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How to Use Outsourcing to Navigate Peak Demand in Your Contact Centre

Wed, July 26, 2023

Every business and every contact centre experiences peaks and troughs in customer demand. These peaks follow the rhythms of your organisation’s business and can be daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonal. They usually follow some pattern, and you can plan for them.

Then there are other surges in demand that come out of left field, like a product recall, data breach, or bad PR. While you certainly don’t know precisely when one of these events might happen, you can plan for the worst by anticipating that one will happen sooner or later.

The problem with peak periods

Whatever the reason for peak periods, the main danger you’re trying to avoid is that you’ll lose business because customers or potential customers cannot get hold of you and instead go to a competitor.

We know that customers today have high expectations when it comes to customer service. Not only do they expect to be able to contact you whenever they want, but they also expect to be able to use whichever channel they choose and still receive excellent service.

According to a recent Hubspot survey, 90% of customers say an immediate response to a customer service query is essential. How soon is immediate? In the same study, 60% of customers said 10 minutes or less. That’s a high bar to maintain at regular times, never mind during peak periods.

Customer service and customer experience have become major differentiators for businesses – particularly for companies in commoditised sectors like telecoms and utilities. This makes getting it right even at the busiest times even more crucial.

So why not get help from the experts to manage your peak periods? Whereas you have your whole business to run across many departments, meaning your internal talent must encompass lots of disciplines, contact centre outsourcers do one thing exceptionally well – they deliver on the CX and customer service KPIs you set, at the cost you target.

Outsourcing Benefits

There are several main reasons your contact centre might choose to work with an outsourcing partner to manage peak demand.

Firstly, it’s costly to staff up internally to manage peaks because recruitment is expensive – and difficult right now – and you have to pay all your staff whether or not there are calls for them to take. Then you have the cost of standing them all down when it’s over. With an outsourcing partner, you can choose a model that means you only pay when your agents speak to your customers.

You can also provide your customers with an “always-on” service with an outsourcing partner’s help. This means that when your internal team is engaged with customers, your calls (and chats, messages, etc.) start getting routed to trained agents at your outsourcing partner’s contact centre.

This way, there are no missed interactions, and it’s a seamless experience for the customer. If you don’t need an always-on model, there are other options, but the key benefit is that your partner can spin up a team of experienced agents very quickly when a peak hits. They can then reassign those people once the wave has passed while retaining the skills and knowledge for the next peak.

Companies choosing to outsource are looking to add the following capabilities to their arsenal:

Improved ROI

Of course, when you outsource, you’re interested in the Return on Investment it delivers. The outsourcing partner generally controls the operation and costs in an outsourcing arrangement. They are charged with managing it in such a way as to provide the business and financial outcomes their client needs.They leverage their existing infrastructure and expertise to commit to service levels, deploy staff with better skills and expertise, use digital channels and customer data more intelligently, and exploit advanced technology, including AI and automation.

Boost performance and productivity

Your outsourcing provider will focus on looking after your customers with no distractions. They will look to streamline operations and deliver improvements at every level. These should be measured against a basket of KPIs, including time to answer, average handling time, customer satisfaction, and NPS.

Ability to focus on core business.

The core activities that genuinely set your organisation apart might be product design, brand marketing, digital innovation, or your manufacturing process, so you should concentrate on doing those as best you can. Answering customer queries quickly and effectively is a CX and contact centre outsourcing partner’s core activity.

Lower operating costs

When you choose to outsource, you dramatically cut overheads like office rent, IT infrastructure, wages, and HR, as these are all transferred to the partner, which delivers economies of scale as their overheads are shared amongst many clients.

Access skills and infrastructure

An outsourcing provider should be a true business partner, bringing you vertical and domain expertise that you need but cannot justify retaining in-house. They should be able to consult on things like digital and CX transformation, new technology implementations, and change management.

Ability to scale

Whether you want to provide 24/7 service, expand your reach overseas or across multiple languages, or scale your workforce to customer demand and meet seasonal peaks, an outsourcing partner has the existing capabilities to manage those operations at scale.

How to Outsource to Manage Peak

It’s essential to select an outsourcing partner that you feel comfortable with – after all, they will be talking to your customers. You should also choose a commercial arrangement that is a good fit for your business.

