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.

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