Why Offshore Outsourcing Often Isn’t Better Value for Money

An article recently appeared on LinkedIn asking the question ‘Is time running out for the UK Outsourced Contact Centre Industry?’ Its main points were:

  • The cost to hire customer service agents in the UK is higher than in many offshore locations.
  • UK employees are expecting more from modern employers so the contact centre seems a less attractive option.
  • Complexity and emotions – customers are getting angrier and the vast number of channels makes it all more complex.

These points created a lively debate. But is there really a ‘second wave of offshoring’ taking place with the majority of our service calls, chats and emails about to be handled in Georgia, Rwanda and other far-flung destinations?

The article introduces all the problems that are driving this wave of offshoring and then argues that there could be some mitigating factors, such as the additional value that can be maintained with local customer service processes compared to the cost reduction that offshoring can achieve. This stability premium of retaining customer service agents locally can be important when unexpected events take place – like a global pandemic.

Human-focused customer service can also be blended much more readily with automation – especially using artificial intelligence (AI) – and this collaboration is much easier to achieve if the team is local. Although some of these factors are introduced to balance the article they are, nevertheless, very important points. 

It’s easy to scan the news archives a decade and more ago to see that companies such as BT, Aviva, Santander, and several of the power utilities moved their customer service processes to India – and then moved everything back to the UK. “Your call will be answered in the UK” inevitably became a theme that represented competitive advantage. 

Customers cared for great customer care then, and they do even more today. So it’s important to ask “a time when customers are typically being asked to pay more for goods and services, what is it saying when an organisation announces that it is moving customer contact handling to South Africa or Egypt – or even India again – to save money?” For, if anything, British consumers today are even more sensitive about being served with expedience, quality and excellence.

There are many other very good reasons why UK organisations should consider retaining customer service operations close to home. Business continuity, for instance, should not be forgotten just three years after the pandemic. Customer service processes across India and the Philippines were in complete chaos for months. Many customer service specialists had to partner with telecoms suppliers to install broadband in the home of thousands of agents just so they could start building a work from home operation.

And it doesn’t need to be another global pandemic that causes a problem – extreme weather events, political instability, or civic unrest can be equally as damaging. South Africa has a crisis in their electricity grid at present that is hardly even mentioned by customer service companies down there. Homes and businesses have no power for around half of each day now meaning that businesses have to build their own generator-driven power networks.

Innovation is another important factor. Designing a customer service solution is about more than just hiring agents to answer calls. The focus for the last decade has been to automate and self-serve through digital transformation the low-value transactions, while leveraging high-quality, high add-value customer interactions to enrich that experience between customers and brands. By now putting customer interactions further from home, have some given up on that strategy?

There’s a long list of virtuous and meaningful investments that can be done right here in the UK to make our CX people more engaged, productive and optimised to deliver brilliant – and yes, less costly – customer experiences.

At Sensée, our focus has always been on bringing meaningful work to @home colleagues so they can build sustainable careers, thereby creating opportunities for communities that couldn’t otherwise access the traditional workplace. By investing in these communities and building our ‘talent-on-tap’ offering, we have delivered a ‘better, cheaper, faster, greener’ resource for clients while raising the quality and performance bar, and injecting some CSR in their supply-chain, thereby benefiting the often disadvantaged communities that are being let down by moving the work offshore.

More recently, we’ve also helped clients design and improve their own WFH and hybrid work strategies – a good example being an award-winning partnership that has been running for several years now. When Covid arrived and office-based employees had to suddenly work from home, we helped them with our expertise in security, management, technology, resourcing and communications to help teams continue working together effectively, and critically, keeping engagement, wellbeing and productivity high.

Such value-add goes far beyond customer service alone. It’s about building an ecosystem of colleagues and partners that have the expertise and the ability to build for the better, and truly understand the link between cost and value. By investing in relationships through ‘virtuous resourcing’ we believe we can raise the bar for customers, workers and businesses alike. However this can only work if relationships are strong and we are physically close enough to step in when needed, often at very short notice.

Offshore outsourcing will always be an option for organisations that need to focus only on the cost of a customer service solution. However, if an organisation was to push all its customer interactions over to Africa or Asia they may well lose a huge amount of potential value-add within its customer base. Such a move could also create a vicious spiral where customers lose confidence – and at a time when businesses desperately need to strengthen relationships by making the customer feel, well, valued.

For more information about us, and the brands we serve, with agents all based at home, please take a look at our website here.

New study suggests more roles should be offered as part-time. But how practical is that?

The increased acceptance of working from home over the past few years has led to more changes in the workplace than merely allowing people to work remotely. It has encouraged the adoption of more flexible working hours and part-time jobs.

