Outsourcing Customer Satisfaction
By Patrice Gilles
outsource your contact center operations, there are three keys to
success. These apply regardless of whether the center is inbound or
outbound, offshore or domestic, strictly telephone-focused or mixed
online/telephone contact, or whether it is aimed at consumers,
business-to-business, or internal company employees.
critical components of a successful outsourcing engagement are:
Careful assessment of potential service
How well the relationship is structured from the
How dedicated you are to managing the
relationship throughout its life
seem straightforward, yet it is anything but simple. The changing
nature of contact centers – as more companies move to leverage the
centers as tools for true customer satisfaction – further
complicates the process.
Achieving the difficult-to-quantify goal of customer satisfaction
requires not only a different mindset, but a more rigorous
assessment of a service provider’s capabilities and more careful
management of the service provider’s ongoing performance.
Historically, the outsourcing of contact center operations tended to
be cost-driven, as the centers were used mainly as a way to
centralize and handle complaints and issues. A company chose its
service provider based on easily measured factors such as talk time
or speed to answer, and the providers who performed well in these
areas and delivered service at the lowest prices were the ones that
thrived. Today, however, more companies see the relationship,
sales, and marketing potential of contact centers and are looking
for providers with well-trained agents who can positively represent
the contracting company and work towards its goals.
evaluating a service provider, it is critical that a company
thoroughly understand the types of individuals the provider hires as
agents, how they train these agents, and how they use technology to
support these agents and measure their performance. The rate of
agent turnover takes on greater importance when the work is less
transactional and more interpersonal, since it is harder to fill
these types of positions with the right people. Client references
should be checked thoroughly, and a site visit is highly
the service provider’s facility allows you to see the operation and
get a sense of how that facility and the individuals working in it
fit your company’s culture. You should spend an entire day
shadowing several agents. Listen in as they handle a variety of
contacts with customers and consumers. Are they knowledgeable?
Courteous? How do they handle upset callers? Evaluating their
performance allows you to judge whether they would make good
representatives of your company.
provider’s contact center is offshore, this could affect the agents’
ability to meet your customer satisfaction goals. Training agents
regarding your company’s products and services is challenging
enough, and the cultural gap, language issues, and possible
unavailability of that product or service in their environment
compounds that challenge. Also, not all cultures easily embrace the
empathy or affinity that is key to satisfying callers. In this
instance, your needs may be better met by a provider who can offer
either a domestic center or a “near-shore.”
Structuring Agreements: An agreement with a service provider in
which customer satisfaction is the overarching goal will be
approached differently from one that is primarily service
level-based. Outside expertise, such as an expert outsourcing
advisor and legal counsel, should be part of the company’s
negotiating team. Ideally, the advisor will have been involved from
the beginning to assist with service provider identification,
evaluation process, deal structure, and so forth.
levels will always be important and must be accommodated and clearly
stated in an outsourcing agreement, but they must also be balanced
against the customer satisfaction objective. That will require the
agreement to be flexible, so it can handle the fine-tuning that may
be necessary as time goes on.
instance, call abandonment rates and time-to-answer will always be
key indicators, since both are vital to customer satisfaction.
However, average talk times may be variable and more difficult to
standardize, given the nature of the contacts and their unscripted
optimal agreement will be flexible and address the needs of both
sides. With sufficient flexibility to accommodate needed changes as
the relationship matures and progresses, the company and its service
provider can avoid the hassle and angst of a renegotiation at some
point down the road.
The agreement should concentrate on making it possible for both the
company and the service provider to achieve positive results by
learning and building on each other’s shared strengths. Built into
it should be the change management tools that make the pact
adjustable to changing circumstances.
With the proper change management tools built in, the agreement
maintains alignment between both parties even as conditions change.
It enables the relationship and the contractual documents to be
slightly repositioned in response to a variety of change triggers.
Later in the relationship, the contract may look significantly
different from the beginning, but the changes will have been for the
sake of the larger objective.
Ongoing Governance: If customer satisfaction is your aim, it
will require strong, disciplined governance of the service provider
and the outsourcing relationship. Governance becomes much more than
a matter of monitoring the provider’s monthly statistics. That is
not to minimize the importance of quantifying performance, but these
indicators need to be seen more as a barometer rather than in terms
of tight adherence to service level agreements.
example, if talk times should run longer than the standard, the
effect of a forced reduction needs to be measured against the damage
that could be done to customer satisfaction levels. This analysis
will help determine whether the standard should be adjusted
accordingly in order to achieve the larger objective.
selecting the members of the governance team, a company should look
for individuals with contact center experience who understand the
importance of the contact center relative to the larger strategic
objectives of the organization. As an example, an important team
member would be someone who knows how to bridge the contact center
to the marketing and product quality departments, in order to
leverage the valuable information that the center generates on an
ongoing basis. The outside expert advisor would also be part of
EquaTerra research, based on analyses of hundreds of corporations of
all sizes, has found that companies that dedicate four to eight
percent of their annual outsourcing spending to governance derive
the greatest value from their outsourcing relationships and are the
happiest with those relationships.
measuring the service provider’s performance is important to ongoing
governance, so is the “big picture.” To assess how well the
relationship is serving the company as a whole, the team needs to
stay in close contact with executives and other stakeholders. This
two-way communication conveys the state of the relationship to those
stakeholders and also assimilates their feedback.
In summary, the best outsourcing management is a blend of effective
leadership, the right tools, intelligent processes, sensitive
personnel, a mix of skills, and strong guiding principles. With the
appropriate effort to assure that both the company and the service
provider are operating from shared principles, it creates a basis
for a true partnership-oriented relationship that delivers on its
Patrice Gilles, who leads EquaTerra’s Specialized Sourcing practice,
has nearly twenty-five years of international and domestic
outsourcing operations experience. She has worked for companies
such as EDS, Exult, and Sourcenet Solutions, managing a variety of
outsourcing relationships and initiatives. She can be contacted at
the author for permission to republish or reuse this article.]