Getting Started with Outsourced Customer Support

Your guide to everything you need to know about outsourced customer support

Table of Contents

The long-term success of any company depends on more than solely the number of customers you have. Sure, you need customers to generate revenue and know that there is demand for your product. However, business doesn’t stop there.

Nurturing customers is the second step to selling. Building a relationship of trust and transparency can do wonders for your retention rates, as well as your brand as a whole. From keeping customers updated about their purchase, helping with installation or troubleshooting, offering training, and handling inquiries and complaints, customer support encompasses a number of tasks.

But before we get to the how of customer support, let’s start at the very beginning with the what.

 

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What Is Customer Support?

Put very simply, customer service is the assistance offered by a company when there’s a problem with the product they’ve sold. ‘Problem’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is faulty, more that the customer has questions about its set-up, functionality or performance.

Customer support is essentially the relationship a business has with its customers after a sale has been made - it’s the ongoing communication to ensure the product is satisfactory and the customer is happy.

 

The importance of customer support cannot be underestimated, it has the power to boost your customer satisfaction rate and radically impact your referral rate.

 

Customer Support Channels

A support channel is a medium through which you can communicate with customers. Popular support channels include telephone, email, social media, live chat, video, forums and self-service knowledge bases.

In the old days, if a customer wanted support from a company, the only channel available was the phone. Now companies can use a multichannel or an omnichannel approach.

- Multichannel is simply using multiple channels to communicate with customers, that is giving them the option to call, email or chat for a customer support inquiry.

- Omnichannel customer support means seamlessly meeting customers on the channel or channels that they prefer at every level of interaction with your organization.

According to the Incite Group over 50% of companies report their most critical customer experience issue as being “providing a seamless experience across multiple channels.”

While in a multichannel system the customer has to explain his issue every single time, in the omnichannel system, the customer support team has access to all the previous interactions with the customer regardless of the channels used before.

 

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If you’re a small company or startup, you can begin offering one channel for support and slowly move into multichannel and later into omnichannel approach. Getting to omnichannel customer support requires the use of technical tools such as Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) software and training customer support reps on how to use it.

The key to great omnichannel support is consistency. No matter the channel, each of your reps must follow the same protocols, voice and tone when helping customers. Reps should have access to all the channels and information and must also have the autonomy to make decisions that will help the customer. That way, you’ll make sure the buyer journey is consistent and satisfying.

 

The key to great omnichannel support is consistency. Make sure the buyer journey is consistent and satisfying.

 

Customer Support vs. Customer Success

While customer support typically means responding to customers inquiries and technical issues, customer success is a proactive approach, where you help them get maximum value of your product or service.

In other words, instead of waiting for challenges and problems to arise and customers contacting you about them, you anticipate those challenges and address them before they happen.

The results of this process are longer customer retention, turning customers into raving fans, and lots of referrals through word-of-mouth.

“Great customer success is when your customer understands and believes that you will always have their best interest and the interest of the business relationship as priority,” says Marion Balandra, a Customer Experience Leader with years of experience in the field. “When you partner empathy with great results, that to me is the perfect customer success formula!”

With a team focused on customer success, you can expect more renewals, upsells and cross-sells; satisfied clients who love your company; greater usage and adoption of your product; loyal customer and more revenue.

Many companies today are outsourcing customer success.

 

Hiring, Training and Managing

 

What Is Outsourced Customer Support?

Outsourcing customer support means using a third party or outside partner to take care of the hiring, training, and managing of the customer support team as well as the day-to-day operations of your customer support channels.

Why would you outsource your customer support? Initially, you must consider if an outside company can do the work more efficiently than you or if you don’t have the budget or the staff to do it in-house.

“Companies should consider outsourcing their customer support if the outsourcer can do it better,” says customer service and experience advisor and speaker, Adrian Swinscoe. “Now, better could mean a range of things. It could mean that they have better skills, are better equipped to cover more channels or offer a broader geographical reach so you can offer support in more places for longer. Better does not, however, always mean cheaper.”

Then, there are other intangibles to consider when outsourcing customer support, such as corporate culture (what would the effect be on internal culture if you outsource this part of your operations) and your overall goals.

 

“Companies should consider outsourcing their customer support if the outsourcer can do it better,” says customer service and experience advisor and speaker, Adrian Swinscoe.

 

Why Do Companies Choose to Outsource Customer Support?

Outsource Customer Support to save time and money

“I always look at outsourcing as an opportunity to help others, as well as adopt a solution that is cost effective and scalable. It provides benefits to all parties involved,” says Marion Balandra.

