For decades, the decision of whether or not to outsource your company's help desk has boiled down to a few simple questions:
- Do you want to control expenses?
- Can you find another entity, off-shore or domestically, that will do the work for less than your in-house support staff?
- Do they have the necessary technical and language skills to support your customer base?
Answering "yes" to all three questions meant you were a good candidate for outsourcing. For years this practice has helped companies control costs, maintain 24×7 customer support and provide jobs to many lower wage earners.
Why, then, are some companies bringing their help desks back under their own roofs? One reason: a backlash from customers to being supported by people who can't go "off script." You know exactly the type of person I'm talking about: they're kind and helpful if your issue is one of the many for which they have a prepared response. If your issue isn't one of those, these outsourced employees are at a loss for how to support you because they lack a shared experience, either culturally or through a lack of understanding about the business environments in which these products are used.
I want to be clear about something: these outsourced employees are typically intelligent, articulate, friendly people. There may difficulties understanding certain accents but their language skills are usually not the issue; I've been supported by people from other countries who speak better English than I do. The problem is they can't relate to what I'm trying to do and hence to my level of frustration. This is what drives customers into the arms of competitors with "local" support: they tend to be better able to relate to the customer's needs, a fundamental and previously under-valued component of customer satisfaction.
As more and more companies seek to distinguish themselves on the service they provide (as noted by the every-increasing number of companies pursuing service awards and industry recognition), are we approaching the end of the outsourcing era? Is outsourcing still a viable option for your organization?
It can be, provided you follow a few guidelines to set up your outsourced people for success:
- As part of their initial training, outsourced teams need to learn how people use the products that the help desk supports. They need to understand the personal or business impact of product failure, and how to genuinely empathize with customers experiencing problems.
- Provide the people on the outsourced help desk with plenty of recorded examples or documentation demonstrating how an in-house support person successfully handles similar issues.
- Rather than relying on scripted responses, focus on situational dialogues. Role plays are a good training tool for this; create real life scenarios typical of those that are likely to be encountered, and have the support members practice their responses. Compare their responses with best-practice examples to make sure they are on the right track.
- Finally, monitor and provide constant feedback to employees on an outsourced help desk. They deserve to know what they're doing right as well as the areas in which they can improve. Don't assume that a lack of customer complaints means that everything is going fine; you seldom hear from customers who have defected to your competition in search of more understanding, empathetic support staff.