Call Center Outsourcing Buyers Want More Than Cost Savings

As the market for contact center outsourcing has matured, buyers are increasingly looking for sophisticated support from suppliers to enhance the customer experience across multiple channels, which include mobile apps and social media.

Call center outsourcing customers are looking for more than just cost cutting from their deals today. They want providers that can help them deliver business outcomes.

The inclusion of value-added services, such as customer retention, multi-channel management and customer analytics is on the rise, according to outsourcing consultancy Everest Group's contact outsourcing annual report.

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"With our global economy being more in a growth mode than it has been in last couple of years, companies are focused more now on creating a differentiating experience for their customers," says Katrina Menzigian, Everest Group's vice president of research relations. "And they're expecting the same thing from their service providers."

Call Center Services Making a Comeback

After hitting a low in 2009, buying activity has picked up with the U.S. market for call center services revenue growing 7 to 8 percent in 2012 from $65 billion to $70 billion, according to Everest Group. (The global call center market was worth $300 billion to $350 billion.)

"Customers also understand more than in the past that the customer interaction opportunity is huge in terms of driving growth," Menzigian says. "They want to be smart about how they spend, but they understand that there are other things they need to offer their customers."

One of those things is a seamless experience no matter what channel the consumer uses -- online chat, 800 number, social media, mobile app. "Buyers want to create a positive and productive multi-channel experience for their customers," says Menzigian.

"What we are finding is that it's becoming more prevalent to outsource not by channel but by consumer need," says Menzigian. "So you might see outsourcing happening by line of business or product or geography. Service providers are working very hard to position themselves as being able to support that integrated channel experience."

While voice remains the dominant customer service channel, non-voice channels grew 35 to 50 percent in the last year, according to Everest Group. In particular, call center clients are looking for social media management from their providers.

"It's not so much the technology itself as how it is used to effectively shape the customer experience," says Menzigian. "That requires dedicated effort." One service provider, for example, had invested in a social media response center -- a kind of innovation lab that would enable it to move beyond social media monitoring to social media response. Another conducts internal exercises simulating the customer experience across channels.

Call Center Outsourcing Contracts are Broadening in Scope

The Everest Group report, which examines more than 400 call center outsourcing contracts, found a broadening of contact center contract scope over the last two to three years. "In order to create needed differentiation in the market, more service providers are focused on offering clients end-to-end service," says Menzigian. "They're moving beyond the customer interaction touch point to helping fulfill the value chain of that industry."

Service providers are also investing more in analytics beyond basic reporting with a goal of offering predictive modeling for their clients. Outsourcing clients themselves are focusing more on their call center relationships in order to achieve more of the business outcomes desired.

"They realize they need to invest in the relationships they have with their service providers," says Menzigian. As a result, many are rationalizing their provider portfolio and working more closely with a core group of vendors.

The industry is also seeing a shift in pricing models, according to the report. While pure headcount-based, fixed-fee and transaction-based pricing are all on the decline, hybrid pricing (which incorporates a combination of pricing mechanisms) is on the rise. "Clients are taking a much more detailed look at the activity within the contract and trying to identify how to better align the desired outcomes through pricing."

Customers -- particularly those inking new contact center deals -- are also looking for more onshore support, according to Everest Group, resulting in a more balanced geographic support model.

Stephanie Overby is regular contributor to CIO.com's IT Outsourcing section. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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