BPO — it’s a three-letter acronym that’s usually seen as a four-letter word in the customer support space. The term, which is short for business process outsourcing, isn’t actually sinister at all. It’s merely a way of working with an external vendor to help meet your business needs.
Companies of all types outsource tons of different functions, including marketing, accounting, IT management, manufacturing, and more. There’s no reason customer service outsourcing should be any different, but we bet you already knew that. 😉
Still, it can be daunting to get started if you’ve never worked with a BPO vendor before. Before you even come close to dipping your toes into vendor management, you need to ensure that all key stakeholders are on board with outsourcing. As a first step, make sure you understand why it’s so smart to partner with a BPO vendor.
Why now is the time to consider customer service outsourcing
Your team has probably felt a number of changes in the past few years. For many support teams, the most noticeable theme is an uptick in the number of customers reaching out for support. A recent survey from McKinsey & Company reveals that 61% of leaders are reporting an increase in contact volume. What’s more, many expect the trend to continue.
An increase in demand isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it just goes to prove how valuable your customer support team is. But things become more complicated when you consider what the full picture looks like. Case in point, the McKinsey & Company survey states that nearly 50% of customer support leaders have seen an increase in attrition rates within the last year due to the following factors:
- Recruitment efforts from competitors
- Dissatisfied employees
- Lack of career growth opportunities
- Poor work-life balance
It’s also likely that your organization is interested in thriving — not just surviving. A Gartner poll of customer support and customer service leaders shows that the top priorities for organizations right now are to grow their business and improve operational excellence.
If all this sounds as though it’s important to find a way to do more with less, that’s because it is. It might not seem feasible, but organizations have been doing just that for decades by strategically outsourcing different functions. You have every reason to believe you can similarly succeed.
5 steps to secure buy-in for customer service outsourcing
Knowing that it’s wise to go the BPO route for your customer support operation doesn’t do much good if you can’t get leadership to sign off on the idea. So, here are some suggestions on how you can get approval to pursue customer service outsourcing.
1. Determine what you plan to outsource
One of the key advantages of customer service outsourcing is that you have tons of options for how you divvy up the work between your internal team and your BPO vendor. To determine what the best breakdown for your organization is, think about what your biggest pain points are.
Are you struggling to manage service-level agreements (SLAs) as contact volume increases? Are you launching a new support channel that your agents aren’t familiar with? Are you struggling to fill overnight or early morning shifts?
You might also find it helpful to think about two primary paths you can take:
⚡️ Outsourcing to optimize entails working with a BPO vendor as a way to streamline operations and drive efficiency. Going this route would typically mean outsourcing particular channels, specific types of issues, or different times of the day.
🌱 Outsourcing to expand is all about working with an outsourced team as a means to extend your service function to cover a new offering, such as a legal process or a new geographic area. You would choose this option when it simply doesn’t make any business sense to try covering the expansion with your in-house team.
Still, having trouble determining what you should (or shouldn’t!) outsource? An article from ICMI suggests asking yourself these questions to ensure success with customer service outsourcing:
- Is this something that’s core to your success? If so, avoid outsourcing it so you can have control where you need it most. For example, you wouldn’t want to outsource complex problems that require in-depth knowledge of your products.
- Can you outsource something that’s a core competency for the BPO? Playing to the BPO vendor’s strengths alleviates pressure from your organization without sacrificing quality.
- Is there something a vendor is better at than you? If a BPO provider has greater expertise with troubleshooting issues in real time, make use of it.
It’s also a good idea to remember that outsourcing isn’t a negative. In most cases, working with a BPO vendor means working with specialists who are exceptional at what they do. One CCW Digital report points out that having BPO agents in a region your organization is expanding into ensures agents know the language, terminologies, and behaviors of the area.
With that type of team on your side, great customer experiences are sure to follow.
2. Start initial discussions about BPO with leadership
You know the importance of backing up your ideas with numbers. It’s a key part of your job, so you’re probably eager to start gathering information to illustrate the tangible benefits of working with a BPO vendor. But hold off on compiling charts and graphs — at least for now.
The last thing you want to do is devote hours of work to gathering data and building your case only to be told “no” by leadership. Instead, try introducing the idea in a less formal way to help warm stakeholders up to the idea of outsourcing customer service.
Start with some overarching reasons outlining why it’s a good idea. According to ICMI’s State of the Contact Center report, the most commonly cited benefits of customer service outsourcing are:
- Lower operating costs
- Higher productivity
- Improved staffing flexibility
- Expanded hours
- Higher quality
Don’t get discouraged if you face some initial pushback. In fact, you should anticipate having to address some misconceptions. Everyone has had a bad service experience, so don’t be afraid to talk about how you’ll maintain the same great customer service metrics you always have.
