As a company that builds and sells technical support software for a living, businesses ask us all the time whether they should be outsourcing their support. Sometimes our customers ask us, because the answer is key to their using Freshdesk for their tech support. Sometimes buddies, friends and entrepreneurs ask us, because outsourced tech support is still a hot topic of discussion in certain circles. And sometimes we’re asked because we are here and we just need to have an opinion.
But I think it’s important for every business, right from growing businesses all the way up to large enterprises, to know exactly why they should or shouldn’t outsource their technical support processes. And, more importantly, what kind of problems they should expect to be solving. There are pros and cons of outsourcing and one must consider those before taking the outsourcing decision. So here’s a head-to-head comparison between outsourcing your technical support, and keeping it in-house:
Round One – Total Cost of Ownership
When you outsource, it basically means you pay someone to hire support reps, train them, get resources and do everything that goes with it. Sure, you’re paying for calls to be routed overseas but in the end, with VOIP and less stringent telecom regulations, outsourcing your technical support is often cheaper than doing it yourself.
When it comes to the TCO of your technical support process, outsourcing manages to draw first blood without breaking a sweat. If the people cost adds up to the biggest hit in your tech support, outsourcing the team to a low-cost center half way across the globe might actually save you big numbers in the year-end report.
Verdict: If you have a people-centric technical support cell, outsourcing to a low-cost center might be a good idea.
Round Two – Scaling up (or down)
There comes a time in every technical support agent’s life when you realize you have more tickets coming in than the team can chew. Or that there are just too many agents manning lines that don’t ring as often as justified. Now, with these scenarios, the solution is to expand your support team or downsize it accordingly. That generally means you need to find the right people to add to or remove from your technical support help desk, and you need to find them quick.
Now, if you’d outsourced your technical support, you have the option to choose a vendor who can scale up, or take the shock for you on the fly. The vendor is the one who has to expand the support team or break it down. They’re the ones with the problem, not you. You’re removed from the decision and have been saved a lot of stress, time and money. And if you hadn’t outsourced it, well…you get the picture.
Of course, there are ways you can scale up your technical support in-house without scaling up the team, so blindly outsourcing it or leaving the onus on your vendor may not be the best idea.
Verdict: If adding more people to your tech support process is the only way to scale up, outsourcing can be a big, big relief.
Round Three – Quality Control
There’s a reason companies still prefer to build their own support team and oh boy, it’s a good one – when you outsource your technical support, you have no control over the quality of the support.
When you outsource technical support, you’re basically handing over the responsibility of making sure that your customers are getting correct, complete answers to their questions. You don’t have any control over whether the agents are going the extra mile to ensure that your customers are satisfied. All of your customer’s queries might be answered, but have they been answered accurately and completely? You have no idea.
Outsourcing kind of takes that power right out of your hands. You can only direct and hope for the best.
Verdict: If you’d like to build your brand on the basis of your technical support, keep it in-house.
Round Four – Being ‘in touch’
When it comes to being in touch with the customers, you gotta admit that outsourcing doesn’t really put you in a position to receive direct feedback from customers. You have all the numbers and figures that show you that the outsourcees are doing everything they can to make your customers happy but you have no access to the basic facts – no direct insights from your customers. Whereas if you’d set up your own in-house support team, you’d be directly interacting with your customers and would be able to get a good idea of what makes your customer tick.
Verdict: If you want to drive feedback from tech support back into your product and business process, DIY is the way to go.
Round Five – The Rulebook
Okay, this one gets a little bit more subjective. Can all your technical support woes can be solved with a troubleshooting manual?
The problem with outsourcing is, those call center agents aren’t your employees. They have no hands-on experience in developing the product, and they probably aren’t technical experts in your field. That means they’re going to have to be trained extensively before they can begin supporting your customers. And this training is usually accomplished by putting together an extensive troubleshooting manual where you detail everything that can possibly go wrong, how it can be fixed and hand it over to the outsourcee.
As long as most support queries lie within the boundaries of this manual, the outsourcee should do just as well (or even better) than your own employees. But if your support queries involve more technical expertise, a lot of tacit knowledge and walking across the floor to quickly get inputs from the products team, outsourcing the function is a sure way to disaster.
Verdict: If your technical support can be sufficiently bound in a rulebook, outsourcing is the way to go. Else, its better to build your own in-house support team.
Round Six: Getting Beyond Ticketing
The times when technical support was all about being just reactive are nearly gone. It’s the era of social media and a time where customers would rather share their complaints for all the world to see, on Facebook or Twitter than talk to you about them.
And when the customers do talk to you (or even about you, on social networks), they expect you to listen to them and take their input into consideration. Never mind that most of them won’t even talk to you directly. So for all those companies that are looking to shift to the new reality, outsourcing may not be the key that gets you there. Sure, answering direct queries is still a part of the equation but it’s not the only part anymore.
Verdict: If you want to proactively support customers, letting someone else to do it just doesn’t work out anymore.
So what does all this mean?
In a lot of cases, outsourcing definitely seems to be the way to go. For example, a large business that sells common electronic gadgets would have a lot of similar technical support queries. Possibly the most effective way to scale up here is adding more support resources, and it makes sense to outsource their technical support.
For another similar business, selling niche electronic components to a very targeted audience, it is likely that their technical support queries are more varied, and require a fair deal of domain expertise and knowledge to answer. Here, it probably makes sense for the business to invest in building a support team in-house and look to other ways of scaling up their support in the long run.