Posted February 6, 2008 4:16 pm by with 20 comments

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Internet Retailer reports this month that more and more online retailers are outsourcing their calls. In fact, they predict that spending on outsourced contact centers will almost double within a few years.

In our experience with call centers, I have learned the hard way that you should be cautious, very cautious when choosing one. Here are some things we have learned over the years:

1) Place a lot of test orders. Your business reputation is on the line with agents that probably could not care less. You had better check up on them a lot. When you call and place test orders, you will be amazed by some call center agents–amazed that anyone can be that stupid. Just remember that those people are reflecting on your brand.

2) Watch that contract. I remember when we had a call center handling calls for us when we were running national radio ads. We were spending big money on those ads. One day, we did not get our order batch. We found out that the call center had been down for 24 hours without even notifying us! Do you think we were ever reimbursed for the tens of thousands spent on advertising while they were down? Make sure you have this issue and similar issues covered in your contract.

3) Visit before you hire. I remember a time when I visited a call center we were using. Walking into that dump was very enlightening and helped me understand very quickly why they were doing a lousy job. Make the visit first and see the professionalism (or lack thereof) for yourself.

4) Train the agents. Visit occasionally and spend time with the agents. Give them free products and tell them how to sell your products. They will appreciate it. By the way, you can explore incentivizing the agents as well. I assure you that no call center will stand in your way.

In general, call centers are a necessary part of growing for most internet retailers. The key is simply this–you cannot hire one and forget about them. You have to remember that those people whom you have little control over have the ability to make or break your business. That is scary thought.

  • Couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, controlling your brand and reputation through a call center is extremely difficult. Customer’s don’t understand the distinction between talking to real company customer service vs. an outsourced call center. They will hold you responsible for poor service.

    Like you said, the key is secret shopping them often.

  • I believe more and more retailers are hiring call centers because many of them are seeing a decline in profits and are looking for ways to cut corners to save money.

    Declining profits in my opinion, are due to misconceptions in marketing. Most marketers still think that you can target the masses and then just sick back and watch the money flow, you can’t.

    I’m curious to see how various company forums are going to react when they find out that they were trying to call an office in L.A. and got transfered to Bangladesh.

  • Agree on all points. However if your business’ core competence is in customer service then it’s better to handle the calls in house.

  • Good post there. it’s so true that a call center reflects on the business and can be a very influential factor.

  • Zen

    A lot of international companies outsource their customer support call centers to Argentina thanks to the cheaper prices due to the Argentine peso / dollar conversion rate. Hope this info was useful!

  • With my small business I’m taking care of everything on my end, but I can see how a call center could become necessary. Great post.

  • Our calls centers handle many of the worlds largest retail clients. Unfortunately, like any other business, some calls centers and offshore operations are sweat shops and back office dungeons. At Talk2Rep, we take great pride in inviting retailers to our us based operations, we find that our profeesional operations are a selling feature for these clients. The issue is cost, many retailers observe just price, and like most things, you get what you pay for.

  • The definition of “call center” is changing – just as Denise from Talk2Rep mentioned. Call centers are making a major comeback due to the increased focus on CRM. Many, many companies now have virtual call centers in place that handle call volumes large and small. Most of these new “virtual call centers” hire people who work from home, resulting in a more educated, mature applicant pool. Some of the stats show that the majority are college educated, in their mid-30’s, and generally much more loyal and hardworking because they telecommute. So don’t be surprised if “call center” is no longer a dirty word for many online retailers.

  • I have personally dealt with many call centers which provide extremely poor service. If their employers were to experience it first hand, they would be fired on the spot. I think the idea of placing test orders or inquiries is something all companies should do periodically, not just in the beginning.

  • Great recommendations. As a consumer that gets calls and makes calls to call centers I can’t agree with these tips more. I can’t tell you how many times these call centers have ruined my experience and damaged the thoughts I’ve had about a company.

    I’ve also had very pleasant experiences with call centers – I guess it just depends on the call center and the expectations and requirements they place on their employees.

  • Outsourced call centers are great for businesses to save on overhead, but they always suffer in customer service quality. I can’t stand getting somebody in another country that doesn’t care that I’ve been a customer for the past 6 years… then they try to stick it to me by making me pay for the hardware that new customers are getting free. They don’t care because they aren’t even employees of the company that is putting money in their pocket.

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  • I can outsourced call centers are good for overhead but bad for customer service. Those $8-$11 an hour people and/or Indians don’t really care much about your company.

    Calling foreign countries is a nightmare too. So many people quit services due to such things.

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  • I wholeheartedly agree. I’m in global business development at an outsourced US-based call center. Point-by point, I’d add:

    1. Test calls. Yes, make test calls and give valuable feedback to your service rep. If you’ve picked a good call center, one that responds well to your needs, they’ll work through issues with you. If you’ve picked a great call center, they’ll offer scripting help and share their expertise with you in how to best handle certain call types. Great service reps have seen many different situations, and will be able to coach you through what can work best for your unique need.

    2. Watch the contract. A good call center will be flexible on contract lengths. You should be able to get out of a contract easily if things don’t work out for you. No vendor should hold you to something that doesn’t make business sense for you. Don’t sign your way into an long obligation before the vendor has proven themselves.

    3. Visit. Absolutely. They should be open and willing. If you’re spending a significant dollar amount with them, they should encourage you to visit.

    4. Train the Agents. Or better yet, make sure the training process is strong. Make sure your vendor is thorough in developing good scripting with you. Make sure they’re picking quality agents. Make sure they’re not paying minimum wage. See if they perform background checks on their agents. Ask how their quality assurance system works. Ask questions that show that you’ll be paying attention. I can assure you that their response to questions like these will let you know if they are paying attention.

  • Great Job
    interesting topic , I would like to read more on this topic and Bpo Services .

  • I think bangladesh is doing pretty good in call center market. They are just a starter in this industry and I know few companies in NY are having their Inbound customer support from Bangladesh. They are pretty happy with the support and saving more money then they used to save when they were getting the services from India. Moreover, they are not getting any complaints regarding accent problems. Lets hope for the best and should give some time to bangladeshi.

    Michael Rana

  • Thanks for sharing your experience. I too will take care of all the things you had described.

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  • Thanks for sharing the points. one should definitely take care of all these things. Companies are very concious in hiring their employees as the agents hired have a responsibility to handle front end customers.SO communication skills and thought process should be very very good.