UKCCF and Contact Centre Panel webinar highlights

Our ‘coffee table discussion’ panel shared their insights…

A panel of industry experts, including Contact Centre Panel’s Phil Kitchen, was hosted by the UK Contact Centre Forum (UKCCF). They were tasked with giving UKCCF members the information they needed to make informed decisions on outsourcing.

The expert panel
Lynda Campbell
Lynda Campbell – Former Director of British Gas (Wales) and Head of Transformation, BA Global Contact Centres, British Airways
Dave Cleaver
Dave Cleaver – Former Head of Operations at Centrica
Phil Kitchen
Phil Kitchen – Managing Director, Contact Centre Panel
Neville Doughty
Neville Doughty – Partnership Director, Contact Centre Panel
When to outsource…and when not to outsource

The panel all agreed that the best outsourcing partnerships result from understanding the alignment of business strategies. Phil Kitchen also highlighted that good outsourcers enable businesses to give a rapid reaction to changing circumstances, an issue which has been highlighted throughout 2020 and 2021 so far.

Lynda Campbell offered a simple strategy to outsourcing: “Outsource when it’s part of your strategy, don’t outsource when it’s a knee-jerk reaction.” Dave Cleaver advised that if you can find a partner that has similar values, that will help both parties deal with challenges. For outsourcers, trying to stay clear of clients who are driven only by financial considerations.

Neville Doughty underlined that clients are outsourcing their brand, their most precious thing. They are not outsourcing the risk though, so be aware that your customers will perceive your brand based on our service, whether that’s delivered by your staff or your outsourcer’s team.

What are the main benefits of outsourcing?

Phil Kitchen: “Technology is one of the key benefits that can offer lots of additional value. We’ve seen some amazing demonstrations of technology from our panel of outsourcers that offer huge benefits in terms of flexibility, data handling, security and measurement. On top of this, the ability of good outsourcers to react to shorter term fluctuations in demand and therefore help deal with peak times is important, and there are clear cost benefits with many outsourcers who are set up to offer excellent quality of service from locations near and offshore, where costs are much lower than in-house options.”

Lynda Campbell: “Business continuity is another real benefit of outsourcing. Setting up a champion-challenger operation also enable both parties to improve results. Where outsourcers take similar calls to your in-house team, you can compare and contrast performance and listen in on the best calls to improve results across the board. Set up a partnership where you can learn from each other, where competitiveness does not harm the relationship. Champion-challenger needs to be used to drive performance but avoid using it to drive headcount, where it can be very counterproductive.”

Dave Cleaver: ”Outsourcers can deliver a step change in performance and relationships by introducing technological changes which, once proven, can be implemented by the inhouse teams too.”

What is the importance of cultural fit and managing culture across in-house and outsourced teams?

Lynda Campbell: “The cultural alignment is key to the longevity of the relationship between a client and an outsourced partner.  A cultural and strategic fit is a strong foundation to be able to give control away and to trust a partner to treat your customers how you want them to be treated. I believe it’s the answer to a successful long-term relationship.”

Neville Doughty: “When do you know you’ve achieved that cultural alignment? To me, it’s when you hear agents saying that they’re working for the client brand, not for their own company! A good cultural fit makes good governance happen. One of  the best meetings I’ve had with a client involved the Managing Director setting out his strategy on a flipchart in the meeting room, and everyone was able to get the alignment there from top to bottom, of what the client was trying to achieve.”

Dave Cleaver: “We created what we called an operational excellence framework, where multiple outsourcers could understand what we were trying to deliver. Not one partner challenged the idea and it made things clear for everybody, setting out the high standards we were aiming to achieve.”

Phil Kitchen: “One of the challenges is that procurement teams tend to apply a fairly hands-off approach to outsourcer selection. Taking procurement on the journey is very important, building that cultural fit and alignment that results in longevity.”

Lynda Cambell: “Cost does play a huge part in the outsourcing decision, but it’s important to help procurement understand the strategy.”

Challenges of direct procurement

Phil Kitchen: “Some businesses have had genuine contact centre experts in their procurement departments, but these skills have now largely been lost. We come across procurement departments that are prepared to understand the importance of business alignment, but we also experience more cost-focused procurement departments and it’s important to try to have the conversation to help the department understand the overall benefits of choosing the right outsourcing partners.”

Dave Cleaver: “As an outsourcer, it can be a red flag if the selection exercise is being led by finance using a scorecard approach. That’s not to say that the relationship can’t then be a good one, but it’s important to look at the strategic fit and to look at the long term goals.”

Neville Doughty: “Be clear and have a very well-written brief or RFP (Request For Proposal) from the outset. Have flexibility to allow creativity because if the commercials aren’t working, there needs to be a way to find out how to make the relationship better for both parties. The best conversations look for ways to make things better rather than finding fault or imposing commercial sanctions, and a difficult conversation never gets any easier by letting it fester too long.”

Dave Cleaver: “It’s not a parent-child relationship these days, it’s much more collaborative and with that comes trust. More things can be achieved with good communication and the best partners can find win-win solutions to challenges that they face. When an outsourced partner asks for help, it’s an opportunity to improve things across the entire business and this starts with open conversation.”

Are existing models of procurement fit for purpose in 21st century customer management outsourcing?

When one of our audience asked this question, unsurprisingly the panel agreed that traditional procurement models led by costs are less likely to result in good client-outsourcer relationships and results. Lynda Cambell summed this part of the session up very well:

“Not in my experience. Some of the large corporates seriously need to think about their procurement process in this area because we’re trying to build partnerships and not screw people down for a cost model that is inflexible in the end. The answer is we take them (procurement) on a journey for what we’re trying to achieve.”

