Friday, 28 September 2012

Effective Outsourcing


Outsourcing all or part of production or service is common nowadays as businesses concentrate on “core competencies” and leave others who are more ”expert” at something to provide that part of their product offering to their customers. 

Outsourcing is any task, operation, job or process that could be performed by employees within an organization, but is instead contracted to a third party for a significant period of time.   

A manufacturer may, for example, ask another factory to build certain components or parts for that manufacturer’s finished product.  A mobile telephone operator may ask a "call centre"in another country to handle customer enquiries, requests, complaints and other matters. 

In all cases, what is happening is that the business outsourcing to another is putting its reputation in the hands of a third party over whom they have less control than they would have over their own people.  A number of myths exist about outsourcing, mainly: 

·         Outsourcing will solve all your problems;
·         Outsourcing companies will do it better than you can;
·         Outsourcing will save you money;
·         Any product/service lends itself equally well to being outsourced.

Amongst the many advantages of outsourcing are: 

·         It allows the company doing the outsourcing to focus on “core activities”;
·         It may reduce costs;
·         It may result in efficiency savings;
·         It allows for flexibility in staffing;
·         It offers a smaller company the potential to serve multiple markets or to handle higher business volumes;
·         It provides jobs in areas that need them. 

On the downside, outsourcing may result in: 

·         High initial set up costs;
·         A loss of control;
·         Hidden costs if contracts can levy higher charges for volumes over the agreed amount);
·         A potential threat to security and confidentiality;
·         Quality control problems;
·         Problems if the contractor goes into administration or drops your business;
·         A loss of reputation if goods/services are seen as “substandard”; 

Other problems that you might face are: 

·         Language and culture issues;
·         High staff turnover in certain outsourcing centres;
·         A contractor in another country is subject to foreign laws which may affect your product or service delivery;
·         The standard of hiring and of staff  may not be within your control.
·         Periodic Quality Control reviews

Ask anyone who outsourced to China when that country first started as a manufacturing centre and you will have a clear view of the issues that they faced and how they overcame them. 

A prime example of the perils of outsourcing surfaced when laptop computers manufactured by Dell, Apple, Toshiba and Lenovo started  to catch fire.  The problem was traced to the battery pack, the manufacturing of which had been outsourced to a well-known company.  Another example is that certain UK financial institutions have brought their call centres back “onshore” after receiving a high level of complaints that the overseas staff were difficult to understand. 

In short, outsourcing is an additional risk and before proceeding, you should ask: 

·         Why am I doing this?
·         Do I need to?
·         Can I guarantee the same quality?
·         What standards are not negotiable?
·         What will it cost?
·         What’s my “contingency plan” if things go wrong?
·         Who’s responsible for compensating customers where the service/product provider is at fault? 

When done well, outsourcing will boost business volumes, customer satisfaction and profitability.  The trick is to:

·         Make sure you do it for the right reasons;
·         Have a focussed selection process based on your business’ needs, standards and strengths;
·         Ensure that you have properly defined and easy-to-use quality measurements;
·         Review your supplier’s performance regularly;
·         Use an experienced consultant if you’re outsourcing for the first time. 

I have spent more than half my life working in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in the world financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy and work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Help For Help Desks - 2

Last week, I looked at some of the main problems facing CallCentres and their staff.  This week, I will examine in more detail what to do to reduce their impact. 

Your Call Centre and/or the way your business handles calls is your reputation and dictates how successful your business is at retaining customers.   Don’t just concentrate on sales.  You need to retain to maintain revenue streams.  It’s three times more expensive to get a new customer than to keep one.  I wrote earlier about an example of a call that I made to a company about buying its products and got the impression that they couldn’t really have cared about my interest.   

Whether your Call Centre is owned/operated by your business or by a third party, here are some key pointers for effective service: 

Knowledge: staff must know your product/service intimately.  Don’t let them “on the shop floor” before ensuring that they have this knowledge.  They should also have thorough customer records of who said/agreed what to/with whom and when.  If they don’t know the answer, they should know where to find it - fast. 

