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Is Outsourcing Your Help Desk A Good Idea? Seth Brickner

For decades, the deci­sion of whether or not to out­source your company's help desk has boiled down to a few sim­ple questions:

  1. Do you want to con­trol expenses?
  2. Can you find another entity, off-shore or domes­ti­cally, that will do the work for less than your in-house sup­port staff?
  3. 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.

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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.
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