If you’ve recently decided to start outsourcing customer service to a BPO provider, you certainly aren’t alone. A recent report from CGS found that 13% of the companies plan to begin outsourcing customer service for the first time in 2022, and 66% of companies are already using a customer service BPO in some capacity.
Working with a customer service BPO can be a great way to reduce costs, access specialized talent without undergoing arduous hiring processes, and efficiently scale your support operations. Be warned, though. In a world where 61% of consumers say they would jump to a new brand after just one lousy support experience, you need to ensure your new BPO agents are providing the same level of quality assistance your internal team does.
It stands to reason that the best way to set your outsourced agents up for success is by treating them like your in-house customer support team (which we know is fantastic because you were once in their shoes 😃).
Why it’s important to treat your BPO agents like your in-house team
Running a successful support team means making sure your agents are happy, empowered, and supplied with quality information and tools. You have to provide agents with an environment conducive to providing empathetic care to your company’s customers. You also need to focus on ensuring an excellent employee experience so they can focus on solving problems and keeping your organization’s good name intact.
After all, ICMI reveals that when 90% of your customer support team is happy, 90% of your customers will be, too. It shouldn’t be any different for your outsourced agents.
Unfortunately, these hard-working agents are often thought of as little more than numbers or machines. They are expected to perform at the same level as internal support agents, often without the benefits workforce managers give their internal team members.
If you want to get high-quality customer service out of your BPO provider, you’ll need to take steps to make sure BPO agents are empowered and engaged. They need to feel a connection to your internal support team and, more broadly, your organization.
Since your new customer service BPO agents work for the BPO provider you’ve hired and not directly for you, making them feel like part of your customer support team takes a little bit of doing. That said, the effort is absolutely worth the reward. So, here are some tips for doing it right.
6 ways to help your BPO agents feel like part of your team
1. Set up a solid BPO vendor management system
The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure you have a specific point of contact on your team to work with your BPO provider. If you’re a small team this may mean hiring someone, designating this role to a team member, or even doing this yourself.
If you work for a larger organization, chances are good that your company already has some form of a vendor management team. If this is the case, work closely with them to ensure you’re aligned on what you expect from your BPO, how you want to interact with them, and how you want to promote interconnectedness between your internal customer support team and the external vendor.
If you’re setting up a BPO vendor management team or will be taking on this responsibility yourself, it’s best to follow this easy-to-remember process: the 3 M’s of vendor management.
📏 Measure: Set up goals that are achievable and quantifiable. Create clear targets you want your BPO provider to hit, and communicate these expectations verbally and in writing. Take the goals you’ve made for your internal team and use those, if possible.
🔍 Monitor: Just as you would with your internal team, monitor the performance of your BPO agents based on the metrics you’ve put in place. Try negotiating with your BPO provider to get as much granular detail about performance as possible so you can identify high and low performers just as you do on your internal team.
👔Manage: You’re already a manager, so this should be the easy part! Make sure your BPO is hitting your targets, and work firmly but respectfully with them if they aren’t providing the level of service you expect. Put these expectations and processes in writing so there isn’t any wiggle room, and be sure to prioritize open, honest communication.
2. Make (frequent) site visits to your BPO provider
You should make sure you’ve at least visited your BPO’s location once before even signing a contract. Even after you’ve engaged them, you’ll want to maintain visibility with regular visits.
When you’re there, see how they work with each other and how they execute important workforce management operations like scheduling and tracking time. See what their working conditions are like and whether there are any problems or pain points you may be able to help solve. Look at what tools they’re using and work to make sure these agents are given the same software systems your internal agents have.
If possible, bring a few internal support agents along with you on these visits and introduce them to their BPO partners. The more they see of you and your team, the more they’ll feel like a part of your organization. Budget permitting, you could also bring your BPO support agents to your organization’s offices to increase the bond between your company and team.
It pays to get creative here! For instance, you could work with your BPO provider to brand the area your external agents work in with your company’s logo and colors. Little things like this can provide a significant morale boost. The more it looks and feels like they’re working for your organization, the more positive their service outcomes will be.
3. Train your BPO support agents yourself
There will always be some aspects of your BPO agents’ jobs that you can’t control. Things like clocking in and out, absences, hiring, and attrition will be handled by your BPO provider, but that’s part of the reason you’re outsourcing customer service to them in the first place.
