How to outsource customer service in a pandemic
The pandemic has put a thousand things on hold. From your kid’s first day of school to your epic summer travel plans to your favorite team’s season tickets. And, of course, your company’s plan to launch a new outsourced customer care program.
We get it – the thought of signing on with a new partner amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic can be overwhelming. Your customers are already struggling with the times, and now you’re thinking about overhauling the customer care process?
However, we’d like to suggest that choosing a new partner and launching in the middle of a pandemic might not be a ridiculous idea after all. Here’s why – and how.
Crisis Reveals Character
When a crisis hits, do you panic or do you think on your feet and quickly move forward with a plan? Asking the same question of a potential outsourcer is essential. The right partner is one who believes in having the right people in the right place at the right time – and can execute this almost flawlessly, no matter the scenario.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but crisis truly does reveal character – and in this context, we’re looking at corporate character. If an outsourcer has the agility and capacity to pivot during times of disruption and uncertainty, it is because they had an established baseline of excellence.
In short, you’re looking for a partner who has withstood the test of crisis. They should be able to clearly communicate their plans and transparently share their biggest hurdles. They will have a track record that proves their strength and agility in all business climates. Their performance during this pandemic serves as a sort of litmus test for how they will perform for you and your customers in more “normal” times.
Sticking to the Plan
A well-crafted implementation process is the foundation for any successful partnership. That process needs some adjustment to work in the current environment, but the basics should hold up in every scenario.
A rock-solid Statement of Work sets the tone for the partnership and is therefore especially important in times of crisis. It communicates expectations on both sides and establishes measures of success, including all KPIs, metrics, and call volume forecasting. A great SOW supports the goals of your customer care program and aligns with your overall business objectives. It also ensures everyone is on the same page well before your program actually launches.
Along with the clear, actionable, measurable Statement of Work, your partner of choice should have a well-established implementation plan identifying deliverables and milestones, owners, dependencies, and timelines. Hand-in-hand with this is intelligent resource allocation. Again, the right people in the right place at the right time. It’s likely that a variety of teams will be involved in the launch – from your tech team to your executive team – and every resource needs to have buy-in, access, and accountability. Frequent and structured communication for the duration of the implementation process is a must. Make sure all of these things are in place before launch.
Additionally, you’ll want to get clarity into your outsourcer’s Business Continuity and Redundancy Plans – including remote work and return-to-office procedures. Find out the scalability of these infrastructures and processes. How did these components play out in real life in response to lockdowns and how have they evolved since then?
Real-life sneak peek: In December of 2019, Blue Ocean was awarded a significant piece of new business supporting members of a major sports association with a launch date set for March 2020. Even before the pandemic, this new client was anxious about switching over from the same outsourcer they’d had for years while concurrently launching a new CRM. The business circumstances surrounding the pandemic understandably magnified their anxiety. The detailed procurement process set the groundwork for a strong and transparent relationship. We already had trust established and our governance model ensured frequent, effective communication was maintained. We leveraged our robust processes as we pivoted to the remote environment and were transparent about our challenges. Today, the program is going strong and we continue to support their customers as they adjust to the new normal. In our new client’s own words: The fact that we were able to launch on time with everyone working from their homes is a scenario we never would’ve imagined. We will hit some bumps along the way, but I am completely confident that together with the team at Blue Ocean, we will not only resolve whatever problems arise, but learn and improve the quality of the care we provide to our customers… It’s not easy to change the way you do things after 15 years, but the team has made this transition look very simple and turnkey, and in the midst of a pandemic no less. Congrats to everyone!
Building a Strategic Partnership
Launching an outsourced customer care program in a pandemic requires more than just skill, experience, process, and infrastructure. It depends heavily on the strength of the relationship with your outsourcer. Strategic partnership is a priority.
Of course, when that relationship is still new and the launch date is imminent, you may not have a sense of the potential for a strategic partnership. That’s partly because it’s largely intangible… But it’s all too apparent when it’s missing – particularly in the midst of crisis. From the very beginning, strategic partnership consists of tight collaboration, cultural alignment, value beyond the day-to-day ROI, and mutual effort towards improvement and optimization. You’ll see it in the way they work to understand your brand, your customers, and your people. And they’ll have the stories, case studies, and referrals to underscore their commitment to this type of partnership.
Doing your part to ensure it’s a strategic partnership is critical. In the long term, when a partner and a client begin to think of their work together as if they were one company, that’s when you know you’ve developed a highly valuable business relationship. And when you have a long-term partnership like that, you can guarantee your outsourcer will act in your best interests when crisis hits (again, crisis reveals character – we’ve come full circle).
Have you hit the pause button on launching a new outsourced customer care program in the pandemic? It might be time to rethink that. Since March 2020 Blue Ocean has successfully launched two new programs. Rest assured we have the experience and capabilities to guide you through a successful transition.