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 Outsourcing live sales and support 

Do you find there's not enough hours in the day to attend to your online business? Perhaps you work your business part-time and that means you're missing following up with potential customers rapidly. It's a well known fact that responding to pre-sales inquiries rapidly greatly increases the chances of conversion.

What about support? Are you able to respond to your current client's inquiries fast enough in order to retain them?

It's somewhat of a catch-22 situation - you need more staff to grow and with more staff you'd convert more browsers into buyers; but you don't have the cash (or time) to employ, train and retain new people.

It's a really common challenge and you're certainly not alone. 

Maybe you do follow up with all inquiries promptly, but that effort prevents you from building your business in other ways.

What to do? How do other businesses address this challenge?

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Outsource your support and sales

There have been many services pop up in recent years that act as an extension of your own business and a part of your team by providing sales and support services for your clients on an outsourced basis. While these are third party services, they respond to phone, email and live chat inquiries using your company's name.

These services were once geared to big businesses only and were quite expensive, but a growing number of companies are catering to smaller merchants and online businesses.

Outsourcing your sales and support can be quite an economical way to get the extra coverage you need and help boost your bottom line significantly... but there are some issues you need to be aware of - I'll get to that a little later in this article.

How does it work?

Outsourced support and sales services come in a few different flavors; some companies offer phone operators, email ticket support, live chat or a combination of all three. Some services will work in with your current systems or will require you to make some small modifications to your site/back end in order to interface with their systems. Either way, all inquiries are responded to using your business's name, not theirs - integration is pretty much seamless and branded with your company's identity.

In phone sales and support options, the provider will usually give you a special number to use that patches the client directly to the outsourced team - you then either post that number on your site, or set your number to forward to that one during the times that you want the outsourced team to handle calls.

Outsourced email support systems work basically in the same way - an email address is provided to you and support/sales tickets are routed directly to that or forwarded from your own ticketing system. Most companies will work in with your own helpdesk software if you currently have such a package in place.

Outsourced live chat operates similarly. If you have live chat software already in place; you can just add an extra operator and the outsourced team will work under that profile. If you don't have a live chat application, they'll provide a few snippets of code that you embed on your pages that will generate "chat now" buttons and work directly with their system.

Outsourced arrangements of this nature usually take a day to a few days to set up; depending upon the complexity of your business. You'll be sent a list of questions about your business, products and services so that the provider can learn more about your operations. As these outsourced services will work around the clock, a team will be assigned to your business that may consist of anywhere from several to a dozen outsourced operators who will answer inquiries 24/7/365. Assigning specific teams to your business helps with familiarity.

How much does it cost?

Outsourced sales and support companies usually offer different plans depending up the needs of the merchant:

  • Pay per minute (in the case of phone calls or chat)

  • Per incident (call, email or live chat session)

  • Per outsourced staff member assigned

Pricing is all over the map - anywhere from a dollar per email ticket handled, 50c to a dollar a minute for live chat, to five dollars per phone call - and this is where it can get a little tricky. Pricing does not necessarily reflect the quality. 

Choosing the right outsourced team

Ever called a local company and the phone's been answered by someone with such a thick accent you can barely understand them? It's likely that company is outsourcing their sales and support to an overseas call center. 

I've experienced both sides of the equation when it comes to dealing with outsourced sales and support teams - it can be a real minefield and quite a headache. I'd like to share with you some things I've learned along the way that may help you avoid some of the problems.

Coupon code: CLIX196 Special Taming the Beast.net reader offer!
Try ClixConnect for 14 days FREE risk-free and get $10 off your first paid month with this coupon:
CLIX196

Phone support - use a local company

If you want to outsource your phone sales or support inquiries, I cannot stress enough how important it is to use a company who will provide phone operators from your own country. A potential or current customer should not have to try and translate what the operator is saying. I know of many people who will drop a call if the person who answers at the other end has a heavy accent. 

While many people who have ESL (English as Second Language) may be quite proficient in writing English and be excellent in an email/live chat capacity; often their verbal skills will be lacking.

Don't risk it; if you're an American company, outsource phone sales and phone support to other American companies for this aspect. Also be aware that just because an outsourcing company may be US based, they may still utilize operators from other countries; so check first before you shell out any cash.

Allow for a learning curve

As nice as the concept of turning over your sales and support to a third party is, do bear in mind there will be a learning curve for the operators - expect mistakes and confusion in the the first week or so and put some time to one side to be able to assist with training your outsourced team. The short term investment of time will set you up well for the duration of the arrangement.

Examine plans carefully

If you buy a hundred minutes or a hundred calls/chats/tickets in advance, check to see how long this purchase will be good for. Often plans will not allow rollover of unused amounts into the following month; so you're better starting out with under what you need in the first month and paying any overage rates for that month. Most providers will also let you upgrade mid-stream, but not downgrade during the current month. 

