In a past life as a technology consultant at Accenture, I had the unique experience of selling and managing projects with teams of offshore resources spanning across many continents and cultures. With a BPO book of business amassing $6B+ annually and dedicated BPO employee counts of 130,000+, operating as teams of “one global Accenture” was engrained in my role from day one on the job. My experiences taught me a thing or two about how to work effectively with partners who were not only a world away from me physically, but often culturally as well. Now as an entrepreneur building a company in a remote COVID world, the lessons I learned the hard way as a consultant have never been more applicable to those trying to hire and manage offshore and outsourced teams through a Business Process Outsourcer (BPO). I hope that high-growth startups and SMBs can benefit from some of the BPO management principles I discuss below.
Vet Your BPO’s Team Thoroughly
In a world where customer-centricity is the norm, it has never been more important that your customer support goes above and beyond. When outsourcing there are a basic set of competencies that must be met – and they are mostly communication oriented. You need to make sure that your hires are highly proficient in both written and spoken English, or the language you’re hiring them to support for, and even if they will only be communicating with customers through writing. It takes a lot longer to teach proper grammar and tone than it does to respond to customer tickets, and the simple fact is that many of your customers will judge the quality of your company based on the quality of the customer service you provide.
The upshot to offshore team building is that most BPOs do a good job of recruiting workers who meet these standards and can be trusted to do quality work. What’s important is that you don’t let your chosen BPO’s hiring expertise cause you to check out of the process altogether. Whether you’re bringing on 1 agent or 20, make sure that the BPO’s hiring requirements mirror your expectations, conduct thorough interviews with proposed candidates, and do not settle. Even if you’re turning to a BPO because your customer support needs have suddenly surged, hiring individuals who are unable to represent your company the way you want will ultimately cause more headaches and customer defections than you currently have.
Don’t Skimp on Training
I’d argue that rigorous training is a necessary investment for any job, but it is particularly important when spinning up offshore teams. Great training is so essential because outsourced teams working off-hours often have very limited overlap with their onshore counterparts. This means that roadblocks requiring onshore assistance can often result in the loss of an entire day’s worth of productivity. To limit these egregious delays, it’s super important to both properly train and empower (more on this later) your offshore team. It is vital that you think of your outsourced resources as extensions of your own team and NOT as a separate group or entity. In the onboarding process, treat and train them just as you would any full-time hire employee.
A well-trained employee is functionally self-sufficient – they can complete their work efficiently and without assistance. They are contextually aware, understanding of the goals, responsibilities, and requirements of the team. Functional training is straight forward in that you want to make sure that your employees can reliably perform the key tasks of their job with minimal help from management.
Most quality BPOs have training professionals who will work with you to convert your internal process documentation into a training curriculum for your agents. The best BPOs will go so far as to help you uncover gaps in your internal knowledgebase and fill them. Make sure you are thorough in providing the documentation and additional face time your trainers may need to get your agents fully trained up. The more information you can provide on your mission, values, and goals as a company, the more excited your new team members will be to provide excellent customer support.
Set Clear Expectations & Empower your Team
Yes, I know. Another age-old management tactic that any leader ought to abide by. However, distance and culture have an uncanny way of distorting your dictated expectations into a finished work product that is nothing like what you had requested. Reducing missed expectations starts with improving the quality of your communication. A good way to do this is by using tried and true project management tools. For example, one might use a task tracker and a risk/issue log that you review regularly with your team. These tools inherently cause misunderstandings to surface quickly and cultivate discussion that will help employees maintain a higher level of contextual intelligence. With a full understanding of how their work supports the business, damage caused by inevitable misunderstandings can be mitigated because your employees can deduce your intent and act accordingly.
Empowerment can be summarized as your full and explicit inclusion of offshore colleagues as part of the core team. It means they can make some decisions without your input, advance new ideas in group discussions, and aren’t shy to surface work blockages or issues that require your immediate attention. That last point might seem like table stakes, but in my experience remote workers can often be more passive than those who you interact with in person. A common result of not addressing passivity, and something that has happened to me multiple times, is the offshore team encounters a significant work blockage early in their working day, but after the end of yours. Then, they’ll send you an email and stop work until you respond or until the next meeting you have scheduled. Obviously this is not acceptable. An easy and reliable way to empower remote workers and avoid pitfalls is by encouraging them to use all communication channels at their disposal. They should be involved in your company’s Slack workspace, Microsoft Teams instance, or WhatsApp group and be invited to use it liberally. Believe me, typing out a quick slack response before bed is much better than waking up to nothing having been done overnight.