To outsource or not to outsource, that is so often the question. Most business people know by now that it doesn’t have to be a scary one. You can pass a process, or part of a process, to a customer service outsourcing partner, balancing your practical needs against your willingness to let any important process leave your own premises. That has always been the case.
More recently, however, the conversation is changing beyond the practical, the mere ‘work to be done’: the integration of the client’s Company Culture is now a frequent, and valuable, discussion point.
The traditional view
Until recently, outsourcing was regarded as a substantial company opting to send its least-loved functions to ‘somewhere else’, not particularly caring where that ‘somewhere else’ was, or how it operated, if it remained economically advantageous and generally reliable.
Those days are not entirely gone, of course, but the conversation can certainly be different. Sure, as an outsourcing business, there will always be those clients who don’t have vast, flashy Employee Marketing initiatives running, and therefore will never notice their absence at an outsourcing site – the relationship remains simply about the provision of the agreed work, to a high standard of quality. Any company culture stretches to their own four outer walls, and no further. In the outsourcing world, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach. In fact, it remains the most common.
The new world
In contrast, some clients – often the larger, international ones who have already integrated teams across buildings and borders – have seen the merits of a particular work environment and/or particular engagement activities (and maybe even a little bit of ‘pampering’!) and feel they should carry that forward. If a customer service outsourcing partner is ultimately going to contribute to overall success, their staff should experience some HQ-style perks, too – right? After all, shouldn’t any business partner be a sort of extension of oneself?
This is a very nice position to be in at the start of an outsourcing relationship, thinking of the role of engagement, fun, and wellbeing in reaching the desired results. If that is, in fact, 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 outsourcer’s premises, you may like the idea of seeing colours, posters, or other décor that mimics your own premises. You may even have a desire for furniture that resembles that of your HQ, provision of snacks and beverages, etc.
You may wonder about extending Engagement initiatives across, even engagement initiatives that require significant tangible prizes or financial reward – an idea is an idea, a mood-boost is a mood-boost, whatever the site, for sure.
These are all nice things to suggest, and do indeed make sense in terms of morale, as well as in terms of controlled brand association and reputation management.
Most of the above, however, require some (or a lot of) financial investment, which will of course necessitate deeper discussion about where ownership of that would lie. All the more reason to remember that you can essentially 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 leaving space for that in your people’s working week, then why not extend those benefits? Perhaps pulling both teams closer together through inclusion in intranets and chatrooms would be beneficial at grass-roots level. Share some high-level plans, perhaps, simply letting your outsourced team know What’s Coming Next. This also helps if your success to date has been grounded in Values including, say, Trust, Engagement or Openness.
If your culture is one of Accountability, consider how to build that in – for example, not only to make the new BPO team accountable, but to display genuine, correctly-homed responsibility across the BPO and the HQ.
There may be other non-traditional aspects of your business that you seek to introduce - unusual levels of management transparency, consensus-style decision-making… whatever you feel works well within your current organisational structure. That doesn’t, however, necessarily mean that all of it will – or should – be forthcoming.
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. Just as you have HR policies in relation to equal treatment of staff, Employee Engagement, and so on, so does your outsourcing partner. For part of their team to be offered a noticeably different working environment, or reward level, to the rest may not be ideal in terms of general morale throughout their site.
Secondly, remember that what works for one group of people is not necessarily going to work as effectively for the other. The type of people who occupy your Head Office may be very different to the people who occupy the outsourcing business - you must evaluate that for yourself when the time comes. If your HQ is going to be stocked with minimally-managed ‘creatives’ while your outsourcing partner will be mainly making quick, high-volume phone calls, those are different people who will value - and have time for - different things. A good outsourcing partner 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’. Goldilocks Outsourcing, if you will.
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 – you know, that whole ‘experts in their field’ thing! It’s why you selected them in the first place, so simplify your own life by trusting their process: sit back and let them impress you!Key Takeaways
What look and feel do you want your outsourcing relationship 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 for the nature of their work
Consider that the culture at the BPO company might be just right, even if unfamiliar to you
Consider the ‘softer’, more human ways of building the relationship. Nowadays, many people value a principle such as Creativity over an item such as a colourful beanbag to sit on
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