The right fit with an outsourced contact centre

For years, charities have struggled with limited resources. Diminishing grant funding and organisational restructures have left some charities struggling to spread the workload. In recent years, in order to relieve some of the burden and help ensure they are able to focus on their core activities, many charities have chosen to outsource major functions, such as enquiry handling. Indeed, having an effective point of contact or contact centre is a crucial resource for a charity.

While outsourcing once was seen as a luxury for only the larger charities and mainly used for donation lines, charities of all sizes are now realising the benefits of appointing a specialist outsourcer to handle a wide range of both inbound enquiries and outbound communications - whether they are related to fundraising, what the charity does, specific campaigns, or even general enquiries.

And with the popularity of outsourcing across the board increasing, particularly on a campaign by campaign basis, charities must now get clued up on the benefits, risks, and dos and don’ts of appointing an outsourcer.

Outsourcing to provide agility

For many charities, enlisting the help of a specialist to deal with enquiries can help significantly ease pressure, particularly in times of peak demand As well as standard enquiries funnelled through a charity’s main contact number, outsourcers are also being appointed on more temporary basis – if a charity is in the midst of a media campaign, trying to recruit new volunteers, or if a key event is taking place, for example.

Increasingly, outsourcers are being appointed to fulfil a variety of communication tasks and free up some much needed breathing space for charities.

Outsourcing is often a popular option for charities for obvious reasons – such as the fact the charity does not have to bear the costs of hiring someone full-time, yet a consistent high level of service can be maintained. Put simply: when the outsourcer isn’t needed, the charity doesn’t need to pay it. Outsourcers can be up and running quickly and cost effectively and are able to scale their operation up and down to adjust to changes in demand.

This is particularly beneficial for smaller charities which may not have the capacity for a specific customer contact operation, lack the knowledge and experience to understand the full scope of the customer contact service that is required, or simply don’t have the skills in-house to complete the job.

Aside from the obvious benefits, outsourcers can also help charities to gather an unbiased opinion on their enquiry handling operations. Whereas in-house employees may be too absorbed in a project or campaign to notice areas for improvement, an outsourced partner can provide much needed perspective and expertise to give a more unbiased opinion, and is often able to offer invaluable advice and insights which can help increase reach, grow supporters and even raise more income.

Then there is also the help in providing an improved interface with customers (beneficiaries), particularly where they have strong need and expectations of an effective response.

Considering the risks

Despite its benefits, charities have traditionally shied away from outsourcing, for fear of losing social interaction, expertise, or even compromising the integrity of the charity. And they’re right to be cautious – outsourcing enquiry handling is something that can easily tarnish the reputation of a charity, should it be managed incorrectly.

Any potential risks are even more likely to be significant factors, due to the fire some charities are under in the media and in Parliament. Aggressive fundraising methods, doubts around the security of donor data, and dissatisfaction surrounding the salaries given to charity bosses are just some of the contributors which have led to significantly in recent times.

To try to restore this trust, charities will need to engage with the public in more effective ways than ever before, and will be under considerable scrutiny to deal with any enquiries efficiently and competently. They’ll also need to consider more carefully, the various channels consumers are using to communicate, and ensure they provide a joined up service across all of them.

Nowadays, outsourcers are being called upon to not only manage telephone enquiries, but also handle email, social media and website queries too. Failure to get this contact right can cause potential reputational damage, leaving long lasting effects on a charity.

Selecting a culturally aligned partner

Often, a charity’s contact centre is the first point of communication with a member of the public, so charities must be sure that the outsourcer is culturally aligned with them, shares in their mission and values, is a great brand ambassador, and is able to immerse itself in the charity’s world – working to protect the brand as if it was their own.

When it comes to outsourcing customer contact, charities must be especially careful that the outsourced organisation is able to deal with all manner of enquiries with as much empathy and understanding as anyone within the in-house team would.

Depending on the charity, enquiries could be extremely sensitive, taboo, or upsetting, so it’s crucial that an outsourced customer contact team is experienced in this area and trained up to the highest standards. Unfortunately, the importance of soft skills can sometimes be ignored, with hard skills often prioritised more. However, in a customer contact situation, particularly for a charity, soft skills are in fact one of the most important attributes of a contact centre agent.

Developing a strong relationship

It’s also worth considering your relationship with an outsourcer, from the very beginning. Charities should be wary of using an outsourcer which doesn’t put in the work in advance of a campaign. An outsourcer should spend as much time as possible with the charity before it even begins the contract with it, learning the scope of work, how the charity works, and its key messages. Failure to do so can signal one that is disinterested in your brand, and is simply there to get the job done and get paid.

Good outsourcers might sometimes move some staff to the charity's site for a few days, so they can work alongside the core team and really integrate themselves into the business and see how the operation lives and breathes in the real world.

Through a combination of observation and in-depth training sessions, outsourcing teams should be able to understand the areas they need to replicate, as well as where they can add value based on the knowledge and skills they have acquired over the years. This allows them to both understand the charity's core values and operate effectively as a fully integrated arm of the organisation.

To outsource or not

Ultimately, for charities, the decision of whether to outsource certain services is not one that should be taken lightly. The scrutiny the charity sector is currently under makes this decision even more important. If a charity decides to enlist the help of an outsourcer, it needs to be completely sure that the outsourcer is able to match or, even better, exceed the service that an in-house team could provide.

For charities, it is vital that the outsourcer is culturally aligned with it and shares in its social mission. Those deciding to outsource a contact centre to handle enquires should make sure that the outsourcer is a great brand ambassador and can deal with all manner of enquiries with empathy and understanding. Finding the right match can take time.

However, once a charity finds a trustworthy and reliable outsourcer, the benefits can be endless. Outsourcing can lead to exceptional customer experiences being delivered in a cost effective manner, as well as the delivery of valuable insights which can help increase trust, increase donations, and shape future campaigns and services.

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