Hiring a full customer support team in-house (with 4 agents and support staff) could cost over $455,000 per year with salaries and benefits, while outsourcing will cost you much less.

Hiring and onboarding can be a long and draining process. It’s estimated that companies spend a total of 1,170 hours hiring new employees. Training new customer support hires takes about three months.

 

Outsourcing Customer Support

 

Reports show that the average tenure of a junior rep is 15 months and the costs of replacing a rep are $97,690 on average.

That also means that you’d have to start hiring again every year, compounding the time and money spent.

So far, we haven’t considered the hidden costs of a customer service team nor the fixed costs of office space (around $12,000 per employee), furniture, utilities, maintenance, equipment, software, licensing fees per user and IT staff.

 

Hiring and onboarding can be a long and draining process

 

Outsource Customer Support to grow faster

Let’s say your company is growing fast and you’re getting more clients than what your internal support team can handle. What do you do?

Can you hire, train and manage new hires fast enough to meet demand? Maybe not.

Outsourcing a team and just doing a quick onboarding will allow you to meet the demands of supporting a growing customer base.

Businesses that have seasonal cycles when more support is needed, such as Christmas, for example, choose to outsource so they can scale up or down quickly during those periods.

Or perhaps you are just starting out and working with an experienced team of customer support pros makes sense. Or maybe you need to expand your coverage to weekends or even 24/7 and you need a customer service company to fill the gaps.

Another scenario would be if you’re expanding internationally and need to offer customer support in another language and a different time zone. You’d need to outsource customer support with a partner that can provide reps in that language and time zone.

Outsource Customer Support to access a larger talent pool

Outsourcing customer support gives you access to talent beyond your local area and those few willing to relocate.

 

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Many outsourcing companies have offices in different countries with customer support professionals who are fluent in English and other languages. Living expenses in these countries are lower than in the United States so salaries are at a lower scale. That means you get this talent for less money than you would hiring in-house.

 

Common Objections About Outsourcing Customer Support

Our company does everything in house

Some companies, of course, have never tried outsourcing - they do everything in house.

When things are going well with your staff and your processes, it makes sense to keep customer support close to home.

The question is, if you could get the same results (or better) with less liabilities, would you consider outsourcing customer service?

Perhaps you don’t have to replace your current in house team, but start by expanding your existing operations with an outsourced team, allowing you to scale more quickly.

Our product is too complicated

Perhaps your software needs a technical expert or developer to guide your users to solve their problems. Or your piece of machinery is quite sophisticated for the average customer support rep to understand.

That’s a good reason to keep customer support in house.

However, not all customer support inquiries are about complex technical issues - some are about shipping, pricing, return policies, invoicing and the like. Why have your developers and engineers answering generic questions when you could outsource customer support to a team trained to answer those questions and >

We can’t afford it

Budgets are tight, of course, but one of the reasons for outsourcing customer support is to save money on recruiting, training and managing staff.

 

The reasons for outsourcing customer support is to save money on recruiting, training and managing stuff

 

Perhaps you think you can’t afford outsourcing customer service, but the opposite might be true, especially when you consider the hidden costs of a customer service team. Besides salaries, you must pay for employee benefits, office space, specialized customer support technology (both hardware and software), plus all the costs involved in hiring, training and managing. Click here to see a breakdown of all those hidden costs.

How would our managers know things are working?

You may be worried that an off-site team may be goofing off or not being productive if your managers are not on hand to supervise.

This issue can be easily solved when you work with a reputable partner who constantly communicates with you about the results (customer satisfaction metrics, for example), about the things that work and the things that need to be improved.

You don’t have to lose control if you set up the right processes and communication channels to track productivity and results.

 

You don’t have to lose control if you set up the right processes and communication channels to track productivity and results.

 

We outsourced before and it didn’t work out

As in everything in business, sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. But that shouldn’t deter you from doing what’s best for your growth.

 

The key is to find the right partner

 

The key is to find the right partner - and for that you must know exactly what you need in terms of customer support and hire an outsourced team that fills that need. For instance, if you are a large company, determine the partner’s capacity to handle high-volume queries and/or in-depth conversations; if you have international customers, find a multilingual 24/7 customer support team; if you have complex products that may cause frustration to your clients, find a partner with experience dealing with difficult clients.

Finally, evaluate different potential partners and check their track record, even talking to some of their previous clients.

