“How will I know what is going on?”
When you are first thinking about outsourcing support, a question naturally arises that goes something like this: “How will I know what is going on?” To manage your outsourcing vendor effectively, you will need information and reporting about the outsourced activity.
Managing a vendor to outsource technical support or customer service is in many ways similar to managing an internal group. Suppose you’ve decided to handle support internally. You’ve “staffed up”, hired agents, hired a supervisor, trained them, and now you are ready to start handling tech support calls. Once the activity begins, how will you know what is going on? You will depend on information from the supervisor and reports from the data the group has assembled. This doesn’t change just because you’ve chosen to outsource support.
When you outsource technical support or customer service, the objective is to rely on your vendor to handle the staffing, training, supervision of agents, and answering of calls. You are outsourcing the work, not giving up control over quality. You still need to know what is going on, and just as you would with an internal group, you will depend on information and reports in order to do your job.
So let’s talk about managing outsourcing relationships. What kinds of information and reports will you need in order to manage your vendor?
- Recordings of telephone calls
In general, you want every phone call to be recorded, unless huge volume makes this impossible. You want your vendor to spot check these recorded calls as part of their QC process. You want to be able periodically to request a few random calls, just as a check on how the vendor is doing, and how the agents sound. More importantly, when an incident comes to your attention, it is really important to be able to get a recording of the call. When customers are unhappy, or making claims about bad service, the voice recording gives you the best opportunity to be certain of the facts.
- Call Records
You want a written record of every call as well. The record should have at a minimum: Customer name and contact information, the question or problem that the customer called about and the answer that the agent gave, and if not resolved, how the agent handled the call. Put simply, the record should be a summary of the question asked and the answer given, along with contact information. You won’t use these a lot, but you will occasionally need to drill down to individual records when researching something you see in a report.
To facilitate reporting, each tech support or customer service incident is assigned an “Issue.” (Different call centers use different terminology for this). An Issue is a predefined category telling you why people call. For example, you could have a general issue called “‘How To’ question”, meaning that people call because they are uncertain how to do some task. Or you could have more narrow and specific issues for specific tasks, such as “How to Print Reports”, or “Error when Backing up Data.” Issues are buckets that you can use to categorize calls; they can be narrow buckets or wide buckets and there should be no real limitations on how many issues you have per product. (There might be practical limitations for the agents to make correct use of a very long list!)As long as every call is categorized (has an issue assigned), you can quickly see which issues are driving costs, and put an accurate number or cost on the problem. When management wants to know why you need to hire more people, or why your vendor is reporting so many calls, you need to be able to tell them something like “The “XYZ bug” is now suddenly 30% of our incidents”, or “Since the release of the latest update, calls on how to Print Reports have tripled. ” Running reports based on Issues will give you the data for those kinds of statements.
- Discussions with Supervisors or Agents
Do you need to talk with a supervisors or agents if you can hear the calls yourself, and look over the call records, and run reports? Not often, but sometimes. Sometimes the meaning of the data isn’t clear, and you need help interpreting it. Suppose you run a report that indicates that a certain new issue has popped up, or an older issue is suddenly on the increase and you may not know the reason why. This is where regular contact with a knowledgeable staff member is important. It might be the supervisor, or what we call a “lead agent.” But you will need access to a knowledgeable person to help you make sense of the data.
Those four areas are the basics for managing outsourcing relationships, at least when it comes to technical support and customer service. In another post, we will go into more details about online reporting systems, report customizations, exporting data and collecting additional data for special reports.