When you compare call centers to find the vendor that can best represent your company to customers, one of the most important factors to look at is where that call center is located.
As of 2012, 12 percent of U.S. companies had outsourced their call or help centers to places like India and the Philippines, according to StatisticBrain.com, but that number is part of a downward trend.
This is because more and more businesses are realizing that the cheapest customer service -- the kind you can find overseas -- isn't always the best for business.
The communication frustrations that result when customers are left to ask complex questions to call agents who don't speak English as their primary language and/or who have heavy accents can reduce customer satisfaction and damage brand loyalty.
According to a 2008 study by CFI Group, "when customer service representatives are perceived to speak clearly, they also resolve customer issues 88 percent of the time" compared with those who don't speak clearly, who only resolve issues 45 percent of the time.
But now, in reaction to these findings, more and more customer service jobs are returning to the U.S. in a trend referred to as "onshoring" or "insourcing." This is great news for businesses looking to contract call center work to a third-party; they can find companies that offer native English speakers at rates that still offer a cost savings when compared with keeping a customer service department in house.
Of course, location isn't the only factor to consider. If you're looking for a call center vendor for your business, here are the eight most important things to compare:
1. Language: We've experienced the frustration of calling a customer service number only to be met with someone who we don't understand or who doesn't understand us. Since the most important function of customer service is communicating with the customer, it's critical to shop for a vendor that has agents who can speak English fluently and effectively. Moreover, they should be familiar with the culture, customs and idiosyncrasies of their customer base, according to an article on BusinessWeek.com.
2. Price: Obviously, a huge consideration when outsourcing is cost. Prices for third-party contact centers vary widely and are dependent on factors including call volume, hours of operation and technical requirements. To figure out if outsourcing is the right move for your business, do a little homework first about how much time you're currently spending on customer service and how you are fielding those complaints and inquiries (via phone, e-mail, fax, social media, etc.). From there, you can create a list of must-haves from a vendor and start shopping around -- looking for those that can check the most boxes off at the most competitive price. According to Entrepreneur.com, for more inclusive vendors, costs can range from $20 to $35 an hour, while minimal, cloud-based services run from $150 to $200 a month. Finally, be wary of pricing that's too low -- that could be a sign of bad customer service.
3. Response time: Even though you might not be paying staff by the hour to main the phones, you still want to make sure customer service calls are handled efficiently and effectively. Find out what the average talk times are for the vendors you are looking at -- being wary of those with longer talk times (this could signal that the customer and agent were having trouble communicating with each other). You'll also want to compare things like customer wait time and the call abandonment rate. Also linked to this is potential call lag time. In the U.S., customers are accustomed to phone conversations happening in real-time, with little to no delay. If customers are calling agents based in India or the Philippines, they might find the inevitable delays frustrating -- even if they are just milliseconds long.
4. Customer service: Just like you want to make sure your clients are taken care of by hiring the best call center vendor, you also want to make sure that if you have any questions or run into any problems, that you get the help you need when you need it. Look for a vendor that assigns you a dedicated account manager and that has a support team you can call on 24/7 to help you troubleshoot technology or administrative issues. Make sure these liaisons are able to explain things to you in a language you can understand and that they're courteous and professional (this will also help ensure that they are treating your customers respectfully, as well).
5. Scripts: This goes hand-in-hand with the discussion on language. Look for service providers that empower their agents to go off script and not watch the clock t00 closely in an effort to make your customers' experience feel more personalized and genuine.
6. Analytics: Call centers can generate a ton of useful data. What sort of statistics and daily reports does the vendor offer to help you better track progress and look for potential problems? Look for a vendor that provides regular updates and analytics on the areas that are most important to you -- whether its for inbound or outbound calls -- and make sure they can deliver up-t0-date information in a way that's easy to access.
7. Customization: For the most part, vendors offer a one-size-fits-all solution, tailored toward industry best practices with little wiggle room. If you'd prefer to be more hands-on with your customer service or have specific needs that might not be met with a template solution, keep an eye out for vendors that will allow you to design a plan that best fits your needs, or at least choose additional features ala carte.
8. Expertise: Even if you don't need a customized package for your inbound and outbound calling needs, it's still important that the folks fielding questions about your business have some sort of knowledge about your industry. Luckily, many contact centers offer specialties in a variety of areas -- from luxury brands to tourism to fundraising. Shop around for one that can train agents to represent your business knowledgeably.
Learn more about call center vendors on Business.com.
Photo courtesy of State Farm on Flickr