As the world of customer experience (CX) continues to move from business-led to consumer-led, closely aligning with outsourcers and treating them as partners – and an extension of your business – is crucial to success

Neil Bartholomew spent his time on stage at this year’s EmpowerCX 2019 Europe answering a very important industry question: How do you work with an outsourcing provider to deliver on customer experience?

By drawing on over 25 years of experience, most recently as an Executive Director of Customer Operations (with responsibility for 15,000 in-house and outsourced employees) he highlighted the mistakes and presumptions organizations make – and therefore need to avoid – when dealing with their customers, their channel strategies and their outsourcers, in order to provide the answer.

Mistake one – channel choice

“Too often, we try and force customers through the channel that we want them to go through because we think it’s cheaper,” says Bartholomew. “Then we try to choose channels and restrict what they do for customers.”

Since 1990, the number of channels open to customers for interacting with brands has exploded. Where once there were two choices – the phone or an in-person visit – we now have everything from email to social media and of course self-service. 

“But none of the existing channels have gone away. Nothing is substituting another channel,” says Bartholomew. “And, if you think about that 30-year window where channels have grown, there are three generations of customers in that space. All of whom are after different things and have different preferences.”

And yet, companies still intentionally put barriers in the way of customers and some transactions or services. 

“In particular think about revenue generation, we try to avoid letting customers downgrade their packages online by themselves,” explains Bartholomew in reference to a popular telcos practice. “We want to put it through an agent instead. But customers aren’t going to change their mind because they speak to an agent.”

Instead they’re just going to be disappointed about the levels of CX they’ve received and could potentially churn. 

Mistake two – confusing consistency

Because channels are proliferating and because the customer base is becoming more diverse, delivering CX is becoming more complex. 

“The result is that customers have more control and expect more from us because they can access us in every single way possible,” Bartholomew states. “Now when they contact operators, customers are already coming with some knowledge so you have to be consistent. Customers can go through multiple channels and they don’t want a different answer when they go through these different channels.”

This may seem obvious but because companies too often look to providing individual channel expertise, either in-house or through outsourcing, that consistency falters. 

“Customers want consistency, they want to resolve several issues at the same time. You can’t separate channels and transactional types anymore,” warns Bartholomew. “We think by scripting the hell out of agents we get consistency of customer service. We forget that consistency is in the expertise or the ability to resolve an issue regardless of channel.”

Mistake three – treating your outsourcing providers as a resource

This is potentially the biggest mistake. There are very few companies in the world with the in-house capabilities to deliver a true omnichannel customer experience. It’s why organizations need to look to external experts. 

”If we have this more complicated world where consistency and the customer being in charge are important, we have to think about the role of outsourcers,” says Bartholomew. “Fifty percent of your business could be outsourced but are you treating those people as leaders in your operation?”

Historically, the answer has been “no.” The outsourcer has been viewed as a resource rather than a seamless extension of a company’s own capabilities. And with that attitude, it’s impossible to deliver a CX that comes up to today’s customer standards.

“What our outsourcers need is what our internal people need. They’re looking for leadership, they’re looking for people who they can follow and trust and feel empowered by,” explains Bartholomew. “How can those people deliver my brand experience and keep the customers happy if we’re not treating them the same?”

Change your thinking

So, how should organizations work with their outsourcing providers to ensure they meet the modern consumer’s CX expectations?

“We need to remember the customer is in charge, you need to have consistency in how you treat people to have a consistency of customer experience and we need to treat our outsourced teams as an extension of our own teams because they are delivering your brand in more volume than you are,” Bartholomew concludes. “It’s easier than you think to change this approach because you just need to think of them as your own employees. That’s how you make outsourcing work in this new complex digital world.”

Watch Bartholomew’s full keynote here.

If you are interested in partnering with a business process outsourcer, read our Five-Step Guide to Choosing the Right BPO Partner.


Sitel Group