Before you start writing RFIs and inviting tenders, here are the steps you should work through:

1. Understand Your Business Cycle

Planning is crucial in building a lasting relationship with an outsourcing partner. Understanding your cyclical demand trends will help you decide what outsourcing solution you require. Early engagement with an outsourcing partner is critical to a successful partnership. The best outsourcing relationships involve communication and collaboration throughout the year, not just during your seasonal peak. An outsourcing partner that understands your business’s needs and can replicate your voice is essential.

2. Explore Outsourcing Models

Outsourcing options for managing peak demand include full outsourcing, insourcing, and overflow outsourcing.

Full outsourcing involves outsourcing the entire customer service operation managed by the outsourcing partner. You pay a flat fee or a rate per call, and it is up to your partner to manage peaks while meeting whatever SLAs (service level agreements) you set.

Insourcing involves the outsourcing partner hiring and paying staff, but your contact centre still manages their work. These staff can be based in your centre, partner’s office, home, or even offshore.

Overflow outsourcing involves the outsourcing partner handling customer interactions during internal contact centre overload.

3. Choose the Right Partner

The minimum requirement is an outsourcing partner that understands your needs and can replicate your voice. You must also consider many other factors, such as cost, quality, proficiency level, and location. No two BPOs are the same, so shop around to find the one that is the best fit for your business. Here are the main factors you should consider:

Capacity: The ability to handle spikes in activity is essential. The outsourcing partner should have the headcount available for temporary periods and be able to re-assimilate them into other areas of their operation.

Economies of scale: Sharing infrastructure and shared services with other clients saves costs. The outsourcing partner should already have the underlying infrastructure and may not even need to add headcount.

Quality of service: The outsourcing partner should have a proven track record of meeting KPIs related to quality, such as First Call Resolution, NPS, and Customer Satisfaction. Check for case studies and client references.

Experience and culture: The outsourcing partner should have experience in your sector and understand your requirements. Ideally, they have dealt with similar products and customers. Expertise and insight can still be gained from working with a direct competitor.

Cost: This is very much linked to the outsourcing and commercial model you choose, but is also influenced by other factors such as staff location. However, the quality of service you require is the biggest influence on how much you will pay. You expect to pay premium prices for a premium service – remember it works the other way around too.

Location: Likely, the most significant impact on cost is going to be the location of the staff handling your customers. Offshore destinations such as South Africa can reduce labour costs by as much as 60%. Some BPOs can offer both onshore and offshore options, giving you greater flexibility.

Cultural fit: Ideally, your partner should be familiar with your industry and understand your customers’ needs. It’s also a good idea if they share some aspects of your company’s ethos and can relate to your customers.

Communication and collaboration: Communication is critical in any partnership. Your outsourcing partner should proactively communicate with you throughout the year, not just during peak times. A partner who values collaboration will invest more in your success and work closely with you to achieve your goals.

How to get started

Many specialist procurement consultants can help you find a contact centre outsourcing partner if you need more expertise or time to do it in-house.The process usually starts with a tender document; however, these can vary depending on whether or not you know precisely what you’re looking for:

Request for Proposal (RFP) – you know what you need and have providers write a detailed response demonstrating how they would deliver it, along with costings. It can also be called a Request for Quotation (RFQ).

Request for Information (RFI) – you usually do this a little earlier in the buying cycle to understand what services and capabilities are available from potential providers. This is also referred to as ‘Market Sounding.’

Request for Solution (RFS) – in this case, you describe the business challenges and problems you are trying to solve and ask providers to develop innovative solutions. You can then use this information to write your formal tender document.

Remember that cultural fit with your business and team is ultimately one of the great drivers of a successful outsourcing partnership. Be sure to focus on that just as much as you do on understanding their capacity and commercials.

Once you have found a partner, it’s a good idea to start relatively small and gradually build up the volume of calls they take as you develop more understanding and trust. After your outsourcing provider has answered enough interactions and gathered data on patterns and volumes, they should also be able to bring their CX and contact centre operations experience to help you improve efficiency across the board, including in your contact centre.

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