Who should be responsible for measuring customer experience, the client or the contact centre provider?

Lynda Cambell: “Both. It’s a partnership and the same measure should work across the partnership, to build consistency and trust across the in-house and outsourcer teams.”

Neville Doughty: “You really can’t afford to have a difference in customer experience based on how a call was routed on a particular day. Customer experience had to be a thread that runs through the whole relationship and that both parties are responsible for.”

What is the role of technology and blended services including part outsourced solutions?

At one-time outsourcing decisions were driven by the phrase ‘let’s outsource some of this volume activity’ but with the advent of technology the landscape has changed. Neville Doughty explored this issue in the context of recent developments across the industry which not everyone has caught up with yet:

“Automation enables the outsourcing of more complex and emotional items, meaning that softer skills and more technical skills are needed to help people who have not been able to get their issues solved using automated systems. At one point there was a six-figure entry price to get this sort of technology into your building, but that’s no longer the case.”

Neville continued: “The Covid situation has meant that technology has been called upon to make homeworking possible, and the industry has learned that it can do a lot more than it realised it was capable of by utilising the right technologies. In some cases, contact centres were forced to enable people to work from home within seven days. Technology made that possible.”

Phil Kitchen agrees: “In addition, the proper use of technology actually frees resources to pay for people, to upskill those people and we’re definitely seeing the importance of upskilling agents being more recognised.”

Lynda Cambell has also noticed how the industry is taking advantage of the benefits offered by a new way of working. “I’ve noticed how much the move towards flexible remote working has made possible. Moving towards a more smart working model… If you consider recent work patterns and the difficulty some employers have had asking people to work unusual hours in the office, a smart homeworking model allows that more flexible working philosophy to be a viable option. I would be looking for outsourcers now that can help with the data science, automation and the digitalisation piece so that central agents can be upskilled to become more complex handlers of issues. The future of the industry is going to be around better skilled, higher-paid agents and fewer of them.”

Dave Cleaver underlined the need to put the customer at the centre of decisions. “The need to eradicate waste from call handling has become about the customer. What do we do to deliver the best customer outcome? We can automate most of the inbound enquiries and leave our best people to deal with the most difficult queries were, to use the common phrase, ‘computer says no’.”

When do you think that GigCX will become a reality in our market?

Neville Doughty: “The pace of adoption of the gig space for me is going to depend on how quickly brands, clients and outsourcers want people to be back in the office, and also which team members actually prefer to be in the office space. There are also questions around the gig economy relating to the security of employment, holidays and sick pay and so on.”

Neville continues: “With the right conditions, the gig economy is certainly a growth area but I think there are a few factors, including how quickly people are moved back into the office and whether that’s what they really want. Moving forwards beyond the current health crisis, making gig work a viable possibility might enable people to work much more flexibly than they do even now, logging on to work from anywhere in the world for example.”

Lynda Cambell: “In my consultancy work over recent years I’ve noticed how flexible remote working has made it possible to do much more. Moving towards a smarter working model, if you consider recent work patterns and the difficulty some employers have had asking people to work unusual hours in the office, a homeworking model allows that more flexible working philosophy to be a viable option.”

Neville Doughty: “That hybrid model of allowing remote workers to log on at peak times not only manages costs and capacity in the main office, it means that customer service performance can be maintained through peak demand periods without having too much unused capacity or struggling to handle volumes.”

What are the key messages for anyone looking to build a new outsourced relationship?

Dave Cleaver: “For me, there is a silver bullet. As a Head of Partnerships, contracts would be in place with the structure around that, but building a sustainable relationship needs much more. When a client sits in the heart of a call centre, engagement and communication become a strong part of the relationship. Finding a way to do that in the more flexible, more remote team structure that’s becoming the norm will be a key to building excellent relationships.”

Lynda Cambell: “Get it right from the start. If things are set up in the right way with cultural alignment and a win-win situation regarding the in-house and outsourced teams, then there should be no need for any blame game when things become challenging. Taking the time to build that alignment from the beginning of the relationship will result in more beneficial, more longstanding successful relationships.”

Key thoughts for outsourcers

When asked for some final thoughts for outsourcers in today’s market, our panel summarised with a few insightful brief pieces of advice.

Lynda Carter: “Only bid for work to which you think you are aligned with the partner and what they’re trying to achieve.”

Phil Kitchen: “I totally agree, strategically the goals of the two partners have got to be aligned. It’s important that the key stakeholders are helping to drive the decisions that are made. If you can get that right and find the right partner then hopefully proactive partnership management will minimise any problems going forward.”

Dave Cleaver: “Look beyond the contract and the price!”

Neville Doughty: “When building KPIs, focus on the K. You can build too many performance indicators but think seriously about what’s ‘Key’ – what’s really important. If you’ve chosen the right partner then hopefully you can leave the contract in a drawer and concentrate on getting the best result for your customers. Work together and you’ll achieve great things.”

Poll results

During the webinar, we asked a series of questions to gauge the state of the industry from our audience. The results are summarised here

Do you currently use an outsourced contact centre partner?

87% said no

In order of importance, which of the following is currently most important to your business?

41% Digital transformation
29% Cultural alignment/management
23% Strategic alignment
5% Cost reduction
0% Risk reduction

Are you looking to outsource or review your outsourced partner?

14% considering outsourcing
14% reviewing current outsourced partner
0% happy with incumbent
0% happy with in house operation
70% none of the above

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