Customer Service and Outsourcing

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A lot can be said about how a company views their customers, just based on the type of customer service they provide. With the CSR horror stories frequently popping up in the news, it seems many companies are still only moderately concerned about serving their customers. The CSR should be one of the key players in a business’s growth. If their responsibility is relegated to a secondary position with less training than needed, or if it gets outsourced to a third-party company, what may seem like money saved upfront could cost more in the long run.


In my years of being involved in the CSR world, and in my studies to write weekly to you on this topic, it is rare that I run across articles that really impress me. However, this week I found one. As I sat to start reading and writing, I ran across this new posting. It was a posting on Forbe’ by Geri Stengel entitled Outsourcing Customer Service May Be Penny Wise and Pound Foolish. It really connected with many of my thoughts on the CSR field as a whole, and made some great points about outsourcing and long term growth.


Should a company focus only on the short term goal of saving a few dollars up front? Will outsourcing save money in the long term, or will it cost money by making customers feel disconnected? Outsourcing the CSR task to a third-party company where they have no direct connection with the company usually means they provide the service by following a script. They have little to no real insight or depth to their knowledge. Keeping the service in house is usually a better option, since it provides direct connection with the actual company.


Rather than jumping right into the idea of outsourcing, it might be worth turning the focus on investing in a more thorough online self-help section. I recently wrote about the importance of having great self-service features on a website because many people will use them they are adequate. Stengel relates that importance when discussing how one successful company’s “customer service starts with online content that helps customers learn and problem-solve on their own.” Increasing the focus on improving such a self-service system can greatly reduce the number of CSRs needed in-house.


There are two main quotes from Stengel’s article that I think form the main focus on this topic. First, regarding the downfall of outsourcing the CSR:


"Customer service should not be scripted interactions, run through as fast as possible, to get customers through anticipated problems. Nor is customer service training just a matter of teaching service reps to deal with anxious customers and tough questions. It’s training them to listen. Customer service is about developing products and marketing [that] customers want and need. In other words, customer service keeps customers happy with the products you have now and can point you toward products that might be best sellers."


As I have tried to stress time and time again in past articles, a CSR has to care, and in caring they have to listen and connect with the customer. A CSR cannot view the customer as a distraction, irritation, or allow them to be a frustration; instead, they should be the main focus.


The second section from Stengel’s article is focused on how having in-house CSR is beneficial to both the representatives, as well as the company’s development:


"Training customer service reps isn’t just a matter of classroom instruction. It requires on-the-job, informal training that happens in hallways and break rooms as well as during conversations with customers. How did you handle that situation? Is there a way to avoid this specific problem? Does this problem come up often? Have you had complaints about that new function that was just added to the service? And most importantly, do we have a product or service that does what this person wants? Or, can we create a work around? Are we marketing it correctly? Or is this a new product/service we should offer?"


When kept in-house, it is much easier for new ideas and issues to translate from the CSR frontline over into the development or marketing departments. When service is outsourced, a lot of issues and concerns can fall through the cracks between companies, and so in the long term scheme, improvements and concerns may never get properly addressed, and that can cost more money in the end.


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