After the first month, you'll then have a solid base on which to make a decision as to what sort of plan you'll need to purchase in following months.

Audit and track responses

Don't assume that the outsourced team is doing a good job of handling pre-sales and support inquiries - check responses and transcripts from time to time and coach where necessary. You'll usually provide coaching to the leader of the team handling your account - this is more efficient as that team leader can then communicate the coaching to the entire team.

Provide canned text responses

If you prefer email and live chat responses to be answered in a certain way, it can be useful to provide the outsourced team with a series of canned responses they can use - text that can be used to address specific situations. 

For example; customer asks:

"how long does it take to ship a flomble"

Canned text you provide might be:

"Shipping usually takes only 7 days, but if you choose the air freight option, it will only take 3 days to reach you!"

Canned text responses will usually be stored in a central database whereby all operators will have access to those responses. The provision of canned text responses is a way you can introduce a bit more quality control into how the arrangement works and most providers will not only be agreeable to accepting the information, but very thankful for it as it helps their teams to do their job better.

Watch for operator churn

If you're seeing new names among the outsourced teams pop up on a regular basis, this is a red flag. It usually means that the company isn't able to retain operators due to poor working conditions. Some of these companies force their operators to work in the white-collar equivalent of sweatshops. The more churn a provider has, the less familiarity can be maintained regarding your own operations as they'll constantly be training new people, which will impact heavily on the quality of service they can provide.  

Realistic expectations

Remember that you're engaging this type of service as you don't have the cash or time to employ staff directly, so have realistic expectations regarding results. No-one will ever care more about your business than you do and these outsourced teams are usually working with multiple merchants at any given time. Your business is not their sole focus and therefore the quality of responses may not be as high as what you'd provide yourself.

Sometimes what you pay for is what you get - and that's certainly can be the case when outsourcing your sales and support at an entry level. In order to keep prices down, providers will likely use a foreign team as labor costs are lower. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, except when it comes to phone support. Ask for a trial if possible and monitor conversations very closely during the trial period to ensure that the English (or your local language) used by the outsourced team is at a satisfactory level.

It will take a little time to see positive results from engaging an outsourced sales and support team, but so as long as the provider you're using seems to be doing ok in terms of quality and response times, give it a couple of months before deciding whether to continue or not.

Measure results

After a couple of months, check your sales and customer retention. Are you seeing improved conversions as a result? Are people buying more of your products and services more often? Is churn decreasing? If the answer is yes to all these aspects, then you're probably onto a good thing - you'll just need to compare your costs to your profit margins. 

For example, if you notice that you're selling 10 more flombles a month and each flomble sale brings you $10 profit; and your outsourced arrangement is costing you $50 a month - then you've done well :). If it's costing you $120 a month, then you're losing. Increased sales doesn't mean increased profitability if your costs in generating those sales eats up any profit margin.

Outsource provider recommendation

If you're considering implementing outsourced live chat sales and support, here's a company to consider.

A while I was contacted by Mitch Cohen, a long-time reader of Taming the Beast.net. Mitch made mention to me of a Live Chat sales and support service his company has recently launched. The service is called ClixConnect and it really does look very good. 

Mitch has also kindly offered Taming the Beast.net readers a free trial and a discount with this coupon code:

Free 14 day trial + $10 off first month's service: CLIX196

Setting up with ClixConnect is a snap. 

  • Choose a plan

  • Answer a few questions about your business to help train the ClixConnect team

  • Install a snippet of code which will display a chat button on your site

  • When a visitor arrives on your site, they are greeted by one of the ClixConnect team who offers to assist the person if they need help during their visit

  • If the customer has a question, they click a button

  • ClixConnect operator then assists

One of the great aspects of this service is that if you're around, you can communicate with clients yourself if you wish before the request is automatically routed to the ClixConnect team. If you want to duck out for lunch, a meeting or even a holiday, or just don't wish to be disturbed; the live chat requests will be handled by your outsourced team. No more missed or delayed pre-sales inquiry responses!

ClixConnect will even go as far as to call you (if you're available) if the client has a question they can't answer in order to get advice from you on how to deal with a situation. This means that you're only contacted if it's absolutely necessary, giving you more time to focus on building your business in other ways.

Another interesting feature built into ClixConnect is automated chat recommendations for customers. For instance, if you're selling cell phones, the application can automatically suggest the addition of a ringtones subscription or other accessories.

ClixConnect plans are very reasonable priced and the service also comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee - if at any point you dissatisfied with the service, you will not be billed for that billing cycle. This is a rather unique aspect of their offering, I've not seen another similar provider offer the same sort of guarantees or a free trial. Use this coupon code for your free trial and discount: CLIX196 and give ClixConnect's services a whirl!

Related articles

Outsourcing web design and development

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
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In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

Copyright information.... This article is not available for reproduction without explicit written permission from Michael Bloch and Taming the Beast.net

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