You should be able to control the training they receive, however. If they’re going to represent your support team and your organization, it’s in your best interest to make sure they’re getting the same training your internal support agents get.
Start with onboarding them as you would an internal hire. Zippia found organizations with robust onboarding processes can improve productivity by 70%, so it’s important to do this right. Onboarding is also important to ensure these agents understand what you expect from them, how they should conduct themselves while assisting customers, and how to use any new systems or technologies you’ve brought in for them.
Don’t forget about providing new training, either. Ongoing training gives agents the knowledge and information they need to help customers with new products or problems. Whatever new training your team gets, your BPO agents should also get. This may go beyond the scope of what your BPO provider usually provides them with, so make sure to negotiate your expanded training schedule while you’re working out contract details.
Leveling the educational playing field between internal and external agents keeps things running smoothly. It fosters a sense of equality among your BPO agents, showing that you care about them and want them to succeed.
4. Give them the same access to information
Just as you want your BPO agents to have the same training as your internal customer support team, you’ll want to give them the same tools and information.
Obviously, there may be some legal or regulatory restraints depending on your industry. You may not, for example, be able to provide them access to Personally Identifiable Information or other sensitive data. Whatever information you can give them, though, you should.
The more information they have, the better they’ll be able to assist your customers. Providing equal access to information will also positively impact their employee experience. If possible, you should also provide your BPO support agents with the same tools and software you give your internal team. You'll boost communication and streamline knowledge sharing by providing uniform support tools to your internal and external agents, empowering everyone to work together and provide excellent customer service.
5. Acknowledge your BPO support agents’ performance
Recognizing and rewarding high-performing employees is one of the easiest and most effective ways to boost performance. In fact, an Achievers study recently found that 90% of all employees are motivated to work harder after they receive positive recognition. So, if you haven’t yet created a recognition program for your internal support team, we recommend putting that at the top of your to-do list.
If you have a program in place, take stock of it to see how you can implement it with your BPO agents. For instance, whatever metrics you use to evaluate the performance of your internal team should be the same as those used to measure your external agents. The same goes for prizes and rewards.
If you have a bonus structure, work with your BPO provider to find out how you could implement it for your BPO support agents. Negotiate this with them and get it in writing as part of your contract. Since they’ll be in charge of disbursing any bonuses you allocate for their high performers, make sure you stipulate that most or all of the bonus money goes to the specific BPO agent and not the BPO provider itself.
Rewarding your BPO agents shows them you think about them the same way you think about your internal agents, and that you’re working to make them feel like they’re a part of your team.
6. Promote socialization and celebrate customer support milestones
Making sure your agents have time to socialize with one another is a crucial factor in creating a good employee experience. A study from consulting firm McKinsey & Company reports that call center agents who have the option to socialize with one another twice per shift are twice as satisfied with their jobs compared to their colleagues who don’t connect with each other as often.
Work with your BPO provider to ensure they give your external agents structured breaks and socialization opportunities. As with other recommendations, it’s best to get this in writing during the contract phase of your agreement since you won’t always be around to see whether they’re actually getting these breaks.
Another important way to promote socializing and make BPO support agents feel like they belong is by celebrating milestones and achievements. If you’re planning an internal party or celebration, invite your BPO agents if possible! You can also work with your BPO provider to plan parties or events onsite. These gatherings are a great way to recognize their hard work and show you appreciate them. In fact, a WorkHuman research study found that celebrating and giving employees other opportunities to recognize and thank each other increased their sense of belonging by 21%.
These don’t have to be major events (although they can be). Just stopping by your BPO provider’s HQ with a few members of your company’s management team can go a long way. Give out swag, high fives, or anything else you think they’d appreciate. It may not seem like much to you, but gestures of goodwill and appreciation like this will have an outsized positive impact on your BPO support team.
Outsource your way to success
You stand to gain a lot by outsourcing some or all of your support operations. But make sure you take the time to ensure you’ve partnered with the right BPO provider, explicitly stated your expectations, and taken an active role in managing your new BPO agents.
While your BPO partner will take care of many aspects of workforce management, like scheduling and adherence, your workforce management skills will still be critical to making these agents feel welcome, engaged, and inspired to support your customers as best they can. Going the extra mile ensures that everyone — your in-house team, your BPO agents, and your customers — all have an exceptional experience.
If you’re looking for more information about hiring a BPO provider, particularly during times of economic uncertainty, check out our guide to recession-proofing your business with a BPO.