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Imagine you’re nine months into your contract with your outsourced tier-one support team. Contract renewal is rapidly approaching and you’re not sure if you’re going to renew. To be honest, things have started falling off the rails. CSAT has dropped, average handle time won’t go down, and the team seems stuck on handling only the most basic customer support questions. You’re not sure what happened or what to do.

As the Director of Customer Support, you were initially hesitant to explore outsourcing, but you were motivated by the cost savings, the ability to quickly “follow the sun” to 24/5 support, and the surprisingly impressive performance of the team members. Everything got off to such a great start, so you’re surprised by all the difficulties that have cropped up as of late.

What happened, and how would you avoid a similar situation in the future?

In this article, I’m going to share four common mistakes that get the outsourcing relationship off on the wrong foot and what you can do instead to be successful.

Mistake #1: Failing to hire at the right seniority level

One common mistake made by hiring managers is failing to hire employees at the right level. By “level”, we mean the level of seniority that’s expected to perform a particular job or role.

For example, let’s say you decide to outsource tier-one customer support tickets to a remote team. Surely you can get away with a team of junior support reps, right?

Wrong. Even if the questions themselves are “easy”, you still need senior team members to set the bar for performance and point the team in the right direction.

If everyone on the team is too junior, it can be hard for team members to know what’s possible in terms of performance. We’re not only talking about queue-based performance, either. Although queue throughput is usually the first metric we look at, we also care about the quality of communication, clarity in reporting bugs, thoroughness of elevating product feature requests, ongoing internal team documentation, and steady engagement with other teams at the company. Senior team members set the bar and pull up the rest of the team.

To avoid this mistake, always make sure your teams are balanced with the right levels of seniority. In most instances, you’ll want a team with a strong foundation of experienced senior individual contributors alongside more junior team members who are eager to learn. In some instances, perhaps where the environment is highly complex or adaptive and there’s a strong need for rapid learning and self-reinforcing growth, a team of exclusively senior team members may be the best way to get started. Only in a situation where you have an extremely mature training program and can afford the increased time required to onboard junior team members would you want to begin with a team of all juniors. In all instances, a strong team captain is a must for ensuring the team gets off to a strong start.

Mistake #2: Failing to hire for the right skills

In addition to seniority, it’s important to consider the actual skills required. For example, there can be a noticeable difference between the skills of a “Technical Product Support Agent” and a “Customer Support Engineer”, with the latter usually providing technical skills such as the ability to read and write code. 

What can sometimes happen is companies will set a lower bar for their outsourced team because they plan to have the internal team handle the more difficult challenges. A problem that can creep up in this approach is that it doesn’t leave the outsourced team members room to grow. Well-performing teams will inevitably become more effective at handling the problems being assigned to them, but if the technical capabilities of the team are arbitrarily capped, they may be limited in what challenges they can handle down the road.

This mistake is most common among teams who are outsourcing because they’re rapidly expanding from 9-to-5 to 24/5 or 24/7 support. In this paradigm, the priority is often to get coverage—any coverage—without worrying too much about what skills will be needed in the long term. This can leave offshore teams working after hours without the skills they need to handle the more complex customer requests which will inevitably start cropping up in the inbox.

To avoid this mistake, plan past your initial performance needs and have an eye towards what future goals might look like. For example, your initial needs might be simple inbox coverage and escalation triage, but where will you be six months from now? Two years? Looking ahead toward the future now can ensure you make the most out of your offshore investment in the future.

Mistake #3: Failing to integrate the team

Hiring the right people is only the starting point. You have to have a plan for integrating the team into your culture and everyday work.

The foundational implementation steps are obvious: having a clear project plan with frequent check-ins, agreeing and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs), documenting processes thoroughly, and training the team—all of these are required for any outsourced team to be successful.

Other aspects are less obvious. Teams can break down if there’s a failure to address the cultural and communication-related distance between in-house and offshore teams. It may be surprising, but partners can become blinded by stellar task performance and lose sight of what it takes to sustain working relationships over the long term. Teams from different cultures, geographic locations, and time zones need ongoing nurturing to be successful. While the required effort is usually low, it must be conscious.

To find success in this area, make an inventory of the ways your in-house and offshore teams can stay connected throughout the relationship. This can include:

  • Expecting offshore team members to be included in team meetings with the in-house team
  • Scheduling occasional “skip level” meetings with offshore team members
  • Finding opportunities for in-house and offshore team members to collaborate on documentation and projects
  • Connecting over informal calls that aren’t purely about work
  • Occasionally connecting with remote team members in person

This is true even in environments where the remote team is “fully managed.” Investments in these activities aren’t about driving task-based performance for the remote team. It’s about creating an environment where the team can flourish, which in turn will empower their productivity and ensure they have the information and connections within the organization to be successful.

Mistake #4: Failing to give the team the resources they need

One of the reasons leaders look to outsourcing is to free up their in-house team to focus on more strategic work. This can be an excellent reason to outsource, but you have to be sure you’re setting up your offshore team for success and not handicapping them by giving them access to an incomplete set of resources.

With one client I spoke to, they thought they had done everything right. They hired talent at the right level and for the right skills. They gave them access to their team. They even gave them relatively easy tasks that the team should have been able to handle. But still it didn’t work out. Why not?

It turns out that what made their onshore team successful was a robust employee onboarding process whereby team members got deep into the systems and processes and tackled hard challenges. In this process, onshore team members not only became part of the team culturally; they also gained the skills necessary to perform well in the more transactional work. Even though the transactional work may have been “below their skill level”—and hence why they were outsourcing in the first place—it was the engagement in the robust training that gave them the context needed to handle the transactional work with a high level of performance. Unfortunately, these benefits were overlooked when trying to onboard the offshore team, leading to lower-than-expected performance.

What can you do to avoid this mistake and ensure your team has the resources they need?

For starters, you want to have a sense for the complexity of the work being performed. The more simple the work (think “standard operating procedures”), the more the work can be done successfully at somewhat of a distance, without too much hand-holding. On the other hand, if the nature of the work skews more complex, offshore team members will greatly benefit from working closely with your in-house team. This will give them the context they need to be confident in their task-based performance.

Building teams like you would build

The common thread to avoiding all of these mistakes is to trust your outsourcing partner to build a team like you would build. Don’t think of them as “other”. Think of them as part of your team, even if your partner is responsible for the KPIs and the bulk of performance management. But by getting the right team together from the outset, integrating them successfully into your culture, and making sure they have the right resources, you’re well on your way to outsourcing success.

Boldr builds your outsourced team the way you build your in-house teams. If you want to learn how our high-performing teams can drive success in your organization, click here.

Hi, I’m Ben McCormack. After becoming a self-taught software developer, I spent the next decade building customer support teams at tech companies like Trello and FullStory. Since June of 2023, I’ve been helping Boldr understand the ins and outs of their client relationships. During this time, I’ve observed what works—and what doesn’t—in making a client/partner relationship successful.