You’ve developed a winning product. Not only is it good—it’s selling. And people like it! Business is booming and you’re excited about what lies ahead.
And then, all of a sudden the customer inquiries start coming in. Your customers have issues and questions, and suddenly you have more work than you can handle. You know a ton about your business and your product, but you know very little about how to scale a customer support team to meet this sudden surge of demand.
This might happen when you have zero customer service agents. Perhaps the CEO and engineering team are all handling customer support part-time. Or perhaps you already have 10, 20, or even 50 agents. Either way, the challenge is the same—you need a partner who can help you bring this team up to scale quickly so that you can focus on what made this company great to begin with: your visionary product.
International outsourcing hit a huge boom in the 1990s, as many companies discovered the financial and operational incentives of shifting customer support to BPO (business process outsourcing) providers.
The natural growing pains of this expansion period affected early customer satisfaction, but those times have come and gone. Nowadays, outsourcing is increasingly common and essential to business growth, especially since online tools have facilitated easy and efficient connections with people from around the world.
But many interested, high-growth companies aren’t quite sure where to begin. In this guide, we’ll outline the benefits of outsourcing customer support, which may be different than you think. We’ll then walk you through a four-step process for building and launching your new outsourced customer support team.
When many people think of outsourcing customer support, they think only about saving money on labor costs. But that’s not the only benefit of outsourcing. Here are the four most meaningful benefits of working with a BPO to scale your customer service team.
While it’s true that outsourcing can sometimes reduce labor costs, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Office space, equipment, infrastructure, HR, and training all incur costs, with those expenses growing even higher if you work in an urban center. Office space for one customer service agent in a major metro area could cost $7,000 a year or more.
Working with a BPO reduces all of those costs. International agents based in countries that have a wealth of specialized talent and also speak fluent English—like the Philippines—can be much more cost-effective, but make no compromises on your company’s reputation for quality.
A good customer service outsourcing company is an expert in providing customer support. They know what KPIs are important, understand best practices for improving response times and customer satisfaction, and know how to scale a team. They should also be able to incorporate your brand voice, so they’ll integrate seamlessly into your team. A customer service BPO would also come prepared to handle multi-channel engagement (phone, email, social media, live chat).
A customer service outsourcer should also have a deep recruiting network for customer service agents with the skills your company requires. In a world where U.S. companies lose $75 billion a year to poor customer experiences, it pays to have expert reps ready to join the action.
Of course, not every outsourcer can provide this level of quality. Later in this ebook, we’ll talk about what questions to ask to make sure your outsourcer is a great partner for your company.
As your sales, customer service, and back-office teams grow in line with your business, you can easily get lost in the chaos of hiring, training, organizing, and supervising a growing staff.
Let a BPO handle non-core tasks, while you stay focused on the innovation, design, and development of your central business. You’ll grow faster if outsourcers handle the high volume tasks, so there are fewer competing demands for your attention.
An outsourcer not only solves your long-term capacity issues but can also accommodate temporary ones as well. Risks to your company are reduced when your BPO can add new agents quickly (often within a week) to reach a sustainable scale. It’s also common to hit a point where you want to add round-the-clock support for after-hours or international customers, which can be harder to manage with local talent.
An established outsourcer will also be prepared to help you handle spikes in demand, seasonal variations, significant product launches, and other high variance factors.
If you’re new to outsourcing, it can be hard to know where to start. Do you even need an outsourcer? If so, which one should you choose? There are hundreds and maybe even thousands of options to consider. Your customers are your business—how can you be sure you’re putting them in good hands? In the rest of this guide, we’ll break down the process of outsourcing your customer support team.
DECIDE: Determine whether outsourcing is the best strategy for your customer support team
Outsourcing may not be the best fit for your company, or it may not be the best fit for your company right now. Here are a few ways to determine whether outsourcing your customer service team is the right way to go.
Do you have the volume?
If you have a low volume of customer support tickets—say, a few tickets a day—it may not make sense to outsource your customer service team. At this point, the CEO and founding team can still learn a lot by interacting with customers directly.
Furthermore, outsourcing may not be cost-effective when volume is low. Most outsourcing firms have some sort of minimum—typically, at least one full-time agent. Depending on the complexity of the tickets, fully trained customer service agents can typically handle anywhere from 15 tickets a day to over 100. If you don’t have that kind of volume, your agent will be idle unless you have other tasks for him or her to take on.
