By Davina Greene. Image by Robert Bye.
To outsource or not to outsource? A question that crops up from time to time yet making a decision to outsource to a professional provider shouldn’t be daunting one. Why? By moving a function or a process to a customer service outsourcing partner—you can balance your practical needs and focus on your core business.
More recently, the conversation has extended beyond the practical, the mere ‘work to be done’. Integration of client company culture within the outsourcing business is now a frequent, and valuable, discussion point.
The traditional view
Only a decade ago, outsourcing was considered something a substantial company did—opting to outsource its least-loved functions somewhere else, without too much consideration into where it was, or how it operated—if it remained economically advantageous and generally reliable.
Those days are not entirely gone, but the conversation has changed. As an outsourcing business we know that certain companies have comprehensive employee engagement plans, while others won’t notice their absence at an outsourcing site because the partnership focus is the provision of agreed work, to high-quality standards. In such cases, company culture is an internal agenda that stretches throughout locations, but not outside of the organisation. In the outsourcing world, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, it remains the most common.
The new world
In contrast, some businesses—often the larger, international organisations who have integrated teams across buildings and borders—have seen the merits of engagement programmes and enhanced working environments (and maybe even a little bit of pampering). Such companies may feel compelled to carry that forward. If a customer service outsourcing partner is ultimately going to contribute to its overall success, their staff should expect to experience these HQ-style perks too. This way, the company culture can carry through to the vendor as an extension of the client business.
This is a very nice position to be in at the start of an outsourcing relationship, with engagement, fun, and wellbeing central to reaching desired results. If that’s your position as a potential outsourcing buyer, then how might you make your customer service outsourcing partner more like an extension of your business?
Extension by objects
As you explore your outsourcing partner’s premises, you may like the idea of colours, posters, or other décor that mimics your business. You may even have a desire for internal branding or furniture that resembles that of your HQ, or the provision of the same snacks and beverages.
You may wonder about extending engagement initiatives including those that require significant tangible prizes or financial rewards—an idea is an idea, a mood-boost is a mood-boost, even if it extends outside of your workforce, to your suppliers.
These are all nice things to suggest, and indeed makes sense in terms of morale, brand association and reputation management.
Most of the above, however, require some (or a lot of) financial investment, which will of course necessitate deeper discussions about ownership. All the more reason to remember that you can spread much of your company culture without spending a cent.
Extension by values
If your culture is one of Creativity or Collaboration and you’ve already reaped the internal benefits of creating space for that in your employees’ working week, then why not extend these benefits? Perhaps pulling both teams closer together through inclusion in intranets and chatrooms would be beneficial at grass-roots level. And perhaps, sharing some high-level plans, simply letting your outsourced team know what’s coming next. This also helps if your success to date has been grounded in Values like Trust, Engagement or Openness.
If your culture is one of Accountability, consider how to build that in—for example, not only in making the new outsourced team accountable, but in defining carefully-framed responsibilities across the BPO and the HQ.
There may be other non-traditional aspects of your business that you seek to introduce, for example, high levels of management transparency, consensus-style decision-making… whatever you feel works well within your current organisational structure.
Quite simply, not every vision you have for your cultural alignment may be possible in practical or financial terms.
Firstly, your customer service outsourcing partner probably has employees working for various clients on-site. And just as you have HR policies in relation to staff equality, employee engagement, and so forth, so does your outsourcing partner. If part of their team is offered a noticeably different working environment, or reward level to others, it could negatively impact morale throughout their site.
Secondly, remember that what works for one group of people may not work as effectively for another. The type of people who occupy your head office may be very different to the people who occupy the outsourcing business. This is something to evaluate if you make a decision in favour of outsourcing. If your HQ comprises of minimally-managed creative-types, while your outsourcing partner’s team are high energy types, making high-volume phone calls—these different kinds of people may value and prioritise different things. A professional outsourcing provider will work with you to find a middle ground. Or maybe, simply to advise and reassure you that their internal culture and engagement planning is already ‘just right’.
Finally, consider that your customer service outsourcing provider obtains efficiencies from reapplying certain processes and procedures time and time again, and managing a certain type of staff and processes in a certain kind of way. It’s why you selected them in the first place. So, to simplify your own life—have trust in their knowledge and expertise. Let them impress you!
– What look and feel do you want your outsourcing partner to have? Be clear on the what and the why from the outset.
– Be mindful that your outsourcer must manage its people in the best way possible relating to the nature of their work.
– Consider that the culture at the outsourcing company might be a good match for your needs, even if unfamiliar to you.
– Consider the softer, more beneficial ways of developing the relationship, for example, today many companies value an innovation culture above high-end interior decor.