicated person responsible for on boarding the campaign at the beginning, for it then to be handed over once the campaign is stable.

Either way its important to understand what to expect as the relationship will be a critical component to the success of your campaign.

The level of quality provided is often the single most important factor in determining the success of an outsourcing campaign (even ahead of price). Its therefore critically important that there are defined measures in place that can be use to measure the level of quality provided.

In Australia Quality Assurance can often mean two seperate things:

  • Compliance – did the agent follow the script, pause recordings where appropriate, enter the right fields into the CRM tool, provide the right answer etc
  • Customer Experience – how was the experience for the customer? Did they match the customers pace and tone, did they build rapport etc

Both are important and there are different ways to measure both. Make sure you talk to the outsourcer on what they measure, how often they measure it and how you can get visibility of the results.

Its also important to note that there are independent companies that can also be used to validate the Quality Assurance/Customer Experience. These can be appointed by the Outsourcer or directly by yourself.

The outsourcer has a lot of responsibility representing your brand in the marketplace so its a big decision in choosing the right Outsourcer. Don’t be afraid to ask some specific questions such as:

  • How long have they been in operations for?
  • What is their staff turnover like?
  • How stable is their management team?
  • What are their staff engagement scores?
  • How do they reward their staff?
  • Have they managed similar campaigns in the past?
  • Do they, or have they managed campaigns for your competitors?
  • Can they supply any customer testimonials/references?
  • What is their customer retention like? If they’ve lost campaigns, why?
Looking for a call centre outsourcer?
Need more sales

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