Why did you decide to outsource your international customer service?
Our original plan was to deliver customer service from our UK base. However it quickly became apparent that there were significant challenges in doing that.
- Scale – Our approach is to start at a relatively small size in a new market and look to grow rapidly. As such new markets don’t initially have the size to drive demand for customer service at a level that needs many staff and there is a minimum number you need to offer an acceptable level of customer service.
- Recruitment - As a consequence of the above we needed to recruit people who could manage customer service enquiries from both foreign and UK markets. We soon concluded that foreign markets required native speakers but found it impossible to find people with English language skills at a high enough level to service UK customer service enquires.
- Localisation – Web retailing is all about operating a model but we understood from the outset that this model must be “localised”. As such having local customer service helps us with the process of understanding the localisation requirements.
What is the added value of doing this?
Covered above to a certain extent but outsourcing customer service has enabled us to scale our operation at the pace we needed at a cost that works. The key is flexibility really and there is real value in not having to put boots on the ground yourself.
How do you guarantee the quality of customer service?
This is a very important issue for us as our product is slightly more complex than standard e retailing sectors. We have instigated a training program for the outsourced customer service operators which initially involved face to face training at our UK HQ but subsequently we have started to rely more on video conferencing technology for this. We have regular contact between our UK customer service manager and our outsourced teams where any issues are addressed. Finally, we monitor activity closely e.g. query types to inform where further ongoing training might be required for example. A key here is good reporting.
For which companies is outsourcing a good alternative to doing it yourself?
I would say if scale is an issue i.e. if the size of the market means that doing it yourself is cost prohibitive then outsourcing may well be the solution. Also if you plan to enter a new market slowly or gradually then at least starting outsourced may well make more sense and reduce risk considerably. You may also find, as we have, that outsourcing is also a long-term solution with the right partner.
What customer service trends do you expect in the future?
This is a very hard question to answer. We have found that there are huge differences between different countries in terms of the demands on customer service and so this makes it very difficult to generalise. However, we hope we are seeing a gradual reduction in the demand for customer service driven by improvements in technology coupled with supply chain and logistics improvements as we bring the supply chain offering closer to the expectations of our customers.