By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Most readers of Connections Magazine are outsourcing service providers, offering an array of telephone-related and contact services to their clients. Just as organizations, businesses, and individuals can outsource call processing to telemessaging and teleservice companies, these call centers can in turn outsource certain aspects of their business to other companies.
Though this can take many forms, the main area of call center outsourcing is call processing. This includes call overflow, time-of-day/day-of-week routing, account sharing, and complete 24×7 outsourcing. Some companies, such as Personalized Communications, will also handle customer service and billing functions in addition to providing 24×7 outsourcing services. A favorable exchange rate makes Canada a prime area for cost-effective outsourcing from the United States. Other outsourcers, such as Asian Call Centers International, are offshore and able to offer substantial savings because of lower labor rates. The sidebar “Outsource Call Centers” lists companies that provide various call processing services to other call centers.
There are as many reasons to outsource as there are call centers that do so. Sometimes companies outsource to save labor expense or counter a tight local job market. Companies may also outsource to expand the scope of their services or to pool resources to handle larger accounts. Another practical reason is to allow for expansion without investing in additional equipment or software. Ansaring, in St. Louis, does just that. It found sharing accounts to be an excellent way to grow its business without additional investment. Ansaring is a six-seat telemessaging business owned by Vicki Tarpley. Tarpley said the company has been very successful at sharing accounts: “It takes a six-seat operation and expands it as far as you want to go, with no investment in additional equipment.” She added, “It allows us to handle large campaigns without adding seats. It’s so easy and it makes money for all the partner call centers.”
Tarpley said that thanks to outsourcing, when her company gets a call for a large campaign, it does not have to turn the prospect away. The only stipulation is that calls must come in on a toll-free number. She finds other companies with the same call-processing platform that agree to share the account. Then account set-up information is sent to each partnering call center. Next Ansaring staffers call the toll-free provider and arrange to have the calls routed to each call center. The toll-free provider will funnel the agreed upon number of calls to each partner. The whole process is seamless to the client. “I can’t imagine doing this without my Telescan system,” Tarpley added. “It is so easy. It’s a matter of a few steps and we can expand to 10 times our size, with no additional investment. We can even handle catalog orders with our order entry system.”
Tarpley also shares accounts provided by other telemessaging businesses. She said one bonus of sharing accounts is shared knowledge. When she is sharing an account, she also shares ideas with other businesses. In addition to these benefits – and the additional revenue – she doesn’t need to add staff or equipment.
In account sharing scenarios, it is fairly straightforward to distribute a client’s calls to multiple call centers, but pulling the collected information back from disparate locations or platforms can be more problematic. In these situations, Web-based packages can solve the problem by centralizing all collected information in a single database. One such example is Amtelco’s eCreator. It is a Web-based scripting application, perfectly suited to provide call centers with the ability to outsource call handling on large or complex accounts. eCreator’s Web-based environment gives the originating call center the ability to publish a script on the Internet. This means that there is no set-up required by the partner call centers. They do not even need to have eCreator, just Internet access. In addition, client changes can be made easily, in one place, without the hassle of having to roll out the script to all the outsourced locations every time a change is made. All of the call information is then immediately saved in a single database, making it unnecessary to merge data.
In other situations, specialized software may be required to handle a specific client’s needs. When the client’s usage rates are high or the special software is inexpensive, it is not a problem to purchase ancillary software. However, if the anticipated monthly revenue is low or the software is expensive, the necessary program can be cost-prohibitive. In these cases, the software can be rented instead of purchased. This can be accomplished by paying a monthly fee for the rights to use a hosted software package, which is accessible via the Internet. Several vendors offer hosted versions of their software. This allows many options for the call center, such as avoiding a one-time capital investment, trying it before buying, or building up a base of clients using that software in order to generate enough revenue to eventually buy it. Application service provider (ASP) companies do nothing but provide hosted software to other companies. Sometimes the ASP writes the software, most of the time it buys the software and shares it among several customers. Hosted services will be covered in detail in the July/August issue of Connections Magazine; those who can’t wait should see the Buyers Guide on the Connections website.
Support services can also be outsourced. One example is bill printing and mailing, which is a service provided by Broadfield Imaging. Another is technical and programming assistance, which is often provided by outside firms, as it is difficult for small call centers to develop and afford a full-time technical guru. Most vendors provide phone support for the maintenance and operation of their equipment as part of an annual service contact. Some, such as Amtelco, also provide programming and special application assistance, including custom scripting, reporting, and development. They can create custom scripts with eCreator, as well as custom reports for the scripting application or based on MDR or billing link data. Custom feature development or interface development with another application is also an option. Not only can their services be used in areas where a call center lacks the expertise, but also when there is not sufficient staff to meet a deadline.
[From Connection Magazine – June 2003]
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.