If your business is growing fast, then your customer service ticket volume is, too. At some point, the inquiries and questions from customers can be too much to handle internally. For many companies, outsourcing is the best next move.
Yet it can be daunting to begin the process of finding the right business process outsourcer (BPO)—one that you trust to be the voice of your company, to represent your brand, and solve your customers’ problems. How can you be sure you’re putting your customers in good hands?
Here are 12 questions every company should ask while interviewing an outsourcer + what answers to expect in return.
1. Who is my main point of contact?
When you start working with an outsourcer, you need one key contact person—ideally, someone who really gets your company. This person should be experienced, responsive, and an excellent communicator.
Ideally, you’ll have an account manager in addition to a team lead. The account manager is your primary point of contact—the person you call when something is changing, you need to plan for the future, or the team isn’t meeting your goals. The team lead supervises your agents and manages the day-to-day operations.
Some outsourcers don’t offer any account management. If your account is small, you may only have a shared team lead. If the outsourcer doesn’t offer either one, be wary. You’ll be managing your own team— which defeats the purpose of outsourcing. You need “one throat to choke” if something goes wrong.
2. How many other accounts will my account manager and team lead handle?
Your account manager and team lead work together to ensure your team is running smoothly—so it’s important to know how much time and energy they have to focus on your account.
At Peak Support, our account managers typically handle 10, and we offer dedicated team leads for teams as small as four agents. At some outsourcers, account managers handle 30 to 40 accounts—meaning yours won’t get much attention. Team leads are similar – many outsourcers won’t provide a dedicated team lead unless you have 15 agents or more. If your team is small, that may be ok – but make sure you know what you’re going to get.
3. Will the agents be dedicated or shared?
Some outsourcers use shared agents who support multiple companies. This is a good option for companies with low volume, low budgets, and simple tickets.
But, like shared team leads, shared agents are spread pretty thin. Your tickets may not be prioritized. You won’t be able to train them on complex tickets, and they may be limited to email support.
Dedicated agents can become more intimately familiar with your culture, company, and products. They can handle advanced customer inquiries and can provide feedback to help you improve your products and services.
The bottom line – if you have the volume, you should get a dedicated team.
4. What does the onboarding process look like?
Every outsourcer will have a slightly different process for onboarding. Make sure they have a process, and that it covers these six topics:
- Contract: First things first – you have to sign a contract, and this can take a few weeks. Get a draft of their contract as soon as you can so you can identify any potential blockers.
- Timeline: Align on a launch date, and make sure you understand what actually happens on that date.
- Systems: Give the outsourcer a list of the systems your agents use. The BPO should tell you how many of their people will need access, beyond the agents (e.g. managers, trainers, QA).
- Security: What are your risks? How much sensitive data will agents have access to? Make sure the outsourcer understands your security challenges and partners with you to address them.
- Training: How does training work? What do you need to do to prepare? (See more on training below.)
- Targets: Set clear measurable goals agents should hit as they get up to speed. (We’ll talk more about setting targets below.)
5. How will my agents be trained, and how long does it take?
Good customer support requires top-notch training. So it’s important to know how an outsourcer handles training and what’s required on your end to ensure it’s a success.
For example, Peak Support has a centralized training team and uses a “train the trainer” model. When a new client launches, an experienced trainer is assigned to their account. The client trains the team lead and the trainer first. Then, the trainer takes the client’s materials, adapts them, and owns all training moving forward.
Training outsourced agents should take as much time as training in-house agents. The time depends on the complexity of the task, and can take as long as four to six weeks. But most clients find that two weeks is a good amount of time—a week of classroom training and then a week of shadowing senior agents.
6. What kind of KPI reporting will you provide?
Tracking key performance indicators (or KPIs) is important for managing the performance of your customer service team. An outsourcer should be tracking metrics such as first reply time, full resolution time, customer satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and average wait time.
Some outsourcers have a standard report that they share weekly or monthly. At Peak Support, we customize reports to our clients’ needs—we can report every day, or even multiple times a day. You may not need this level of reporting—but make sure you know what you’re going to get.
7. Do you do Quality Assurance?
Quality Assurance (QA) helps you evaluate factors that can’t be easily measured by your helpdesk software: brand voice, following correct processes, handling sensitive personal information correctly, grammar, etc. Outsourcers should have a process for evaluating at least 5 tickets per agent per week.