Some outsourcing firms charge by the ticket, so that may be an option. But keep in mind that if you choose that route, your customer support agent is likely supporting multiple companies—and your response times and the quality of support might suffer as a result.
How established are your processes?
Outsourcing is easiest if you already have an established customer service team and your basic processes are already in place—even if you only have one or two agents in house. Some outsourcers will partner with you to build an entire customer service team from scratch—but some won’t.
At Peak Support, we are sometimes the first hire after the CEO or the founding team. We can help a company choose and implement a ticketing system, build macros, and establish other processes. But it only makes sense in certain circumstances. It’s easy to do in e-commerce, for example; even if your company doesn’t have established processes, e-commerce customer support is repeatable enough that we can build a team with ease.
But if you sell enterprise software in a new industry, you should probably build your support team in-house and consider outsourcing later, once you already have a system in place. The same goes if your industry is highly regulated, or if you have a very high customer lifetime value.
In those cases, you need to hire an experienced customer support manager who can help structure and build an internal team. Once you have a set of established practices, you can start thinking about which tickets you might be able to outsource to a partner.
Is customer support your core business?
Outsourcing is an excellent fit for a company when you have:
The critical piece is that you don’t outsource your “core” business or product. For example, a telehealth company that provides remote, video-call, mental health and wellness counseling probably wouldn’t want to outsource its agents, because the agents are the business. The same might go for a company that sells virtual assistant services.
In these cases, your customer support team isn’t supporting the product—it is the product. If this applies to you, it might make sense to outsource other functions, but you should probably keep your agents in-house.
EXPLORE: Understand your options
Outsourcers come in many shapes and sizes. Before you even start talking to potential partners, you should think about what type of outsourcer you need.
International vs. domestic
Building an international customer service team is typically cheaper than locating it in the U.S. In addition, some overseas markets simply have more available talent. The Philippines, for example, is brimming with millions of customer service professionals. Peak Support’s Philippines-based customer service agents typically have excellent English skills, a college degree, and an average of 7-8 years of experience serving major multinational brands.
Domestic teams can more sense for certain customer bases. International outsourcing can be a controversial political issue—which some customers may be sensitive about—so it’s advisable to weigh the benefits against the potential risks of using an international team.
A blended team of both domestic and international agents can offer the best of both worlds. In the beginning, Your international team might handle lower tier tickets while the domestic agents take on the more complex issues, live chats, and phone calls. Over time, however, an international team may be able to take on Tier 2 and 3 tickets as well. This mix allows you both the cultural familiarity of a domestic staff and the efficiency and expertise offered by an international BPO specialist.
Remote workforce vs. physical call center
Some outsourcers only use physical call centers; some offer remote agents; and some have a mix of the two. Remote workforces have a few benefits.
First, they enable your BPO to hire the best talent, no matter where they live.
A remote workforce is also less susceptible to the risks of having all your eggs in one basket. A single physical call center could lose power or internet connectivity (due to a storm or a provider issue), whereas a team divided among several locations has some redundancy to keep operations going.
However, if you’re using a remote customer service team, it’s critical to take steps that will integrate them seamlessly with your in-office workforce—culturally and in terms of communication. At Peak Support, we’ve been 100% remote since day one, so we know how to manage remote training, ensure communication, and build a great company culture with a remote team.
Dedicated agents vs. shared agents
Typically, it’s more advantageous to hire full-time agents who work only for you, and will thus be more immersed in your company and product. This ensures that the agents will be prepared to resolve questions with nuanced, informative answers rather than boiler-plate responses.
Some outsourcers, however, hire agents who work across multiple accounts. This may be a good-enough solution for a company that has a fairly low volume of tickets or can’t afford to commit to full-time agents.
If you’re using shared agents, make sure they’re only handling less complex tickets—such as FAQ responses and password resets—while escalating difficult issues to a dedicated team.
Languages and other specialized needs
Finally, you may have needs beyond customer support. Most BPOs will handle back office tasks - data entry, billing support, and content review, for example. Beyond that, BPOs have a wide variety of capabilities. At Peak Support, our back office services also include graphic design, copywriting, social media moderation, direct mail fulfillment, and fraud detection. We also offer consulting services in areas such as product design and development. Other BPOs might offer specialized services such as telemarketing, and IT outsourcing.