 

Useful Customer Support Statistics

 

54%

Globally, 54% of all consumers say that they have higher customer service expectations than they did just one year ago. (Microsoft)

96%

Across the globe, 96% of consumers say customer service is an important factor in their choice of loyalty to a brand (Microsoft)

Across the globe, 96% of consumers say customer service is an important factor in their choice of loyalty to a brand (Microsoft)

33%

33% of customers who abandoned a business relationship last year did so because personalization was lacking. (Accenture)

34%

34% of companies are implementing “customer journey mapping” into their customer service. (Kolsky)

89%

89% of consumers have switched to doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. (Harris Interactive)

17%

Americans will pay 17% more to do business with firms with great reputations when it comes to customer service. (American Express)

52%

52% of consumers say they have made an additional purchase from a company after a positive customer service experience. (Dimensional Research)

6 - 7

Attracting a new customer is 6-7 times more expensive than retaining a current one. (Kolsky)

25%

A 5% increase in customer retention can produce 25% more profit. (Bain)

-

Even though fewer customers may be experiencing problems, more customers are inclined to complain about customer service problems than ever before. (Deloitte)

31%

31% of customers report reaching out to a company via Twitter. (Forrester)

57%

57% of customers would rather contact companies via digital media such as email or social media rather than use voice-based customer support. (Ameyo)

85%

It’s estimated that by 2020, 85% of customer service interactions will be automated. (Ameyo)

 

Common Customer Support Mistakes

Not listening

This is arguably the biggest pitfall of customer support reps. Whether spending hours dealing with a complicated issue or helping someone with a routine question, not listening undermines the main purpose of customer support - to support the customer. Not listening, or listening passively, means not truly understanding the customer’s position. While reps are all-too familiar with the ins and outs of a product, the customer isn’t and probably feels that their concern is unique to them.

Assuming what the customer wants, or is going to say, is not only rude, it’s bad customer service.

Using too many robots

Technology has benefited customer support in a huge way, for both customers and people working as support agents. With that said, the need to modernize and implement automated chats and robots can actually have a detrimental effect on your customer support. Customers are savvy, and most people can tell if messaging is generic or if they’re speaking to a robot posing as a human.

The trick here is to utilize a number of different communication platforms. Remember that while some customers prefer online chat, others will want a phone number to speak to an operator, while other people like email or social media.

 

The trick here is to utilize a number of different communication problems

 

Assuming productivity means resolved cases

Customer support is a huge job, no matter the size of the company. It is demanding and usually considered one of the biggest pain points for businesses. In response, many employers make the mistake of tracking quantity over quality. Customer support agents are pushed to resolve tickets quickly and meet minimum call targets. Of course, productivity is important, but it often comes at the cost of really empathizing and helping a customer.

Rather than focus on the volume of calls/messaging, employers should document the health of each contact - resolved, pending (unhappy), pending (content), needs attention ASAP. The progression between these health statuses are what really matter in customer support. Tailor your health scale to be as granular or relevant to your product and support capabilities.

 

Tailor your health scale to be as granular or relevant to your product and support capabilities.

 

Overpromising

The great thing about customer support is that you can manage the expectations of customers without disappointing them. People appreciate transparency and clarity over grand claims. Always be honest with your estimations, tell customers how long something will take to be fixed and explain why. Ensure there is a simple, easy-to-access place with all your customer support information, including your opening hours (if applicable), and languages offered.

 

The great thing about customer support is that you can manage the expectations of customers without disappointing them

 

If you’re facing repeat demands from customers that you can’t yet action, address it publicly - e.g. “Sorry, currently we don’t offer customer support in Spanish but we’re working very hard to build a global team!”

Equally, if you’re unsure of the answer to something, tell the customer you’ll have to check with a manager or employee before replying. There are countless occasions when customer support agents make incorrect assumptions that later have to be backtracked or apologised for. Save the hassle.

Not paying attention to data

Data is invaluable to customer support. It not only allows companies to track their progress and year-over-year performance, it essentially tells companies what customers are struggling with. Documenting information around the type of issues customers are having, plus their location, age, and more can help businesses better understand their markets. Recording calls is great for trainee reps but also to identify points of frustration for customers, and to constantly improve the customer support script. Moreover, data also provides a fair and rough estimation of how long it should take to fully work out a customer problem.

Data supplies the stats to reflect on how a business has successfully offered customer support in the past, plus where they failed to deliver. Data is also the foundation for building a customer support strategy - one that is realistic, informed, and has a greater chance of generating positive results.

Undervaluing customer support staff

A sad reality is that customer support agents tend to have subpar working conditions. It could be in the form of low pay, long hours, no motivation or little recognition. In order for customer support staff to perform well, a positive culture is imperative. Regular awards or shout-outs, company events, personal development plans, and training are easy ways to inspire staff and ensure they are continually learning.