3. Make a formal business case for customer service outsourcing
Now that you have at least a bit of support for outsourcing customer service, it’s time to really make your case. This will probably involve giving a formal presentation with plenty of data to support your arguments. But the rationale is just as important. You might even want to start there.
Since you already chose one of the two paths above — outsourcing to optimize or outsourcing to expand — explain how you arrived at your decision. If you’re launching a new channel, make it clear that this is unfamiliar territory for your internal team and detail the training and resources it would take to get them up to speed. You can then contrast that with how much more cost effective and efficient it would be to launch that channel through outsourcing.
Of course, you need concrete numbers to back this up. You can run calculations yourself by making some safe assumptions. For example, it’s generally accepted that your actual in-house hourly rate for agents is about two to two-and-a-half times more expensive than their base hourly rate because of the costs associated with benefits, training, facilities, and more. This means your actual cost for agents that make $20 per hour is $40 to $45 per hour. But the rate a BPO charges covers all expenses.
You can pretty quickly come up with a good estimate of your potential cost savings going this route, but there’s an even better option. If you’re already starting to reach out to BPO providers, they would be more than happy to help you draft a full return on investment (ROI) analysis leveraging their actual numbers. They want your business, so don’t be afraid to ask them to help make their case.
If you present compelling evidence on how working with a BPO is going to benefit your organization, leadership will quickly come around to the idea. 🤝
4. Talk to your internal team about working with a BPO
Once you have buy-in from company leadership, you’ll probably want to talk to your internal customer support team about what the future is going to look like. You obviously don’t want to blindside them by signing a contract without their knowledge.
How do you bring up the topic of outsourcing customer service without causing alarm? It’s all about how you frame it, so choose your words carefully. Instead of immediately jumping into how you’re going to begin working with a vendor to help the company, start off by assuring them that their jobs are safe. Then, make sure they understand that outsourcing isn’t a negative thing — it has nothing to do with them underperforming or failing to deliver exceptional service.
After you’ve had that initial conversation, make sure to explain how working with a BPO provider future-proofs the organization and benefits them. This will depend a bit on what exactly you’re planning to outsource. If you’re outsourcing to expand operations into a new region, you might tell your team that this alleviates them from having to learn new cultural norms and working odd hours. If you’re outsourcing a particular type of request, let them know that they can now focus on issues that warrant their attention more than simple, tedious requests or problems they might not be currently equipped to handle.
Whatever the case, make it clear that leveraging a BPO vendor means they can focus on the things they’re knowledgeable about and enjoy doing.
It’s also a good idea to talk about what will happen next. Go through what onboarding will entail so your team understands what to expect. Talk about how you’ll train BPO agents, what tools they’ll be using, and how they’ll fit into the overall structure of your support department.
It’s all part of change management. And if you do it right, it will also ensure that your BPO agents feel like an extension of your already awesome team once they start.
5. Get approval from all relevant stakeholders
You’re in a good place once you have leadership and your internal support team on board with customer service outsourcing. Now, you can set your sights on getting approval from all other stakeholders within your company. After all, making the move to working with a BPO vendor affects nearly every department across the organization.
Consider your IT department, for example. They will likely have a lot of questions about security protocols and how you’ll ensure that the BPO vendor has access to only the information they absolutely need.
Including them in the conversation ensures that you’ll ultimately craft a contract with a BPO vendor that covers any potential concerns they have about data and system protection.
You’ll also need to go through this process with all other relevant departments, including finance, sales, and legal. Think of these discussions as opportunities rather than hurdles. Your colleagues who work in other areas of the business will be able to bring up concerns you may not have considered. The result? You’ll end up crafting a contract that truly meets your needs and keeps your leadership on board.
Once you have approval from all key stakeholders, you can officially proceed with customer service outsourcing. There are more steps along the way, but give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for getting to this point. You earned it.
Make customer service outsourcing work for you
Once you have approval to pursue customer service outsourcing, you can start thinking about how to compare vendors and how you can ensure your future BPO agents feel like you have their backs. Believe it or not, making your outsourced team feel like a true part of your company can go a long way toward ensuring a successful relationship — not to mention keeping customers happy. Everything from the training you provide to the ways you incentivize good performance can drastically affect BPO agents’ morale and overall job satisfaction.
Don’t forget to start planning for the BPO selection and management process, either. There’s a lot of work you’ll need to do between now and the point when you have a great working relationship with a BPO. Doing preliminary research, drafting a request for proposal (RFP), and negotiating contracts are just a few of the steps you can expect.
Eager to see what’s ahead? Discover what it takes to achieve effective BPO management.