Outsourcing Customer Service Need Not Mean Bad Customer Service

One of the biggest myths in customer service is that the company that pays the customer service advisor is a key factor in the quality of customer service. The myth says that outsourcing customer service is obviously bad business. The myth says that outsourcing customer service is a statement that you don't value your customers.

If you think about it, even for a second, that just can't be true.

Consider for a second this example of leading UK retailer John Lewis. It has outsourced it's call centre operations and it's legendary customer service has deteriorated. However, if you read the article you will see that it simply transferred between outsourcers. Whether this is simply a teething problem of the operational transfer or a deeper malaise from a cost saving initiative or some other strategic change, it proves the point that there are good and that there are bad outsource operations.

Customer service is one vital component of the overall customer experience which has an impact on how a customer feels about a company. That customer service can be experienced by the customer in many ways - through digital channels like social media, web or chat or through a direct face to face or telephone conversation with an advisor. They have no care or concern who pays that advisor; and neither should they.

The argument, I guess, runs that if you outsource customer service then the outsourcer does not have the connection with your customer and therefore cannot deliver the same level of customer service as an in-house operation? This can happen, obviously, but I would argue that it it by no means inevitable.

In consulting, working for, and being a customer of many brands there is only one thing that I can say conclusively - there are good and bad outsource operations as there are good and bad in-house operations. Regardless of who "owns" customer service the indisputable truth is that a badly designed and executed service experience will be bad and a well designed and executed one will be good.

The critical factor for a successful outsource operation is that the client is very clear and honest on the objective of outsourcing customer service and shares that vision with the outsourcer. The vision should be lived by both parties and informs every decision that the outsourcer makes - recruitment should be to the standard that delivers the vision, cost economics and pricing should be to the standard that delivers the vision, service levels should be to the standard that delivers the vision and so on. The outsourcing operation cannot be an island that sits outside the client company - that is where problems with customer service creep in.

The client and the outsourcer have to work in a seamless strategic partnership to reap deliver consistently great customer service. Whenever I see operations underperform, whether in-house or outsourced, the reasons always come down to leadership, consistency, and trust. Outsourcing relationships fail for exactly the same reasons.

Sure, there can be bad outsourced customer service experiences. But there are as many bad in-house customer service operations as there are outsourced ones. The difference isn't about ownership - it's about leadership.