Training: this should be on the various aspects (positive and negative) of your product or service, any important terms and conditions of use, and how to use your business’ (or Call Centre’s) systems.  Additionally, staff need training in customer care: for example questioning, or how to handle upset/angry people.  Surprisingly, some of the “common sense” approaches aren’t known, understood or appreciated.  “Telephone Courtesy” courses are more relevant than ever. 

Speech: staff must sound “natural”.  Often, I feel that the person speaking to me has learnt something by heart, but doesn’t realise that it sounds unnatural (and worse, long-winded or irrelevant).
 

Above are the skills on which staff can be trained.  However, there are also skills that are more “innate” – someone described them to me as “either you have them, or you don’t”.  They may be there and need to be developed.  These are: 

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.   I have had to deal with complaints that arose because the staff member concerned couldn’t empathise with the customer’s problem.  With the outsourcing of call centres overseas, cultural differences may exacerbate this. 

Attitude: you can tell whether the person on the other end of the line feels that they are “here to help”, or see you as an intrusion into their day.  Staff need to be able to take “ownership” of a problem and see it through to the end.  
 

Finally, you’ll never know how you’re doing unless you can measure: 

Performance: the usual measures are: number of calls answered; time taken on calls; percentage of problems resolved.  If you’re using an outsourced service, what measures do they use, and how they actually work?  For example, if they say that they spend an average of three minutes per call, does that mean that they resolve the problem in three minutes, or hang up after three minutes have passed?  If calls are “always answered after three rings”, does that mean that they switch to an automated system or to a “real person”?  Have qualitative  as well as quantitative measures.

Whether you’re looking to set up your own "Helpdesk", Call Centre, or to outsource it (not always a wise idea), there are consultants who can help either in the setting up of your own centre, or to select a provider.  The key is to know what standards you want to maintain.  Ask questions such as: “When it’s busy, do you put more staff onto answering calls, or do customers wait longer?”   

All standards agreed must form part of the Service Level Agreement.  Check regularly to ensure they’re being maintained.  One of the best ways of doing this is to use “mystery shoppers” who can report in detail on the standards that you have set. 

If you outsource your Call Centre, remember that providers will negotiate price and then do as much as possible to make profit, often at the expense of service.  Understand what you get for the price that you pay.  How long is your contract, how easy to break, and how easy to find another provider? 

I have spent more than half my life working in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in the world financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy and work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Help For Help Desks - 1

“Help Centres”, “Call Centres”, “Customer Contact Centres” all describe a place that customers can call to: seek information, solutions to problems, changes in contract terms, complain about poor service and satisfy other needs.  As businesses look to cut costs and ensure that staff spend their time selling or serving customers rather than answering questions/dealing with complaints, “Call Centres” have become the solution.  Some “get it right”, others don’t. 

Call Centres have advantages and disadvantages; some advantages are: 

·         Concentration of expertise;

·         “One-stop” customer enquiries and problem-solving - can usually handle 90% of “simple” problems;

·         May have comprehensive customer information systems;

·         May be able to perform other tasks when enquiry levels are low;

·         Shift work allows centres to remain open 24/7, improving customer service.
 

Some of the disadvantages are: 

·         Staff may have insufficient expertise, customer knowledge, “soft skills” or incomplete, insufficient or inconsistent  information;

·         Customers may have to speak to several operators to solve a problem;

·         Remoteness (often “outsourced” to other countries);

·         Lack of face to face contact results in lack of empathy and understanding;

·         “Internal policy” often dictates what can/can’t be done/said and escalation of “difficult cases” can be next to impossible. 

I have heard and seen any examples of frustration with “Call Centres”; if you need to see examples for yourself, just Google “complaints about…”  or “… complaints” and insert the name of the organisation in place of the “…”.

I recently spoke to the call centre of my mobile services provider to reduce my contract pricing in return for reduced talk time in line with one of their packages.  I was passed amongst three different operators (each of whom asked security questions to confirm my identity), but none of whom could resolve my issue.  The security questions should only have been needed at the initial call-answering. 

Call centres are potentially more “vulnerable” due to their lack of face-to-face contact.  The customer at the other end may be more stressed and aggressive than in a face-to-face situation, and it’s impossible to tell from body language what they’re feeling.  Operators rely on voice and speech for clues.   