At Peak Support, we have a centralized QA team that handles most QA. QA can be done by a Team Lead, but a Team Lead has an incentive to keep scores high. We want QA analysts to focus on keeping scores accurate. For more on QA, including example rubrics, check out our ebook on Quality Assurance for customer service.
8. How will you manage underperforming agents and teams?
All the reporting in the world won’t matter if your outsourcer doesn’t use the data to improve the performance of the team.
A good BPO will:
- Give employees clearly defined targets
- Ensure agents know where they stand at all times
- Reward good work, possibly with incentive pay
- Use data to identify opportunities for training or process improvements
- Provide coaching and feedback to agents who miss targets
- Put consistent under-performers on Performance Improvement Plans
- When necessary, remove underperforming agents from the team.
Be sure to ask for a full picture of how the outsourcer identifies performance issues and takes action to address them.
9. What is your policy on remote work?
In countries like the Philippines and India, COVID-19 is far from over. Some outsourcers have tried to force agents to return to the office, and agents are quitting as a result. Even in the United States, as many as 36% of active job seekers interviewed by ZipRecruiter are seeking jobs in which they can work remotely from home—jobs like customer service.
An outsourcer that embraces remote work may be in a better position to serve your business going forward because they’ll be able to find and keep top talent.
10. What locations do you offer?
Some outsourcers are based in one country or region, while others have multiple offices – Peak Support, for example, provides service from the Philippines and the U.S.
If you don’t know which location is right for you, there are three questions you should consider: budget, language or skill needs, and shifts and time zones.
Budget: Generally, the U.S. and Western Europe are two to three times more expensive than Asia, Latin America, Africa or Eastern Europe.
Language and skill needs: For European languages, you may want an outsourcer who draws talent from Eastern Europe. Serbia has emerged as a hotspot for its solid technological talent and lower hourly rates.
If you need English-speaking agents, the U.S., India, and the Philippines are all good options, with South Africa emerging as an option as well. The Philippines has millions of college-educated call center professionals who speak fluent English, with accents that are easy for Americans to understand.
Latin America is of course a key source for Spanish-speaking talent; countries with a lot of call centers include Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, and the Dominican Republic.
All of these regions are good sources for customer service agents, but outsourcers in India and Eastern Europe will likely have access to a higher volume of technical talent.
Shifts and time zones: If you’re looking for 24-hour support, the Philippines and India are both excellent choices. In the U.S., it can be hard to find teams to work the night shift, but in the Philippines and India, you can easily staff teams on all shifts, including U.S. daytime hours.
11. What is your pricing model?
Every organization should know in advance what their invoice will look like. Some outsourcers charge a monthly price per person, others charge per ticket solved, and others charge per hour worked.
You can expect to pay $25 to $32 per hour for U.S. or Western European agents, and $9 to $15 for agents in developing countries. India and South Africa will be closer to $9, while the Philippines and Latin America are typically a little higher.
You can find cheaper prices if you look at smaller BPOs with no U.S. or Western European headquarters. But be careful. If an outsourcer is charging $4/hour, their workers aren’t being paid well or treated well, and the quality of your support will reflect that.
Even a difference of $2/hour will likely result in a difference in quality or service level. As always, you get what you pay for, so make sure you’re making the right decision for your business.
Also, consider whether any of the outsourcers you’re looking at have any extra hidden fees. You may have a cheaper price, but end up paying extra for holidays or overtime.
12. How quickly can you add agents?
It’s important to find a partner that can accommodate your growth. Outsourcers generally have large recruiting networks and can hire quickly. But onboarding new hires can be delayed by factors like background checks or computer distribution, particularly with shutdowns related to COVID-19.
The answer also depends on the number of agents – adding one or two can often be done in a day, but adding 50 will take more time. Generally, two weeks is a reasonable time frame. If you need high-tech skills, it could take four weeks or more to get an agent on board.
Asking smart questions will help you understand how each outsourcer operates, so you’re picking the right partner for your unique needs. No doubt, outsourcing your customer service can feel like you’re trusting someone else to take care of your child. That’s why it’s so important to vet your BPO thoroughly to ensure you’ve found the right fit. If you’re new to outsourcing, check out Peak Support’s ebook on How to Outsource Customer Support to learn more.