Merchants is a leading provider of quality-based customer management solutions. We spoke with CEO Adam Foster about changes within this industry – and the need for ever-closer buyer-vendor cooperation
Outsource: The past couple of years have seen something of a boom in outsourcing – why?
Adam Foster: Principally the combination of economic turmoil, maturing industries and demands placed by ever-demanding customers is forcing businesses to look at a portfolio approach to customer services delivery. In addition, as the outsourcing market itself matures, it’s becoming increasingly important to seek out true value-added partnerships in outsourcing.
O: Define “value-added partnerships”…
AF: There are numerous forms, but the general theme is to move from a supplier-type relationship to a more partner-oriented one. There are multiple ways to do this but the common theme is to have mutual “skin in the game”, for example innovative “gain share” models that drive correct cost-management. These types of contracts generally require longer tenure so that both parties really benefit. The reality is that shorter-term contracts tend to focus on delivering a more tactical solution where the contract often ends before the best results have been realised. Ultimately, driving towards and developing a value-based partnership requires increased maturity and a clearly defined customer management strategy that both entities commit to jointly delivering.
O: What are the key challenges for call centres now?
AF: Our Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report tells us the challenges haven’t changed that much in ten years. There is still a lack of confidence in technology, and certainly more and more businesses are looking for technology to provide a low-cost option to agent intervention – but both must work in harmony. There will always be complex or emotional customer interactions which have to be dealt with by people, not solely via technology. Operationally the challenges have increased, largely driven by the fact that as customers and consumers have become more sophisticated, their requirements from the contact centre have become more complex. This has a direct impact on agents: better – and more – training is required.
Finally, the strategic challenge has not disappeared. Still today, more than 50 per cent of contact centres are seen as a cost rather than value-generator. The challenge for all senior managers of contact centres has to be to commercialise the benefit their call centres deliver and make sure their peers in the organisation see this. For too long, contact centres have put themselves under pressure by not articulating their value and not being seen as the organisation’s window to its customers. This has to change!
O: What advice would you give to a company looking to outsource its customer contact function?
AF: First, don’t rush into it without thorough due diligence. Most of the outsourcing contracts that fail do so not because the supplier can’t meet performance expectations, but because the operation being outsourced is inappropriate for outsourcing, or indeed poorly transitioned. The second biggest error made when outsourcing is focusing too much on cost. Yes, of course outsourcing must be justified on financial grounds, but not alone. Only if cost, risk and performance are in balance do we believe an outsourced relationship can work properly.
Thirdly, buyers get the suppliers they deserve! If a buyer only wants a low-cost option, he can’t expect it to be the highest quality. It’s vitally important for companies outsourcing their contact centre to profile potential partners to make sure there is a cultural fit. Finally, an organisation looking to outsource must recognise that, as with any relationship, the secret to success is the long-term support and commitment of both parties. All too often organisations get to the start line – ie, having project managed the transition – and think “job done”. In reality that’s just the start point: the hard work to deliver true value has only just begun.