Matt Ahlers of Worldwide Call Centers a respected outsourcing consultancy shared some of his observations on the state of call center outsourcing within the context of the economy and other factors affecting decision makers.
GR: Well Matt, let’s start with the 500 pound gorilla in the room – the economy. How have hard times affected outsourcing decisions?
MA: Hard times require hard decisions. For a moment a few months ago it seemed as though we were all like a deer stuck in the headlights. No one seemed to be doing anything. But that paralysis has passed and we are seeing rational decision-making return.
GR: I am sure cost is one of the drivers of those decisions. What are some others?
MA: Flexibility has come back as a major influence on decisions. No one wants to put on new employees right now when the uncertain economy can suddenly turn those employees into fixed costs rather than productive resources. The ability to scale up or down quickly in response to business conditions has become very important.
GR: And that’s easier for a call center to accomplish?
MA: That’s right. A great call center has to be a master at workforce management. They can add or drop agents on short notice depending on demand. In a volatile business environment that is a critical advantage.
GR: The call center business has always been somewhat recession-resistant – in good times there was excess capacity to provide and in tough times there was the cost advantage. Is that still true?
MA: It appears to be. In fact it may be even more so when uncertainty is a major factor, as it is today. In a fragile economy everyone wants to be able to protect themselves as much as possible but still retain the flexibility to take advantage of what opportunities do come along.
GR: What about customer service? Is service still king?
MA: More than ever. In times when each customer is so important the competition for customers is fierce. Cost control and customer service may seem to be unlikely bedfellows but they are learning to get along.
GR: Give me an example.
MA: Well, training is a good example. Now that most call center agents work directly from client websites there is an increased need for site-specific training. That increases the training cost component but improves customer service and actually reduces overall costs.
GR: How does it reduce overall costs?
MA: Familiarity with the client’s website helps bring the call center agent into the culture and atmosphere of the client company more fully. That translates into better customer service and fewer lost customers.
GR: What are the most important technology issues impacting decision making?
MA: What I am seeing is not so much technology itself but the cost of technology having an impact. If a company with an internal call center needs to upgrade its technology, right now is a tough time to invest in big ticket items. To make matters worse, financing such expenditures is extremely difficult at the moment.
GR: Matt, you’ve given us a pretty thorough overview of the state of call center outsourcing. I’m sure our readers will benefit.
MA: Glad to help.