January 30, 2020

How to Outsource B2B Support (Without Everything Going to Hell)

Article

The ‘Right’ Reasons to Outsource Your Customer Support

Deciding whether outsourcing is right for your business is a decision that should not be taken lightly. While outsourcing support can offer significant savings in terms of overhead and effort, outsourcing purely for the sake of cutting costs or because you don’t want to deal with it yourself can result in lacklustre customer support.

Here are some good reasons to outsource support:

  • You’re setting up your support infrastructure for the first time and want to get it right from the start.
  • You feel that a contractor could offer your customers a better support experience than you could, or you have specific support goals you’d like to achieve.
  • You’re experiencing growth and need the ability to scale quickly.
  • Your industry is subject to seasonal support spikes and valleys.
  • You want to avoid the hassle of repeatedly recruiting and training staff.
  • You want your internal support agents to focus on more complex tasks and queries.
  • You wish to offer multilingual, 24/7, multi-channel, or international support – or a combination – and lack the capacity to pull this off in-house. 

Read more about why you should outsource your B2B support.

Let’s take a look at what’s involved in outsourcing support.

How to Outsource Customer Support in 8 Easy Steps

1. Reframe Outsourcing 

For outsourced support to be a success, you need to change the way you think about outsourcing. Don’t think of outsourcing your support as handing it off to an external company – think of it as the vendor becoming an extension of your team.

Outsourcing relationships work best when you treat your vendor as a trusted partner and foster strong two-way communication. Schedule frequent check-ins and have frank discussions about what’s working and not working.

By continuously assessing your performance, you’ll be able to identify areas for improvement, such as a need for additional training. 

We’ll discuss how to measure your support’s performance in Step 8.

2. Establish Clear Goals

What do you want to accomplish through this partnership? What are your goals for your business and what do you expect of your outsourcing partner? 

If your outsourcing goal is to cut costs, decide what you’re willing to pay. 

If your aim is to free up your staff for other tasks, you’ll want to ensure that the outsourced team covers their roles. If your goal is to improve the quality of your support, be sure to choose which metrics you’ll use to track quality.

Consider your customer’s needs. What is the experience you want to provide to your customers? What kind of support would make the biggest impact on the way they experience your product? On which channels do you want to provide support – email, sms, social, website chat, in-app chat, phone/VOIP? 

Take the time to decide what you hope to achieve through this partnership, because if you don’t have a clear vision of the kind of support you want to provide your customers, you won’t be able to measure whether or not you’re doing a good job.

3. Lay the Groundwork

Setting goals is a good start, but before you can go about outsourcing your support, there’s some more work to be done internally. 

Find Your Voice

Your outsourcing partner should be an extension of your brand and speak with your voice in every interaction with your customers, regardless of the channel. 

For this to work, you need to know your own brand voice and be able to convey this to your outsourcing partner. 

If you haven’t done this yet, take time to hone your brand identity and tone. 

Are you upbeat and cheerful or more serious? Familiar or formal? What is your vision and what are your brand values and ideals? How do you communicate this to your customers? 

Who are your customers? What do they value? 

Answering these questions will help you to find your brand voice, which will give your brand a distinct, consistent personality and help you to build stronger relationships with your customers. 

Create Guidelines and Training Materials

Once you’ve established your brand identity and voice, it’s important to empower your outsourcing partner by providing them with thorough onboarding and training.

You should plan for this before you’ve even decided on a vendor,a s it will take time and resources to create training materials and guidelines.

Craft brand guidelines that explain your brand identity to your outsourcing partner. Include customer personas, information about your values and policies, as well as detailed product manuals and troubleshooting guides. 

Be specific about the kinds of things you want your support team to convey and which words or topics they should avoid. 

Create practice scenarios with hypothetical support questions to allow you to create model responses and test how your outsourced team deals with specific situations.

Map Support Processes

Map out your support processes and assign tiers to different types of ticket. Decide when and how issues should be escalated to your internal team so you only focus on the important outliers that need extra attention, while your support vendor takes care of the rest. With a tool like Boomtown’s Relay software, you can easily route queries according to type or complexity level.

Divide your Customer support into four tiers or levels.

