Outsourcing your company's customer service is a leap of faith.
Companies like Oregon-based outsourcer FCR can be hired to handle a wide range of customer contacts including phone, email, chat, SMS (Text), and social media. It's often faster and less expensive for small companies and start-ups to use a third-party like FCR than it is to set-up an internal customer service team, but there needs to be a lot of trust.
Will the outsourcer take great care of your customers and do a good job representing your brand?
Jeremy Watkin, FCR's Head of Quality, recently shared with me some of his secrets to outsourcing success. Watkin is the co-author of the Customer Service Life blog and was named one of ICMI's Top 50 Thought Leaders on Twitter. (If you are on Twitter, do yourself a favor and follow him!)
This is the second time I've interviewed Jeremy for the Inside Customer Service blog. We spoke back in 2015 about the impact of team size on corporate culture.
Q: Many people perceive outsourced customer service as inferior. How is FCR trying to change that perception?
"There may be a stigma around outsourcing where the perception is you're hiring second rate folks, but that's really not the case for us.
"FCR's contact centers are located in small communities in Oregon where there's often high unemployment because other industries like lumber and fishing have declined. These employees tend to be smart, well-educated, and very dedicated.
"We offer our colleagues [FCR's term for "employee" or "agent"] good, well-paying jobs with opportunities for career growth, and the chance to support well-known brands. It's exciting for many of our colleagues to know they get a chance to provide technical support for a cool start-up. It's really interesting to see how colleagues take a lot of pride in the clients they support."
Q: Do your colleagues support multiple clients or are they dedicated to one account?
"FCR used to have a shared model where colleagues would support multiple clients, but we've moved away from that. We've found that we can provide better service by having colleagues totally dedicated to one particular client.
"One thing that's really cool about our model is we diversify the clients we serve at each of our contact centers. The way it works is we try to balance seasonal needs, so one client might be ramping down after a busy season while another client's busy season is just starting. This allows us to keep more colleagues employed throughout the year while reacting quickly to our clients' seasonal needs."
Q: How do you adapt to the unique service cultures of each client you serve?
"Having colleagues dedicated to a single client helps a lot.
"Another thing that I see that really helps us is FCR is very transparent with our clients. We invite them to visit our contact centers and spend as much or as little time with their team as they want.
"It actually works best when colleagues strongly identify with both FCR and the client they're serving. You'll see colleagues with client swag at their workstations and it's obvious they take a lot of pride in supporting that brand.
"Many of our clients will also bring in their own trainers when we launch with them to help our colleagues get immersed in their culture. This helps us get to know their service philosophy and adopt their brand voice and style guide if they have one."
Q: How do you keep your colleagues engaged with your clients?
"I have a unique perspective because I came from an FCR client to work here.
"When I was an FCR client, I realized that using an outsourced model meant someone else was managing people who do support for my company. So one thing that we started doing that's really unique for outsourcers was an employee engagement survey. We actually surveyed the FCR colleagues who were supporting us to see what we could do better.
"A lot of our clients now do that.
"Many of our clients act on feedback from our colleagues to improve their products, processes, or services, and take time to empower our colleagues to serve their customers at the highest level. That helps people feel even more connected.
"I've never had an agent or a colleague refuse to talk when I ask about the pain points they're experiencing. We like to run focus groups with our colleagues when a client does a site visit so our clients can hear first-hand what colleagues are hearing from customers. This might help confirm what our client is already seeing in their customer service surveys or reveal a brand new insight. Our colleagues really appreciate being heard like that."
Q: A lot of outsourcing relationships are based on cost savings, but FCR is known for providing clients with extra value. How do you do that?
"I spend a lot of time talking to clients and looking for ways to improve not only our service, but the client's overall business.
"For example, I might identify a best practice that one of our client teams is using and share that with our other programs. One of our teams had someone who was a wizard when it comes to generating reports in Zendesk [a customer service software platform]. About half of our clients use Zendesk, so we were able to share those insights with all those other teams.
"Another area where we try to add value is through customer service surveys. We try to marry our quality monitoring process with our clients' surveys so we identify what's driving satisfaction or dissatisfaction and share that insight with our clients. We're also able to share a lot of best practices we learn with all of our clients, so when we work with one client to solve an issue, all of our clients can benefit."