Contact Center Outsourcing for SMEs
Contact Center Outsourcing for SMEs
By Donna Fluss
Companies of all sizes, small, medium and large, require contact center support to manage and enhance relationships with their customers. The past few years have seen many companies turn to outsourcers for assistance. Large and medium sized companies that have contact centers of 20-plus seats can easily find an outsourcing partner. Hundreds of outsourcers all over the world welcome their business. However, centers with less than 20 agents and particularly those with fewer than 10 agents, typical for a small company, struggle to find an outsourcer to work with them.
DMG Consulting LLC recently completed an engagement for a small company seeking an outsourcing partner. Our client was looking for a full service outsourcer to supply agents to handle phone, email and chat for inbound and outbound transactions, offer systems support for customer relationship management (CRM), inquiry tracking and order processing and do fulfillment (either directly or though a sister company). The catch was that they needed only 5 agents. We anticipated some challenges, but nothing like the obstacles that we found. We contacted over 60 outsourcers only to identify 6 that met the company’s criteria and were willing to work with our client.
Small Companies Want Leading Outsourcing Services
Small companies have the same contact center needs as large enterprises – they want comprehensive services and outstanding support at reasonable prices. Often they cannot afford to build a feature-rich contact center and lack the domain expertise to manage a hosted contact center in-house. The impact of losing even a single customer is too great for small companies. Small businesses must provide service cost effectively and with the highest levels of quality in order to build relationships that strengthen customer loyalty. Outsourcing is often a small company’s best service delivery option, if appropriate service providers are available. (And few companies can afford to invest the time in interviewing 60 companies.)
Why Most Outsourcers Don’t Service Small Companies
It is understandable why the majority of contact center outsourcers do not service small companies – it generally costs outsourcers the same amount of time and money to set up a relationship with a small company as a large one. The proliferation of outsourcers worldwide has placed significant pressure on already declining profit margins, which are as low as 10% at many outsourcing companies in North America. Outsourcers have to make a living and it’s hard to do that from servicing a small customer.
SME Outsourcing Selection Criteria
Most of the outsourcing selection requirements for small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) are the same as for larger enterprises. However, SMEs and particularly small companies, have special factors to consider. Yes, this means that the search and selection process is more burdensome for an SME than for a large company, which has more resources to dedicate to the project. Below are the steps that an SME must take in order to find an appropriate outsourcing partner.
1. Identify and document your company’s short term (12 to 18 months) and long term (18 to 36 months) outsourcing requirements. Specify exactly what you expect the outsourcer to do for your company.
2. Document your current and projected volumes for inbound/outbound calls/emails and chat sessions. Reflect special handling requirements, such as the need to process faxes and snail-mail orders – while these activities may be minimal, they could kill an outsourcing deal, as exception processing is expensive for outsourcers.
3. Do not limit your contact center needs to what you are doing today. Suitable outsourcers will handle your contact center activities productively and with a high-level of quality. An outsourcing partner may have vertical and domain expertise that allows you to expand your contact center sales and servicing capabilities beyond your current capacity. Ask for everything you want, but expect to compromise.
4. Once you’ve documented your requirements, it’s time to find 3 to 5 outsourcers that want to work with your company. Compile a list of potential outsourcing candidates. Perform media and Internet searches, ask other small and mid-size companies or contact analysts and consultants that specialize in this area. This may take a great deal of research and can be very challenging.
5. Pre-screen the outsourcers by sharing a high-level description of your functional, operational and system requirements with them. This will save you a lot of time during the request for proposal (RFP) phase.
6. Draft an RFP that describes your business model and specifies your outsourcing requirements. The RFP is a two-way communication document. Be as open as possible without giving away competitive advantages.
7. Issue the RFP to 3 to 5 outsourcers that match your high-level requirements and have expressed interest in your business.
8. Address vendor questions about your RFP and business. The more the vendors know about your business and operations, the better and more accurate their responses will be.
9. Analyze RFP responses and clarify any open items directly with the outsourcers.
10. If your budget allows, conduct a site visit at your top one or two outsourcing candidates. Be prepared to spend anywhere from 3 hours to a full day at the outsourcer’s site. Yes, you are small, but your needs are as real as a large company’s. If the outsourcing company doesn’t appreciate this and is unwilling to host you, it is not a good candidate.
11. Select two vendors with whom to negotiate – most companies generally have a preferred vendor and a back up. Negotiate with your preferred vendor but keep the second vendor available in case you cannot negotiate an appropriate deal with your preferred vendor.
Keep in mind that outsourcers are in the business of making money. They will only do business with your company if it’s profitable for them, so it’s important to build a relationship that works for both your company and theirs. It’s challenging for small and sometimes mid-size companies to find outsourcers who are willing and able to meet their needs. Willing and capable vendors are available both in and out of North America. Make sure you find a vendor that realizes your value to them so that you receive the quality service you need and deserve.