Many outsourcers offer only one language. If you need English and Spanish, nearshore options in Mexico often do both. Outsourcers in the Philippines can also sometimes handle English-Spanish bilingual customer support, as there are many dual English-Spanish speakers in the Philippines. If you need additional European languages, Eastern Europe can also be a good option.
INTERVIEW: Find a firm that fits your needs
To match up with a good partner, start by building a list of questions that cover everything from culture to technology to capacity to training methods. You’re looking for high quality and affordable cost. Some questions to ask could include:
Will you have an account manager you can reach any time? Or will your outsourcer find you a few warm bodies and leave it at that? If you’re growing, you want an outsourcer who is a partner, who will be willing to grow and adjust as your needs change. Ask who your account manager is and how often you’ll communicate with them.
Some outsourcers use dedicated agents but in some cases you’d be sharing your agents with other teams. Also, in some cases you’re sharing a team lead as well. At Peak Support, all of our agents and team leads are fully dedicated to one client.
Does the outsourcer have teams of a similar size to yours? Some outsourcers may specialize in large teams, while others may mostly manage teams with fewer than 10 agents. Whatever your size, make sure the outsourcer can serve your specific needs. At Peak Support, our minimum team size is 2 FTEs but we also have teams of 50 or more agents.
Does your outsourcer report on KPIs? Or do they expect you to do it? If they do provide metrics, will they be flexible if you want to see data that they don’t typically include in their reports?
And how often will they send reports: every day, every week, or every month? This may not matter much if your team is small, but as it grows you’ll want to be monitoring performance on a daily basis.
Some outsourcers will require you to use their proprietary technology platforms. This makes it harder for you to leave for another provider. At Peak Support, we use our clients’ systems. We particularly like Zendesk and Salesforce, but we’ll work with any systems our clients prefer.
Some large firms may require you to hire 25 agents or more when arranging the partnership. Others, like Peak Support, set a manageable baseline of 2 FTE. Why set a 2 FTE minimum? Even companies that already have large customer service teams often want to start small when working with a new partner. We welcome the opportunity to prove ourselves with a small team before scaling up.
Conversely, some small companies ask if they can start with just 1 FTE. We don’t recommend this, because there’s no redundancy. If you have one agent and he or she is out sick, you have 0 agents.
Contracts with rigid numbers can be challenging in the often uncertain conditions of a growing company. You need a BPO who can quickly adjust to your needs. How much notice does the outsourcer require if you need to reduce the size of the team? At Peak Support, we ask for 30 days notice. We have no long-term commitments or minimum contract lengths.
An outsourced team needs to feel like an extension of the internal team and adapt to your voice, system, and culture. This means you’ll want the freedom to talk directly to agents if needed. In addition, if an agent is underperforming, you want a partner who will act quickly to respond to your concerns.
That doesn’t mean you need to approve every hiring or management decision your outsourcer makes - after all, you’re partnering with them to get these tasks off your plate. But you want to make sure the customer service outsourcing firm will partner with you to make sure the team is performing to your standards.
Most outsourcers should support email, phone, chat, text, and social media.
Day, night, weekends? 24-7? As you grow, you may want robust around-the-clock support. If you need flexibility to add more shifts, you will likely need to go with an international team. In the Philippines, we can find agents to work any shift. In fact, many of our teams work U.S. business hours.
Your outsourced support team will likely have access to sensitive personal information. Ask what steps the firm is taking to keep that data secure and ensure compliance with data privacy regulations like GDPR.
This is a good question to test whether the outsourcer is a match for your company culture.
You might have other needs: research, data entry, telemarketing, graphic design, web development, etc. Some firms offer these services but some don’t.
ONBOARD: Ensure your launch sets you up for long term success
Once you’ve vetted a potential BPO and found a match between your needs and the services they offer, you’re ready to migrate responsibilities to their team. These are the steps to follow as you integrate them with your business:
An outsourcer can be a valuable partner in your business’s journey towards success. With an experienced BPO provider, you’ll be able to:
Whether you outsource one business process or many, the goal is always the same: to reduce your burdens so that you and your local staff can focus on building your business.