Again, customers are sharp and can recognize a support agent who is bored at their job versus one who is happy. A study by Glassdoor revealed that 81% of employees will work harder when their boss shows appreciation, so it’s in both parties interest to preserve a constructive work atmosphere.

 

Personalizing Customer Support

While customer support used to be contained to call centers and rows of people wearing headsets, answering back-to-back calls, the landscape today looks very different. The rise of e-commerce has dramatically altered how businesses interact with customers post-sale. Automated phone systems, emails, and chat bots have made customer support significantly easier and faster - being able to reach a larger amount of people with fewer steps. However, these mediums face their own drawbacks - noticeably in lacking a sense of personalization.

 

90% of people say they still prefer to speak to a customer service agent rather than navigate a phone menu.

 

In fact, nearly 90% of people say they still prefer to speak to a customer service agent rather than navigate a phone menu. What does that tell us about customer service? That human representatives are interpreted as more effective and efficient than technology when it comes to handling matters after a product or service has been bought.

 

Training Customer Support Teams

Because customer support is so important for the survival of a business - 96% of consumers say customer service is an important factor in their choice of loyalty to a brand - every customer-facing employee in your organization should be trained in at least some aspects of customer service.

 

Many companies lack a proper training program for customer support and this affects their bottom line. That’s why they choose to outsource.

 

Many companies lack a proper training program for customer support and this affects their bottom line. That’s why they choose to outsource.

What should be included in a good customer support training program?

First, it should include best practices for each of the customer support channels you’ll use, be it phone, chat, email or SMS.

It’s vital to train the team on how to handle difficult customers (with role-play activities), how to use the company’s CRM, how to build rapport and be empathetic with customers (as well as other soft skills) and a thorough knowledge of your company’s product or service.

 

Adrian Swinscoe says: “if you focus on giving your people an intimate knowledge of your customers, the products and services you offer as well as the systems you use then combined with a great attitude and some killer communications skills then you will probably not go far wrong.”

 

Check out this video to learn about some of the best practices and skills for customer support that you must train on:

 

 

A great training program will always include milestones and indicators to track the progress of the training and give them awards and recognition for their progress.

“In my years in customer support outsourcing, the key is what I call two-way training,” says Marion Balandra. “Where, one way is providing the necessary information and skills to your outsourced customer support teams, usually with a very close and personalized onboarding program. The second way is through providing the necessary know-how and “expectations” from the onboarding customer support team. The more open and constant the flow of information between both sides, the better outcome. Studies prove that the more involved customers become in training, the better and longer lasting the business relationship is.”

There are three types of customer support training:

1. New hire training

The onboarding period (first 3 months) for new hires is extremely important to get them working at their full potential. They must feel comfortable as part of the team and should be clear about the expectations you have from them and the goals they must accomplish in their role.

You might be interested in this: 5 Interview Questions to Ask When Hiring a Customer Support Specialist

2. Ongoing training

Depending on your needs, you should conduct trainings every quarter, semester or year. These training could be refreshers of customer support best practices or particular skills the team may need to improve their work. It’s also a good time to do some team building activities and recognize the best performers.

3. Time-sensitive training

New products or services, recalls, crisis, seasonal offers and other time-sensitive situations require customer support reps to receive training. Whenever your company is likely to face new questions from customers, your support team must have all the information and the training to answer them efficiently.

 

When outsourcing customer support, ask your potential partners about their training program and the onboarding process and mentorship program for new hires.

 

Key Roles in an Outsourced Customer Support Team

Modern customer support teams must go beyond the typical group of call center agents taking calls and a customer support manager cracking the whip to make sure they’re working hard.

 

When looking for an outsourced customer support solution, make sure the customer support agents are surrounded by a well-trained team of support professionals.

 

The following are five key roles in an outsourced customer support team.

1. Customer Support Representatives

New products or services, recalls, crisis, seasonal offers and other time-sensitive situations require customer support reps to receive training. Whenever your company is likely to face new questions from customers, your support team must have all the information and the training to answer them efficiently.

2. Customer Support Trainer

The trainer prepares the reps for the daily challenges of the job, role playing with them and teaching them the tools and techniques to be successful and stay motivated.

3. Customer Support Manager

She manages the daily activities of the team and provides support to make sure the team’s key performance indicators are met.

4. Quality Assurance Analyst

The QA monitors calls and other communications to make sure the customer support reps are solving issues in an effective and professional manner. They’re responsible for developing assessment programs for the customer support team.

5. Recruiter

The recruiter finds and hires the members of the customer support team.

