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How to hire a contact center that 'gets' your brand

Outsourcing

It's difficult to overstate how big of a decision outsourcing customer care can be. When partnering with a customer experience (CX) provider, you're essentially creating an extra arm of your company. In a way, you're hiring hundreds of new team members all at once, and those team members have one of the most important roles to play; interacting with the very people who pay your bills: your customers

That's why it's absolutely critical that you hire a contact center that's a true extension of your brand. As you embark on this sometimes harrowing — and potentially wonderful — process, here are some of the ways you can set yourself up for success.

Establish standards and best practices first

When hiring a contact center with the expectation that they'll sustain or improve your brand promise, cost savings may need to take a back seat, at least to start. "At the end of the day, cheap customer care is usually lousy customer care that damages the customer relationship and brand," says Colin Taylor, a CX veteran and CEO at customer-experience consultancy Taylor Reach Group.

Over his long career, Taylor has helped scores of clients both outsource and insource customer care. He advises clients to start by identifying their desired skill set first, before looking at cost in a given market. "The first thing has to be to deliver customer service, then reduce costs through process and tech post-launch," Taylor says.

For the best chance of success, Taylor often tells clients to optimize their in-house operation before looking to outsource. Getting your own internal teams and processes in order prevents wasted time and effort when onboarding your new partner. If your operation is already humming along, it also creates a more equal partnership.

Other experts agree that the most successful outsourcing relationships occur when the client has already identified their service standards. The rest flows from there.

"By being clear about service standards and focusing on their delivery — before getting mired in the details of financial, technological and operational considerations — many of the typical outsourcing questions, such as language and location, will answer themselves," says Adam Toporek, author of Be Your Customer's Hero and president of CX consultancy CTS Service Solutions.

Consider your industry, company stage and future needs

An often glossed-over concern in the outsourcing conversation revolves around the need for specialized expertise in contact-center services. Does your potential call-center outsourcing provider "get" your industry? Sometimes it's okay to be a generalist, but if you're in a specialized or highly regulated industry (healthcare or financial services, for example), make sure you consider using a contact-center provider with specific vertical expertise.

When in doubt, Taylor says to look for a partner that serves companies with similar brand messaging as yours: "You will want to ensure that the people they will put on phones, chat or email are going to be a fit for the brand." Particularly in the case of industries like high-tech or games, it's helpful if the outsourcer is experienced at retaining agents that "speak" those languages, or in other words, are gamers or tech enthusiasts themselves.

It's also critical to evaluate capacity, both current and future. If your company is planning to grow significantly in the next couple of years, it's important to ensure that your selected partner can grow with you. Otherwise, all your hard work finding the right fit may be for naught.

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Think about system-level compatibility

Your company and an outsourcing partner also need to be on same technology wavelength. Investigate whether your respective CRM systems talk to each other. If they don't, take the time to identify what the implications and possible limitations of that would be.

On the digital side of the customer experience (e.g. conversation bots, mobile apps, robotic process automation), evaluate whether the outsourcer maintains the same capabilities you have or that you're looking to develop. Ask about the contact-center candidate's development roadmap, and align yourself with potential partners that prioritize technology and system integration.

Assess cultural 'fit' to reduce attrition

All too often, outsourcing is merely seen as a way to reduce expenses. Too many companies focus only on the technological capabilities of their outsourcing solutions, argues Joey Coleman, an executive at CX branding firm Design Symphony.

"A true outsourcing partner not only incorporates key technologies, but creates customer interactions and touchpoints that feel like a seamless extension of your business," he notes.

Aiming for overall cultural fit between client and outsourcer — particularly when it comes to perks, benefits and team-member empowerment — is fundamental to an effective partnership for one huge reason: It reduces attrition. "Turnover is a huge concern in the market, and as the economy has improved, it's becoming more difficult to find and retain good staff," says Taylor. He's seen clients experience up to 300 percent annual staff turnover, which is an absolute killer for productivity, cost savings and customer experience.

Emphasize hiring, onboarding and training

Once you've identified your provider of choice, being hands-on helps ensure the best fit.

You as the client can provide the job description, desired skill sets and even insist on certain types of assessments to gauge personality type, says Taylor, who recommends client company representatives sit in on some interviews, especially for team leads and supervisors.

Middle management can be a vital linchpin that connects the executive team and the frontline. Having contact-center managers who reflect your companies' values and goals is necessary to the overall success of the customer-service team.

Onboarding then becomes the next critical step, says Jeanne Bliss, a customer experience expert and a co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association.

The client has a huge role to play in onboarding, particularly in communicating the company culture and values that the outsourced team members will express to end customers. Bliss suggests that client companies should provide videos to contact centers, and offer shadowing opportunities as clear examples of behaviors to emulate when representing your brand.

Don't be afraid to ask for references

When it comes to identifying the right outsourcing partner for your needs, there are hundreds of choices out there. But as any brand can testify from their own customer relationship, reviews are an important part of the buying journey.

The best outsourcing providers will have some very happy clients willing to vouch for the quality and mutual commitment required of their relationship. Ask to speak with them. In the end, hearing from others in your position is one of the best ways to make a very difficult choice that will have a lasting impact on your brand, your customers and your future growth prospects.

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