Level 0

Assign queries that can be easily resolved by the customer with the help of self-service support materials or a chatbot to Level 0. These can include FAQs, password resets, how-to guides for basic processes – anything that doesn’t require the assistance of a support agent.

Level 1

Sort the most basic queries that require interaction with a support representative into Level 1. These tickets, which include checking product status, resetting passwords, and other basic tasks, can be outsourced with ease. 

Level 2

Assign slightly more complex issues that can be resolved without highly technical knowledge into Level 2. These are queries that require more in-depth assistance but don’t necessarily require a product expert to resolve. 

Level 2 tickets are fairly easy to outsource, given you have a solid knowledge base and training materials in place. 

Level 3

Level 3 tickets are reserved for the most complex problems and queries that are escalated from the other levels, as well as field support and maintenance. 

These tickets are typically handled by in-house product experts or even product owners, although some vendors, like Boomtown, employ expert technicians who can quickly become experts on your product.

support tiers


Establish a Knowledge Repository

Whether you outsource your support or handle it in-house, it’s crucial that you set up and continuously update and maintain a solid knowledge repository that support agents can draw from. This helps to ensure that everyone has access to the same up-to-date information required to address your customers’ queries.

Knowledge repository materials may include – but are not limited to – the following:

  • Product specs
  • Product manuals
  • Customer interaction guidelines
  • Training videos
  • Answers to frequently asked questions
  • Detailed technical documentation

With the right software, you can proactively surface the knowledge your support agent needs almost before they need it.

Do Your Due Diligence

Before you outsource anything, do your due diligence and have your lawyers look over your company policies as well as any contractual documents to determine what legal and/or financial implications outsourcing could have for your business.

For instance, if you have company policies in place regarding customer data privacy and which kinds of customer information may be shared with third parties, you may need to get your customers’ consent and/or update your terms and conditions before proceeding.

You should also have IT do an audit of your security protocols (as well as those of your contractor) and decide what kinds of precautions you should take before proceeding.

4. Choose the Right Partner

If you’ve followed the preceding steps, you should be in a good position to evaluate various prospective partners. 

Ask yourself whether you need a typical call center, or whether your business would benefit more from a white label support solution. Will remote services suffice, or do you need on-the-ground technical support too?

Decide whether you’ll outsource locally or internationally, as this will determine factors including cost, time zone, available languages, skill sets, accent neutrality and more. If you have the right software, you can even combine the two, fielding specific tickets to your international call center while routing more complex questions to your local support team. 

Talk to multiple vendors to get a good idea of what’s available. Look for a vendor with a proven track record and find out what previous clients say about their service. You might even stage a call posing as one of their existing clients’ customers to test them.

Weigh your priorities against what various vendors can offer you. 

Here are some questions to help you decide which contractor is the best fit:

  • What kind of experience do they have in your industry?
  • Are they accustomed to working with clients of a similar size/structure to your business?
  • What are their hours of operation? Do they offer 24/7 support?
  • Do they offer multilingual support? Which languages?
  • Do their staff have the right skills for the job?
  • How familiar are they with your product?
  • Is their software stack compatible with yours?
  • Which channels do they manage? Calls? Email? Chat? Social?
  • Are they a culture fit?
  • What kinds of metrics do/can they track? Are they more focused on high speed resolution, or customer satisfaction?
  • What level of security do they have in place?

Once you’ve decided or narrowed your options down, you’ll want to negotiate a service level agreement and discuss specific terms. 

5. Establish a Clear Service Level Agreement 

Service level agreements (SLAs) are written and signed agreements that detail specific conditions of engagement, outlining precisely what is expected of either party. 

SLAs typically specify standards of service that must be met, as well as which metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) will be used to track whether the service is satisfactory – and the course of action to be taken if it is not. 

The specifics of an SLA should align with your company’s business objectives. For instance, a company seeking to scale rapidly may base their SLA on ticket deflection ratio, while a retailer that is seasonally inundated with tickets might prioritize average handle time. Meanwhile, a business with a history of low-quality support may structure their SLA around maintaining a specific CSAT score. 

