This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
There comes a time when most entrepreneurs will consider outsourcing a portion of their business. On the surface, it seems like a smart move: you don't have to recruit, hire, and train new staff. Instead, you leave the heavy lifting to your outside experts, saving time and money in return.
Outsourcing can be a solid option, but in my experience there is one thing no business owner should ever send overseas: customer service. People do business with brands they love – how can you be sure that someone who answers the phone in a far-flung country is giving clients the experience you expect?
A few years ago, we outsourced our overflow call volume for our Vancouver-based call centre to a company in Atlantic Canada. We trained them on our systems, initiated them into our corporate culture, and started sending 4,000 daily calls their way.
But even though they painted their walls the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? colours and wore blue wigs to work, something was missing. They just weren't us. Conversion dropped over time and eventually the home office culture we tried so hard to recreate on the East Coast started to falter.
We've since reverted to keeping customer service 100 per cent in-house and have seen the benefits first-hand. Here's why we won't be outsourcing customer service again.
Outsourcing puts up a wall between you and your customer
It's funny: businesses will spend big bucks on sales and marketing to find new customers only to turn around and outsource the critical one-on-one first contact. Why are so many entrepreneurs giving up the chance for a direct conversation with the people who matter the most to their business' success? It's a huge mistake to leave these valuable customer interactions to strangers – especially when a poor experience can affect your opportunity for referrals and repeat business, too.
Zappos takes the complete opposite approach, making customer interactions its top priority – even if that means talking to someone for 10 hours on the phone. But this hyper-focus pays off with loyal customers who keep coming back (not to mention PR better than money could ever buy).
Outsourcing makes it hard to build awesome culture
Outsiders will never have the same level of commitment to your vision – they're hired guns who may not see the world the same way you do. If they're in a distant call centre, maintaining the same level of engagement that your in-house teams develop by being together every day is impossible. Outsourcing creates a sense of isolation and disconnect.
That kind of disconnection has consequences outside the company, too. After all, great customer experience starts with creating a great employee experience. The more engaged your team is with its company and its co-workers, the more passionate it's going to be, and that will shine through when they're talking to customers.
Outsourcing robs you of a chance to find your next all-stars
The biggest risk of outsourcing is often overlooked: it robs you of the chance to train, develop and promote talent from within. Our goal, for instance, is to double our business every four years. But the reality is that you can only do that with exceptionally motivated people. When we're hiring, we interview people for the job that's open and the job they could develop into. We want people we can invest in, and who, in turn, will invest their time and energy into us. It's simply not possible to identify or cultivate that talent when you're working with contractors thousands of miles away.
Just look at Gwen D'Arcy, who started in 1-800-GOT-JUNK?'s call centre and is now the brand leader for our newest business, Shack Shine, and Rhys Green who is now director of field operations for You Move Me, our moving company. The people we hire for customer sales and support become an invaluable source of talent for all of our brands. In the trenches, they get to know the company inside and out, giving them a platform to quickly launch into other, more senior roles in the business.
Obviously, outsourcing can work for some things. We get our trucks made by another company because calling in the experts was our best option there. But if customer service and interaction is the backbone of your business, outsourcing is a bad call. You might save a few bucks – but ultimately, you'll get what you pay for.