When a company chooses a partner, the who and how are crucial. This is particularly true when choosing a business process outsourcer, or BPO, to offer customer support.
Say you have tons of customers in the Asia Pacific region but your customer support team is based primarily in Albuquerque—having partners who speak the language fluently is critical, but they must speak your brand with equal fluency. Or maybe your business is getting incredibly popular—congratulations!—but the influx of requests has your team hustling into overdrive. That said, more hands do more harm than good if your partners do not offer the same quality of support as your in-house team.
Other reasons a company might incorporate BPO into its world include cost savings, lack of in-house resources, or a desire to free up time to focus on other critical parts of the business. Or a small business wants to stay small—but operate with the efficiency and power of a larger one. A BPO can provide extraordinary support in any of these circumstances.
Sourcing outside help the wrong way, though, could mean offering support that frustrates and alienates your customers, or results in communication that feels off brand and confusing—all of which could have disastrous consequences. At Relate 2018 in San Francisco, Kathy Dalpes, vice president, Global Customer Support, Zendesk, and Sean Rivers, director, operations technology, at Republic Wireless, had a frank discussion about best practices. Read on for key questions to ask when your own company is considering a partner.
1. Is the culture a good fit?
“If you couldn't walk through the floor of your potential partner and picture your own people working there, people that you love and you care about that work in your own company,” said Rivers, “then it's probably not going to be a good fit.” The partnership might work for a short period of time, he said, but at some point that cultural fit is going to cause a problem, such as groups that don't talk to each other. To proactively avoid this, Republic sent its own employees to work onsite with its partner. “That is the ultimate in trust,” he said.
Other reasons a company might incorporate BPO into its world include cost savings, lack of in-house resources, or a desire to free up time to focus on other critical parts of the business.
Dalpes told the story of seeking a partner back in her days working for Spotify. She and her team went onsite to visit three different vendors. The first two, she said, were great—they brought all the right people to the table, and they were engaged and smart and committed. Then there was the third vendor—same thing, solid qualifications, had all the right people. They could absolutely do the job. “Then they took me out to the space where they would be doing our business,” Dalpes recalled. “They opened the doors and it was like I walked into a Spotify Center.”
They had the artwork on the walls, Dalpes recalled. They had Spotify furniture. They had agents pretending they were taking Spotify calls. They had music piped into the room, just like every Spotify office. “Honest to God, it gives me chills right now thinking that they just got us,” she said. “They understood who we were as a company and that relationship was incredibly successful as a result of that investment.”
2. How much of a partner can this partner be?
The word partner should actually mean something. And there’s a way in which, Dalpes said, the partner should even be better than you in how they operationalize. “It’s also about being inspired,” she said, thinking of times when she’s walked onto a BPO floor and thought, ‘Whoa, we should be doing that,’ or ‘That's really cool,’ and ‘We'd love to be able to capitalize on that.’"
"If you couldn't walk through the floor of your potential partner and picture your own people working there, people that you love and you care about that work in your own company, then it's probably not going to be a good fit." - Sean Rivers
Your partner should be able to give you ideas on your business after running it for a while, said Rivers. They should have suggestions for how you can make your support better. “They've seen more. They've seen other companies do it. We get into a vacuum of how our own company works and it's very important that our partners can come back and say, ‘You know what? We've seen a lot of other companies do it this way. And based on what you're doing, that would probably work better.’” Or they can come back and validate you by saying, "What you're doing is so much better than what other partners do."
Ultimately, you should be able to learn, just like you would with any friend or colleague or collaborative partner. “If you're not learning something from them, you're probably not getting what you need from it,” said Rivers.
Partnership is a two-way street. If you're going to have a pizza party with your team, you should send a pizza over to your partner, says Rivers. Gestures like this are a meaningful way to keep everybody working together.
What’s more, consider asking the partner questions such as "What could make my organization the best partner that you work with? And what would make all of your advocates or agents want to be on my program?" Most of the time, said Dalpes, you’ll hear: "The fact that you just called us a partner is first and foremost." From there, make sure you’re thinking about the partner as another office in another part of the world that has different capabilities that are better than yours in some ways and that can help you out.
Your partner should be able to give you ideas on your business after running it for a while, said Rivers. They should have suggestions for how you can make your support better.
[Read also: Do you need a customer service BPO?]
3. Will your partners have the right training, tools, and support?
There’s a certain set of basics you have to ensure: Do your potential partners have the right certifications? Do they have the right technology? From a security standpoint, do they meet the needs of your particular company? Beyond that, your support needs support too. Rivers suggests creating an internal group, like an escalation support group. Expecting everyone to know everything about your product if it’s complex is not realistic, he said. So with that smaller support group, “the goal is to amplify, to multiply their effects out to customers.” They are focused on the training and betterment of all the partners.
Republic, which uses multiple partners, makes sure the managers of the various partners have their own Slack channels, which facilitates open conversation, especially during quality assurance. Close communication generally is key. If your company does use Slack, set up a channel for the partners. “They should be in there with your agents,” said Rivers. “They should be talking every single day, whether it’s about work or even if they’re just talking. It’s really important for them to have that connection."