In many cases, these jobs would not be possible if they required a commute and then a short shift inside an office. If a part-time employee wanted to work for just three hours each morning then it’s potentially feasible if they work from home, but if there is a one-hour commute either side of that shift then suddenly it is not as attractive.

This move to increased flexibility can work well for both the employer and employee. In customer service operations there is rarely the same continuous demand for agents all day long, and rarely just on weekdays. That can work well for agents, especially as people often prefer to work at specific times – such as earlier in the morning, in the evening, or at the weekend.

Increasingly smart workforce management (WFM) systems are matching up when people would prefer to work with the times they are needed most. And this is creating greater flexibility because it means the number of staff covering calls can be reduced in quiet periods and increased during busy periods.

There are practical challenges for companies offering this level of flexibility though.

At Sensée our WFM system can manage shift allocations in blocks down to thirty minutes. This means that a team member can select to work a few hours, take a few hours off for some responsibilities at home, and then do a few more hours early in the evening.

Companies that offer this level of flexibility find that it attracts highly-skilled people as well as help retain colleagues who can see that not every employer is as flexible. This creates an improved employee experience that translates into employees that are more enthused about their job and therefore deliver a better customer experience.

It’s really the opposite of people who feel they have very little control over their working location, hours, and tasks. Give people more control and they will naturally respond positively.

However, there are still lingering concerns over how practical employing lots of part time workers actually is. For example, about whether working part-time or flexible hours allows for career progression.

A recent study published in Management Today emphasised this point. It found that 46% of people believe that a part-time position limits their career prospects and this is even higher for people in managerial or professional occupations (53%).

Yet the authors of this study conclude that all companies should be offering the ability for almost any role to be offered as part-time because this drives greater inclusivity – arguing that many people who cannot manage 40+ hours a week can take on roles if part-time options are available. And with the added bonus in today’s difficult recruitment marketplace that employers advertising part-time basis are often deluged with enquiries!

While the employer may need to make significant changes to accommodate this greater flexibility, the upside is that employees are likely to be happier in their job and more productive – as a detailed study by Oxford University found.

Part-time and flexible working is likely to become far more normal in future as hybrid working becomes ever more popular. In many cases, this flexibility would be impossible without the option to work from home. And the fears about career advancement are likely to be reduced over time. Indeed the Management Today research acknowledges that 50% of people believe that part-time workers are just as ambitious as full-time.

Part-time and flexible working hours are the future for many industries – including customer service. Take a look here to learn about our current flexible opportunities.

Why ‘Workplace’ and ‘Workforce’ Transformation Go Hand-in-Hand

In our last article we explored how the workplace has evolved to embrace a new digital form, allowing teams to work together, even when individual team members are working remotely.

This type of digital workplace platform is no longer a nice-to-have, it is essential. And especially now that office and hybrid team members are demanding similar workday flexibility to that being offered to their WFH colleagues!

Lockdown was undoubtedly the main catalyst in this workplace revolution. When the pandemic arrived, many companies asked their office-based employees to work from home – and with the same, or very similar, shift patterns. If they worked Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, then the new routine was to work the same shift from their desk at home.

It very quickly became clear that more flexibility was possible. The long continuous shift is essential when an employee has to commute to a workplace. They can’t work three short shifts in a day when each shift requires two journeys. However, if they are working from home then very flexible hours are possible.

It’s important to note that this possibility creates opportunity for both the employee and the employer. Companies want to schedule their employees for the times when they will be needed. In customer service teams this can be planned and predicted based on past experience of customer contact and some prediction around events such as the launch of new products/services and the seasonality of sales.

Employees that are working from home know that they can still deliver the time their employer needs on the clock, but if they are at home then it should be possible to work split shifts rather than a single continuous one. In other words, an employee with caring responsibilities for an elderly relative, or children, should be able to manage their responsibilities at home and fit their work time around those commitments.

With the traditional commute and all-day shift this was rarely possible. Either you commit to be away from home all day or you can’t take the job. Now it is possible for an employee to take a job and schedule their working hours to reflect the time they need to be free.

For example, they might want to put in an early two hours starting at 6am followed by a couple of hours free followed by another two hours work then a break before a longer shift in the afternoon. Or it might be that the employee always needs to be free from 3pm to 5pm so they can collect their kids from school, but once they are home and fed they can then work for an additional couple of hours.

It is not just the workplace that has evolved to embrace this flexibility, it is the workforce. The ability to work flexibly from home has created employment opportunities for many groups of people that were previously marginalised by their inability to commit to an entire day working in an office.

The recently-retired looking for some extra income from flexible work, parents with young children, adults caring for other adult family members, people with health conditions or impairments that make it difficult to commute and spend all day at a desk. All these people have been excluded from the 9-5 office workforce, but the workplace transformation is enabling a workforce transformation.

