Managing citizen contact is a major challenge for any public sector organisation, but quite often, the decision behind outsourcing your customer service can turn into a dilemma, of Shakespearean proportions! We’re here to tell you that it needn’t be – and that you can maximise your relationships with the community you are committee to serve through a resourceful outsourcing partnership. In this feature, we will discuss why public sector should consider more outsourcing, drawing from our own examples of having worked with leading government organisations.

Can you provide more with less?

Government budgets continue to be squeezed with ongoing spending cuts and realignment of priorities, forcing departments to look for innovative ways to drive customer advocacy and satisfaction on a reduced budget. Today’s outsourcing service providers (OSPs) have developed solutions and capability to deliver enhanced customer experiences while driving down service costs through streamlining operations and increasing uptake of lower cost channels. This is exactly what we achieved for the Department of Energy and Climate Change while managing their nation-wide Energy Helpline. We centralised the helpline operation (which had been previously delivered via multiple regional offices) into a single location – thereby reducing costs of service up to 80%. Subsequent service enhancements such as introduction of refined customer journeys delivering advice tailored to requirements, a comprehensive knowledge base and an on-site training function, have brought in further cost reductions.

Can you modernise while striking the right balance?

Addressing the channel shift in consumer demand is one of the biggest challenges today for the public sector. Organisations should take more advantage of the investments OSPs have already made in facilitating multi-channel experience – such as digital self-service email , web chat management and social media, which they may find otherwise difficult to implement, constrained by legacy systems and silo-ed operational models. It is also important to recognise that traditional channels are still a critical part of the contact mix when it comes to managing more complex and detailed services.
The Business Link Helpline we run for the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) helps strikes that all important balance between digital and traditional contact. We manage a consolidated operation delivering contact solutions over phone, email, and social media. In line with the government’s ‘digital strategy’, we help BIS customers navigate the new gov.uk portal, signposting them towards solutions that help them achieve their goals. For businesses who still need to talk to us, we have specialists on hand to offer support. In addition, we monitor and respond to social media queries and are shortly launching web-chat. Our involvement has increased citizen response across alternative channels by 27% on programs aimed at promoting small businesses.

Can you stay flexible in tune with changing business requirements?

Businesses constantly need to adapt to the vagaries of a changing market and your outsourcing partner should be geared to evolve your contact centre operation accordingly. Indeed, provision of flexibility and scalability was one of the top key drivers behind outsourcing for clients, as revealed in a 2012-13 Outsourcing Survey undertaken by Deloitte and callcentre.co.uk.

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It was this operational flexibility that enabled us to undertake successful short term projects such as the 100-seat contact centre operation for the National Health Service, delivering support for a nation-wide health campaign. We leveraged our years of experience in forecast scheduling and planning to launch a service, ramp it up to over 100 agents, and close within a 3 month period, meeting client needs at various stages of the campaign. Yet another tactical and complex project which required rapid service development and flexible resource scaling was the 2012 London Olympics. Starting with a 4-seater operation in 2010, we were able to successfully scale up the operation to over 150 staff during the 2 week Olympic period- coordinating communications to 70,000 volunteers, 8000 prospective torch-bearers and the Olympic public, at large.

…What about Data Security?

Data privacy, right to information and security are all cogs on the same wheel. For government departments it brings additional assurance if the OSP has systems and processes for securing data while ensuring compliance with regulatory bodies such as the FCA. This is further validated by the Deloitte Outsourcing Survey which highlights ‘data security’ as one of the most important factors in choosing an outsourcing supplier.
Implementing strict security controls were of paramount importance during our work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Organisation, which provided vital support for over 350,000 British passport applicants annually. We delivered a game-changing customer service programme for the client that streamlined passport administration, guaranteed data security, and saved the British tax payer up to £10 million a year.

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Contracting for Success

A good outsourcing partnership will be driven by a collaborative effort that focuses on each party’s customer management ambitions and service objectives. We hope the following tips will help when you draw out your contract with the OSP
Don’t outsource a problem: By all means outsource your activity if the resolution lies in engaging the services of an OSP with the necessary skill sets and best practices. But simply don’t move a problem where the reason for current failure has not been identified. Most OSP’s would be happy to first work with you to help you understand what the underlying reason for failure may be. Once established, you will find that any outsourcing relationship will build on that and provide better services and solutions.

Define your vision: Work with your outsourcer to define your targets and KPI’s that drive the right behaviours and deliver value to the bottom line. Establish, from the outset, a clear understanding of what you’re really trying to achieve – whether it is cost reduction, a better customer experience, higher sales performance or operational transformation – and have a flight path for when those goals will be achieved.

Stay Honest: Talk about any concerns and uncertainties. However, detailed your project plan and however diligent your reporting, unexpected events, requirement changes or issues from left field can arise. Interestingly ‘openness and honesty’ was rated as top priority in maintaining a successful relationship in the Deloitte Outsourcing survey.

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Play the long game: The solution must be designed to be flexible to change over the contract alongside technology and customer service advancements. Ensure the ‘day to day’ teams can work together to drive ongoing change, by utilising each party’s skills and experience,. Remember, this is where all the hard work gets done and the successful management of this team will dictate the success and future direction of your working partnership.
GPS for Guidance

The Government Procurement Service framework provides guidance for government organisations looking to procure effective, value-for-money contact centre services. HGS is one of the only four contact centre providers to feature on this framework. By procuring from companies on the GPS framework, organisations can reduce significantly the time and cost involved as due diligence has already been carried out by GPS.

If you are a government organisation looking to outsource your customer service, we can help. As one of the four contact centre providers on the GPS framework, we’ve helped businesses shape their customer engagement strategies, reduce operational spend and drive out efficiency across their contact centre operations. For more details, visit www.teamhgs.com

Robert IronsRob Irons – Director for Public Sector Services at HGS UK
Email: rob.irons@teamhgs.com

Rob Irons has worked on both sides of the outsourcing fence. As Deputy Director of the COI for eight years, he was responsible for the development and procurement of outsourcing services for a wide range of government agencies. Today, he is Director of Public Sector Services for HGS, a leading contact centre outsourcing business – one of only four to be included on the latest GPS framework. At HGS, he focuses on strategic development, innovation and end-to-end transformation of multi-functional contact centre services for a range of government clients.

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