Your SLA should also outline the processes to be followed, including details about the handover and training period, frequency of review and reporting, how and how frequently customer surveys will be performed, etc. 

You should also establish the duration of the contract, conditions for cancellation or extensions, expected response time for service requests, etc. If the vendor offers field support, agree to terms such as whether they will stock their own spare parts.

6. Choose Your Metrics

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) continually measure your support team’s performance and offer invaluable data into the ups and downs of your support strategy. 

With some analysis of this data, you can identify the root cause of any support shortcomings and take action to address it. For instance, you may find that a team or individual needs additional training, or you could find a product flaw that requires a patch or update. 

Let’s take a look at some of the common KPIs used to measure customer support performance.

Ticket Volume 

The sheer number of support tickets handled by a support team.

Average Speed of Answer (ASA)

The time between a customer submitting a ticket and an agent responding. This includes time spent on hold. 

Average Handle Time (AHT)

The average time it takes agents to resolve customer queries, irrespective of channel. 

First Contact Resolution (FCR)

The percentage of issues resolved within the customer’s first interaction with your support agent.

Interactions-To-Resolution (ITR)

The number of interactions required to resolve the average case.

Ticket Deflection Rate (TDR)

The number of tickets that were resolved without an agent getting involved. This can be due to self-service resources or chatbots. 

Escalation Rate (ER)

The percentage of customers that demand to speak to a higher-level company representative.

Talk Time (TT)

The percentage of each hour support agents are directly interacting with customers.

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

A customer’s overall satisfaction with the company and likelihood to recommend it to others, on a scale of 1-10. 

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) 

The satisfaction score out of five given by customers following support interactions.

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Which metrics you choose to track – and by extension, which support partner is the right fit for you – will depend on your business’s needs and goals. 

For instance, call centers that prioritize handle-time are great for handling high call volumes efficiently and profitably. However, because agents strive to handle each query as quickly as possible, the caller may sense that they’re just a number. More importantly, agents who feel rushed may not explain things thoroughly and carefully or offer additional assistance, which may lead the customer to call again about the same issue in the future. 

As such, when it comes to measuring the overall quality of your support, it may be better to track KPIs like interactions-to-resolution, first-contact resolution rate, and escalation rate.  

7. Onboard and Train Your External Team

Once you’ve chosen a vendor that seems like a good fit for your business needs and negotiated your SLA, it’s essential that you invest in your support strategy by thoroughly onboarding and training your outsourced team. 

Put someone in charge of promoting engagement and cooperation between your core team and your outsourced team. This person should act as a liaison and champion for successful collaboration, keeping both sides in the loop about developments and performance, as well as facilitating better communication, conveying feedback, and spearheading onboarding and training. 

In addition to ensuring that your outsource partner is familiar with your product, and support protocols, make sure that they’re familiar with your preferred communication tools as well as any customer relationship management tools you’re using.

Using an integrated support ecosystem like Boomtown, you can significantly streamline onboarding and training by giving your vendor access to your knowledge base.

8. Review and Iterate

Build regular reporting and frequent reviews into your support workflows and continuously iterate your support strategy, adapting it as you identify areas for improvement. 

In addition to frequently touching base with your outsourced support team, you may find it useful to occasionally perform test calls to see the standard of your support for yourself.

A support partner that offers comprehensive reporting and dynamic dashboards can offer a huge advantage in terms of oversight and strategic analysis by giving you greater visibility into your support capabilities. 

Outsource Support with Ease with Boomtown

While outsourcing can be an adjustment and requires strategic planning, when you take the time to do it well, the ROI makes it worth the initial investment.

With a partner like Boomtown, outsourcing is a breeze. Boomtown’s support software supports multiple integrations, facilitates easy onboarding and collaboration between various teams, and makes it easy to route or escalate tickets between various teams. 

A smart algorithm that predictively surfaces information from an integrated knowledge base, allows you to give your support team access to all the information they need, when they need it. 

With a wide network of local technical experts on standby for on-the-ground support as well as remote monitoring to reduce downtime, Boomtown offers a significant competitive advantage when it comes to offering the best support possible. 

Sound good? Schedule a free demo with Boomtown today.