 

Key Roles

 

Tracking the Results of Outsourced Customer Support

As you begin working with the outsourced customer support team, you should measure their performance, using some key indicators, such as ticket volume, average response time, average resolution time, net promoter scores and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores.

Check out the following video for an explanation of these metrics:

 

 

Now, let’s consider three important Customer Success Metrics in more detail:

1. Customer churn rate

It costs 5 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, you don’t want to lose your current clients.

 

It costs 5 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, you don’t want to lose your current clients.

 

The Customer Churn Rate lets you know how you’re doing retaining customers. In other words, your churn rate is the amount or percentage of customers who cancel or don’t renew their subscription during a particular time period - how many customers cut ties with you.

For example, take the number of customers that you lost last quarter and divide that by the number of customers that you started with last quarter. The resulting percentage is your churn rate.

Let’s say you started last quarter with 1,000 customers and lost 30 over the course of the quarter. The churn rate then is 3%.

Now, compare that churn rate with your growth rate, that is the number of new customers acquired during that period. How many new customers did you get last quarter?

If the growth rate is higher than the churn rate, then you are growing. If it’s not, you’re in trouble.

There are more ways to calculate churn rates, not just by the number of customers lost, but also by the amount of revenue lost from those customers.

A company can compare its churn and growth rates to determine if there was overall growth or loss. While the churn rate tracks lost customers, the growth rate tracks new customers who begin purchasing from the organization. If the growth rate is higher than the churn rate, the company has experienced growth. When the churn rate is higher than the growth rate, the company has experienced a loss in its customer base.

 

Churn Rate

 

2. Expansion Revenue

Expansion revenue is the percentage of your new revenue coming from your existing customers. How does this happen? It may be from customers who upgrade their services to a different subscription plan, or who pay for extra seats or add-on features or functions.

An existing customer subscribed to the $99/per month plan deciding to upgrade to the $499/per month plan would be an example of expansion revenue.

While the churn rate measures retention, expansion measures growth. If you measure it monthly, it is called expansion MRR (Expansion Monthly Recurring Revenue) and it’s calculated by simply taking all of new revenue from upsells & cross-sells for a given month and dividing it by the revenue you ended with the month before.

3. Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction measures how your product, service, and overall experience either falls short, meets, or exceeds customer expectations.

This metric is usually calculated by deploying a customer satisfaction survey that asks on a five or seven-point scale how a customer feels about a support interaction, purchase, or overall customer experience, with answers between “highly unsatisfied” and “highly satisfied” to choose from

One popular method of measuring customer satisfaction is Net Promoter Score (NPS), which asks how likely they are to recommend your business to someone else. Responses range from 0 (very unlikely) to 10 (very likely).

Respondents are grouped as follows:

9 - 10

Promoters (score 9-10) are loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others, fueling growth.

7 - 8

Passives (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings.

0 - 6

Detractors (score 0-6) are unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth.

Check other customer service metrics you should be tracking here.

 

Steps to Outsource Customer Support

Lastly, you need to ask yourself the following questions before you outsource customer support.

1. Why are you outsourcing customer support?

Is it to save costs? And if so, how much? Decide on a number before hiring someone.

What are the customer support team’s main goals? Provide technical support to existing clients or increase customer retention? What services will be included in the agreement?

2. Who are my clients?

What channels do your clients prefer to interact with you? What communication style are they accustomed to? Your outsourced team should sound like you.

3. Who’d be the right partner?

Do you need a multilingual 24/7 customer support team? Do you require an omnichannel approach?

What’s the candidates’ track record? Talk to some of their previous clients.

Do they offer a support team for the customer service reps or not?

4. Is the culture right?

Make sure the outsourcing company’s culture fits with your own culture. Your partner reflects your values and communicates with your voice. This is so important because your customers will contact the outsourced team and in their minds, they’re talking to you, not a third party.

Check out this video about our company culture:

 

 

Are You Ready to Satisfy Your Customers?

When you’re ready to scale, outsourced customer support can give you a way to efficiently grow your team and meet the demands of a growing business. Whether you’re seeking to grow your customer retention, raise your Net Promoter Score, or improve your KPIs, an outsourced customer support team can provide the additional manpower needed to satisfy your clients and ensure customer success.

If you’re looking for a business partner that can provide omnichannel, multilingual, 24/7 customer support, CloudTask has the resources and expertise needed to create exceptional results. With a CloudTask outsourced team, you’ll have experts with years of experience handling client queries, understanding their concerns, and quickly resolving any issues - the key to continued customer satisfaction and retention.

 

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