The Sensée resource management system allows our clients to schedule according to when they need more people and when they expect fewer customer interactions. Frontline advisers can then self-select their preferred work shifts based on what is available on the scheduling system. This allows us to change how many team members are working for a client down to each 30-min block of time.

It means that the client does not have a large number of idle people working during quiet periods, but importantly it hands more control of the precise shifts worked to the employee.

It’s not just the excluded workforce that wants more flexibility. The business media often covers the increasing demands for flexible work from Gen Z. Although many older generations suggest Gen Z wants to work fewer hours, their real expectation is flexibility – they don’t want to be chained to a desk for eight hours.

The evolution of the workplace to be physical, virtual, or both, has enabled this opportunity to access an entirely new workforce – and to embrace the flexible demands of those just entering the workforce.

This flexibility is creating smart solutions for companies that want flexible customer service cover, but it also meets the needs of the agents too. It is a genuine win-win that moves the workforce away from the commute and long shifts to an environment where they are truly valued for their expertise.

5 things to consider when creating a virtual digital workplace

The Covid pandemic massively changed the workplace. With commuting to offices restricted, most office-based professionals were forced to work from home. And now that the pandemic is in the past some corporate leaders have tried to revert to how their workplace used to function. In the vast majority of cases, however, this return to 2019 has just not worked.

Indeed a recent survey conducted in the US found that 73% of companies have struggled to get their employees to return to the office. The temporary change in workplace has become permanent. Employees now expect flexibility.

What is really interesting about this change in workplace is not just the location, but ‘how’ people are working. When the crisis first arrived, many office-based employees followed their office working pattern at home – they just replicated the same hours – working from a desk at home rather than inside the office. Now this has evolved, so there has been a change in location and environment, in addition to the hours worked and flexibility of the work itself.

This has led to a much more detailed exploration of how people work together productively, by which I mean: how hybrid work can allow employees to choose some time working at home and some time in the office; how this change in workplace and work practices changes employee health and wellbeing; how new workplace technology is transforming what it means to ‘go to work’; and what all of these changes mean for issues such as the environment, public transport, and city planning.

One of the most fundamental changes has been to the workplace itself. Working from home changes the nature of interactions between employees. Companies that want to ensure their home-based team is productive (and supported) need digital tools that can transform their workplace – so the best attributes of offices can be replicated at home.

So what are the main features of an office-based workplace that need to feature (i.e. be replicated) within a ‘virtual digital workplace’?

  • Collaboration: Office environments feature employees in a single physical location where interactions, conversations, and meetings all take place (or are easy to arrange). This enhances collaboration and communication within the team.
  • Social interaction: Employees demand personal interaction and community. They want to talk about their weekend or catch up with friends. Nobody spends 100% of their time at work only talking to colleagues about work and although this networking may seem unproductive it is important for team-building and bonding.
  • Environment: Offices provide structured environment designed for work. 
  • Culture: This is often defined by the physical space that an organisation occupies – how an office is decorated and designed can present an image of how the company wants to be seen by clients and those on the outside.
  • Security: The ability to physically secure an office environment by using ID passes or badges ensures that only employees can be on site and if access to the computer network is only possible on site then this adds a further layer of data security.

These are key attributes and there are others too. Many managers prefer to be able to see their team in person, for example. And in environments that require learning on the job – such as where apprentices are being taught or where employees need a mentor – it can be useful to be together in person.

However, with an informed approach, it is now possible to digitise most – if not all – of the office experience. And the key requirement is an IT platform that all employees access when they are ‘at work.’ 

People with experience of gaming will be familiar with this idea. Modern gaming usually involves an environment where several players can interact with each other – the players can be logged into the game from anywhere but within the game they are together inside a virtual environment. The GTA 6 trailer is a good example.

Today, this type of virtual platform is enabling employees to work from home and experience the same features and attributes that their 100% office-based colleagues enjoy. And because employees – regardless of where they work – are within a virtual work environment, they can see and interact with other team members. Interactions may be related to work, so collaboration and meetings are possible, or just social – i.e. chatting to friends.

It’s all a far cry from the early experience of the pandemic. Companies that rapidly switched their workplace from the office to the home of each individual employee were not connecting their teams together into a single virtual workplace. They might have used Zoom or Teams to stay in touch with managers but there was no ongoing connection lasting for the entire shift. It was easy for many employees to become isolated during the pandemic, and this was a commonly reported issue for home workers.

When the workplace is transformed then a different type of workplace can be embraced and used to encourage team-building and innovation. This is how modern workplaces can function today and it will certainly become more common in future.

Sensée uses its own purpose-built platform, LiveDesk™️, to connect remote teams within a unified digital workplace. LiveDesk is an award-winning system that allows teams to chat, collaborate, socialise, and work together from anywhere.