Operators may often be younger workers who lack experience of dealing with people and therefore react in a way that may be provocative.  They may be dealing with customers from a different culture or part of the world, and have only their limited frame of reference. 

Another issue that affects call centre operators is that they often have strict rules or incentives that run contrary to customer interests about what they can/cannot do, about numbers of calls answered and other performance measures.  One operator let slip that staff were paid extra if a customer wanted to cancel their contract but were persuaded not to.  Result:staff used every trick in the book (including hanging up) to ensure contracts weren’t cancelled. 

Information is critical; a large number of complaints that I hear relate to dealing with different operators who don’t know what has been said/agreed/promised before, or who may not know their product/service well enough.  This is slowly being addressed, but systems need to be able to hold details of conversations, actions agreed and commitments made. 

Escalation (referral) processes are vital for good service.  Call centres are there to help, and if operators can’t resolve a problem for reasons beyond their control (and assuming that the customer isn’t being unreasonable), they need to be able to refer quickly to a more experienced colleague with more authority to commit.  Far from being penalised for this, they should be rewarded.  If too many problems are escalated up, it may indicate a problem with the product/service, processes, pricing, communication with customers or staff training.  Whatever it is, it needs to be fixed internally, or reputational problems arise. 

Call centre operatives not based in the country of the caller need to understand that, despite all efforts to the contrary, there will be differences between their perception of the problem and the customer’s perception.  Sadly, for many customers, just speaking to a “foreign” customer services operative will raise their stress levels.  Empathy is essential.   

Quoting internal “rules” or “policy” as a reason for not doing something (especially if it’s not in the customer’s Terms & Conditions) is unacceptable.  Customers aren’t interested in internal guidelines.  They want their problem resolved professionally, and will move if it isn’t.

I have spent more than half my life working in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in the world financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy and work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Telesales - Improve Your Effectiveness

The telephone is a vital sales tool for businesses large and small.  Some companies employ others just to make calls on their behalf to prospective customers.  With the ability that the telephone gives us to reach out to complete strangers, why is it that this isn’t as successful as it could be?  

Here are several ways to improve your chances: 

1.      When you call someone unexpectedly, you’re interrupting their day.  Find out first if you’re calling at a good time and whether the person on the other end of the line has time.   

2.      Explain clearly who you are, where you’re calling from and why.  Keep it short.  Too often, I’ve answered the phone to have a salesperson at the other end launch into a prepared speech.  I hung up.  How long did it take them to realise that they were talking to thin air? 

3.      Ask questions to find out whether what you’re selling is right for the person on the other end of the line.  This may mean you spend longer on the phone, but you establish a relationship, trust and whether you should be selling to them. 

4.      Keep it short.  Not everyone can remember (let alone process sensibly) the vast amount of information that can be thrown at them.  Your sales pitch may look brilliant on paper, but may be too long when delivered over the phone, annoying the customer.  It makes your job more difficult.  Try reading it out aloud and get a friend or colleague to listen. 

5.      Stick to easy-to-remember facts.  Pause to let the other person take it all in. 

6.      Remember: unlike face-to-face conversation, you can’t see the other person, so you can’t see when they look interested, bored or confused.  Listen for clues such as hesitation or requests to repeat information.  Ask if you need to repeat anything. 

7.      Lead the customer on in easy steps, each one of which builds on what has gone before.  If necessary, repeat where you have reached and how/why. 

8.      Offer to send information by email or even regular mail.  It’s surprising how many organisations forget this. 

9.      Offer to call back later to continue the conversation.  Provide a contact number for the customer. 

10.  Keep the “verbal small print” to a minimum.  I hung up once on one consumer magazine when their representative started reading out a long list of terms and conditions.  Perhaps their lawyers had said this was necessary, without realising that people generally don’t want to listen to this.  If necessary, send the terms by mail or email. 

Many “telesales” staff are taught that their goal is to make as many calls as possible as this often produces the highest number of sales.  This approach emphasises “quantity over quality” and may expose your company to accusations of mis-selling.  Fewer calls emphasising “quality over quantity” would perhaps result in fewer sales, but the chances of keeping those customers are higher and the risk of damage to your reputation will be lower.

I have spent more than half my life working in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in the world financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy and work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.

 

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