Posted tagged ‘outsourcing’

Southwest’s “Unsource” definition only tells part of the story

December 17, 2012

Blog ideas can come from anywhere, but this is the first entry I’ve written inspired by an inflight magazine.  When TSIA’s VP of Marketing, Trisha Bright, headed down to our San Diego office last week, she ran across something interesting in Southwest’s Spirit magazine and forwarded it to me. Here is “entry 627 in the Spirit lexicon:”

unsource \ ‘ən-sôrs \ verb [trans]

1. To shift customer support responsibility back onto the consumer in an effort to cut costs. USAGE: No longer satisfied with the budget benefits of outsourcing their customer service to overseas call centers, corporations are savings up to 50 percent on such costs by embracing the cut-rate option of hosting enhanced discussion boards on their websites, where frustrated consumers turn to each other for answers to common questions.

After reading this, I went thru a wide range of emotions, from violent agreement to anger and frustration. Here’s my attempt at capturing those reactions.

Obviously, I get it from a consumer standpoint. I’ve blogged before about how difficult it is to find the solution to consumer technical FAQs. But for a company who is constantly introducing new fees to make higher profits from customers, one wonders if Southwest should be finger pointing on customer service. But let’s look at the two issues in this faux definition and see how they can be a blessing….or a curse.

First up is outsourcing. Let’s be clear: sending support interactions to a service provider, onshore or off, does not automatically mean poorer service to customers. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my 25 years in customer service, it is that not every company has it in their DNA to do customer service well.  Are there terrible examples of bad outsourcing deals? Yes, and I’ve experienced them. And I’ve written about how frustrating it is to deal with a support technician with few English skills. But I’ve seen many examples of companies that improve customer satisfaction scores by going offshore. Especially in the B2B world, outsourcing is common, and CSAT and loyalty scores are high and growing higher.

I just said to a member last week that outsourcing is like implementing CRM:  You have to get it wrong once to know how to do it right. We all remember the rush to offshore in the financial crisis following 9/11, and companies learned a key fact about outsourcing:  You get what you pay for. When a company asks me to recommend an outsourcer with the lowest cost-per-call, I know they are headed for disaster. Yes, you can save costs by outsourcing, but high quality providers (such as Convergys and Sykes), balance cost and quality. If they can’t do a good job for the price you want to pay, they won’t bid on the business. They have no interest in providing mediocre support–it isn’t good for your brand or theirs.

But while I can at least understand Southwest’s sentiment regarding outsourcing, I completely disagree that providing customer discussion forums is bad for customers. In my snarky opinion, whoever wrote that is clearly over 50, and in the demographic that still thinks that phone calls are the only channel customers really want. As I am constantly saying, channel choice is largely demographic, and the younger the customer, the more likely they prefer forums over phone. In fact, the 18-34 demographic which most product companies target rate phone as one of their least likely support channels, preferring self-service and peer-service (forums) over assisted service. Even “Google search” rates higher as a support channel than phone calls with younger customers.

Would companies prefer that customers use lower cost unassisted and peer-assisted options to cut costs? Absolutely. But what consumers may not realize is that phone call, email and chat volumes are NOT going down. Support volume increases year-over-year dramatically, and companies are trying to find ways to resolve more issues without live agents because they can’t possibly hire enough agents to address 100% of support volume. While assisted support volumes may go up 10-20% a year, TOTAL support volume, meaning all customer questions including those answered via self-service and online communities, goes up 50% or more a year. The more complex the technology, the more questions customers have. Providing options other than phone to get these questions answered is not “unsourcing” support, it is providing the channels that customers demand.

Now, about that $50 fee you charged me for being 3 pounds over the baggage weight limit even though I purchased an expensive ‘business select’ fare? That’s more frustrating to customers than offering a community discussion forum. I look forward to seeing that pop up in the Spirit Lexicon. How about “gouging” as next month’s term?

Think Strategic Service Partner, Not Outsourcer

November 17, 2008

The SSPA has historically not done a lot of research on outsourcing. This is definitely an area where we encourage SSPA members to collaborate and share best practices–we don’t pretend to have all the answers to the incredibly complex issues of what, where and how to outsource.  As a chief service executive from one of our largest members said, “We have 400 analysts whose full time job is analyzing outsourcing contracts and identifying best practices, and we still don’t have it figured out.”

I’m happy to announce that this Thursday at 9am PT I am moderating a webcast with SSPA member John Laino, Director of Enterprise Support Planning for NetApp, who is reprising his well attended and highly rated presentation from our recent Vegas conference, “How Strategic Support Partnerships Can Become Keys to Success for Technology Companies.” Click here to register!

I will be sharing what I’ve learned about successful outsourcing from speaking with SSPA member companies, for example: (more…)

From the WSJ: Outsourcing Suppliers Ranked by Client Satisfaction

July 16, 2008

I pride myself on providing useful, actionable information to association members, but there is one area where everyone has questions and I don’t always have answers:  outsourcing providers.  During my time at Forrester I published some reports on best practices for outsourcing IT and service desk operations (co-written with Robert McNeill and Bill Martorelli), but those were compiled by interviewing companies on what worked and didn’t work with their outsourcing contracts, not by speaking with the outsourcers themselves. 

At our most recent SSPA conference I had 3 or more requests for outsourced tech support providers, and I have a short list of specialists I recommend, including American Customer Care and e4e , but I’m not familiar with the big names.

Luckily the SSPA has lots of members who are experts in outsourcing, as well as some partners.  To my knowledge, the best expert on the who’s and how’s of outsourcing is Sath Sathyanarayan, President and Principal Consultant for Global Development Consulting. Sath is author of “Offshore Development & Technical Support: Proven Strategies And Tactics For Success,” and he is a long time friend of the SSPA, having helped with research projects, posted white papers and presented at conferences on outsourcing issues.

I received an email from Sath today with links to some interesting articles, and following his links I found a very useful article from the Wall Street Journal, “Outsourcing Suppliers Ranked by Client Satisfaction.” The information is from an survey intended to identify the 50 best-managed global outsourcing vendors. The survey ranked outsourcing vendors according to responses by executives and others involved in outsourcing decision-making about their experience and satisfaction with current suppliers.

#1 on the list?  HP.  Also listed are other SSPA corporate and community members, including CSC, ACS, Unisys, ADP, Oracle, CA, SAP, etc.  There is a short commentary on each provider, as well as their rankings for previous years.

Where does your supplier rank?  And if your supplier didn’t make the top 50, how about suggesting they join the SSPA and learn how to provide even better service? 

Thanks for reading!

Best Practices for Talent Managment in India: Report Live 5/5

April 21, 2008

I’m thrilled to report that the long-awaited whitepaper, “Talent Managment in Emerging Markets: Best Practices for Attracting, Developing and Retaining Talent in India,” is now complete, and a press release dropped today announcing it.

A committee of SSPA members, many based in India, have been working on this project for nearly a year, including participants from Symantec, Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft, Oracle, MeritTrack, EMC, Sun and other companies.  The report will be released at the SSPA Spring Best Practices Conference on May 5th, and a presentation on the findings and recommendations will be given by Dheeraj Prasad, Director, Developer Support, Microsoft Global Technical Support Center, at 10:45am on the 5th.

Here are some findings of the study. (more…)