Call centres are a hard slog – there’s specialised technology, increasing consumer expectations for 24×7 service, performance management of staff…the list goes on. So it’s no wonder outsourcing is the chosen strategy of many businesses. But most people don’t know where or how to find the right partner, whether to go for an Australian call centre or an offshore one, let alone the benchmark for what call centre outsourcing costs. Here are my tips, having spent 25 years in the industry.
Call Centre Location – Australia or offshore?
One of the first things to think about is location. There are Australian call centres and overseas call centres. Do you really need a call centre service down the road, or could the calls equally be handled from another state or country at a significantly lower cost? There is no one size fits all. Some companies are willing to pay a premium price for a CBD location next door, others value the cost advantages of offshore (up to 50%) above all else, and yet others appreciate the flexibility of a home agent workforce.
Factors which should drive your decision on where to run your call centre from include: volume of calls, type of calls, skills required, language (if languages other than English are required), proximity (if important), complexity of calls, value of customers (high v. low-value), range of contact channels (for example, responding to emails and Facebook posts as well as managing phone calls), and of course cost.
While offshore destinations like India and the Philippines were once the domain of big companies, they are now much more accessible to small and mid-sized businesses, since a number of outsourcers have established on-the-ground account management and sales offices, to make life easier and remove any language/cultural barriers across the miles.
Other offshore destinations which have become popular are Fiji and South Africa (please contact us if you would like a call sample to hear the accent in call centres in these locations). Bear in mind the time zone of each location, and any impact that may have on staff, escalation procedures, and general lines of communication.
Call Centre Pricing
Both offshore and onshore call centre outsourcers charge for their services in a variety of ways, including a fully loaded hourly rate (agent attendance hour or “logged-in” hour), per minute, per call (based on an agreed estimate of average handle time), or per second (of talk time).
If you are outsourcing a lead generation or sales function, you may be charged per lead, per sale or per appointment, but many will not agree to this model without some historical data (such as proven conversion rates) or a paid pilot. A pilot of three months with fixed fees is considered reasonable for both sides to assess results before negotiating a performance-based model.
For low-volume / after-hours call handling, a monthly retainer including a fixed number of calls, or minutes of talk time, may be quoted. After-hours or telephone answering services can also source phone numbers (such as a 1300, 1800 or vanity numbers) on your behalf, at attractive rates based on the volumes of their collective clients. They can also record in-queue and on-hold messages and manage the IVR (voice menu prompts).
It is common to link poor performance with an agreed penalty – for example, the outsourcer may place a small percentage of their monthly revenues at risk if they don’t meet key performance indicators (KPIs) such as % of calls answered within a certain interval, or customer satisfaction ratings of the service experience.
In order to provide you with accurate pricing, call centre providers will ask you for historical call volumes monthly and by intra-day interval (eg. hour of day for each weekday) – if available. The pattern of call arrival times can have a significant impact on staffing and therefore cost. Other factors influencing price include:
- Hours of operation
- Agent skillset
- Average call duration (also known as average handle time: AHT)
- Overall volumes
- KPIs – the more strenuous they are, the more risk the provider wears, which is reflected in the price
- Languages required, if more than English
Multi-channel contact centre outsourcing
These days call centres are called “contact centres” for a good reason: sales and service are no longer provided just in person or over the phone… there are an array of other contact channels such as web chat, apps, email, social media, video and SMS which can be equally managed by the same outsourcers, and actually enhance your customer service options. These companies have the multi-channel customer contact technology in place so a small business does not need to spend time scoping, learning and investing in these platforms.
What questions should you ask to find the best call centre for your needs?
Once you’ve identified a number of call centre providers to speak with, have a set list of questions prepared so you can compare answers and vendors apple to apple. Some high-level questions might include:
- Provide an overview of the call centre location and facility
- What are your areas of specialisation – work type or specific industry experience?
- What is the make-up of your workforce – how many employees work there? Is there diversity in age, gender, experience? What is the ratio of permanent to casual staff? What is the catchment area like?
- What is your recruitment process?
- What is the annual staff attrition rate? (add in your definition of annual attrition or turnover)
- What is your training process?
- What technology powers your contact centre? Can we bring our own technology for your agents to use? eg. CRM system
- What plans and systems are in place for business continuity and disasters?
- Which channels can you support beyond phone? (eg. email, SMS)
- How will your company adapt to changing call volumes? (seasonally or by time of day and day of week) How do you handle unexpected surges in volumes?
- What sort of reports would I receive?
- How would my account be managed?
- How do you approach change requests?
- What is the timeline from signing a contract to answering the first call, and key milestones along the way?
- How do you normally charge clients?
- What KPIs would you suggest are most applicable to my program? (if you have not predetermined the KPIs)
- Do you have similar clients to my business?
- Can you provide 2 or 3 client references?
If it is physically possible to visit the call centre before you sign a contract, that is ideal. But for small-scale needs, this is often not realistic, particularly if the operation is interstate or overseas. If the call centre is overseas, at a minimum ask to meet with their local Australian representative. It’s imperative you get a “good vibe” from anyone representing the organisation you are thinking of partnering with.
If the need is large or strategic enough, you may want to consider formalising the process with a Request for Proposal (request a free Contact Centre Outsourcing RFP Template at email@example.com). About 40% of call centre or contact centre RFPs have a consultant attached to them, so consider whether you have the internal bandwidth and expertise, or whether you need a helping hand from an expert contact centre procurement consultant. The cost of the consultant is often quickly recouped as the consultant will be familiar with market rates and be able to guide you through an effective, well-informed negotiation.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is pushing your chosen call centre provider so hard on price that your account is barely profitable for them. It is a partnership, after all, and every business has to make a reasonable margin. If the price is agreed at single digit margins, don’t be surprised if your business is not treated as the highest priority, or whether cracks appear in performance as a result of the vendor having to take shortcuts to break even.
Where do I find a good contact centre?
There are around 100 outsourced Australian call centre providers alone, and they come in all shapes and sizes! It can be a frustrating and time-consuming task wading through a list of all of them to find the right one(s) for you. Most have a core competency in a particular niche – for example, some focus on B2B lead generation, others are specialists in direct response TV, and yet others offer 24×7 customer service, with a shared pool of agents for after-hours work.
If you choose a call centre provider where there is a mismatch between your needs and their core offering, it can be a recipe for problems.
The Australian call centre landscape is also constantly evolving, with numerous cases of acquisition, liquidation and consolidation occurring in 2017 and 2018.
Search engines and directories are not an effective tool to hone in on the best-fit call centre providers to meet your specific needs. At Matchboard, we instantly match your needs with a shortlist of suppliers, ready to help! If you’re ready to look at options for call centre outsourcing, start here.
This post was authored by Sharon Melamed. With 25+ years’ experience in call centres and outsourcing in Australia, the US and Japan, Sharon is an industry veteran who has helped hundreds of companies find and implement call centre solutions around the world. Sharon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.