For any company, call handling has a massive impact on customer satisfaction and cost of sale.
Chasing orders is a pain for purchasers, taking up time and impacting business when deliveries are late or incorrect. And for suppliers like Barriers Direct, the cost undermines often slender margins.
“Call handling is a significant business expense,” says Barriers Direct managing director Janine Carhart. “We want to eliminate order queries where possible, giving our customers the smoothest possible experience, and resolving issues quickly so that we remain competitive. It’s only through having processes in place – suppliers being accountable, and information being available – that you can achieve that, delivering customer service to a high standard, and profitably.”
At the beginning, Barriers Direct was receiving a lot calls about order progress and needed a customer services department. However, rather than simply handling enquiries, the intention was to
find out what was going on and drive down the volume of calls by enabling customers to see better information quickly and easily and eliminating problems in the first place.
“The idea of us taking this on is that we’re good at trouble shooting and problem solving,” says Solid8 director Josh Brumpton. “Not just to answer the phone, but for us to explore what was happening and work with the supply chain to resolve problems.”
The biggest source of complaints was delivery, but the only available data was the volume of calls, with no information about the cause or outcome, for example whether it was a seasonal issue or
related to particular customers, products or suppliers.
Brumpton and the team started gathering evidence. “Information was key, so we began tracking and analysing the sales and supply process, so we could identify problems and resolve them at source.”
Solid8 has introduced processes and data analytics that help identify recurrent patterns and evaluate supplier performance. If there is a particular factory experiencing problems, Solid8 can monitor the situation closely and work with them to make improvements. “We have a lot of rich data now, but we’re not making purely data-driven decisions,” says Brumpton. “The figures flag up problems, but we always go beyond that to understand the cause from a human perspective.”
With one supplier, Solid8 discovered it was simply that they didn’t properly understand how the system operates. “We spent time with them, so they could learn about the business processes, what
information goes into the system, and the impact that has further down the line,” explains Brumpton. “Consequently, calls, queries and complaints fell dramatically – less than a quarter of what they were previously. That has played a huge part in improving customer service, driving down calls and boosting reputation.”
The concept of outsourcing customer services is a mental leap for many companies because it seems such an intrinsically internal function – the frontline between the business and its buyers.
“It’s difficult at first as you have to let go, and business owners are used to a direct management model,” says Carhart. “But it gives me enormous flexibility and financial freedom, and as long as reporting is properly set up we have total accountability.”
For Barriers Direct, outsourcing eliminates the cost and concerns of running premises, or directly managing a workforce, and means the business can quickly adapt. “My service providers, like Solid8, are responsible for scaling their resources to meet demands. It gives us the edge, and as long as there is cost control with our providers, we can beat everyone else on price.”
Outsourcing providers also have a useful ‘outward’ view, believes Carhart, because they work with other clients in different industries. “Some of Solid8’s innovations have been brilliant, and they can do that because they know our business so well, but it’s also down to the external perspective they bring.”
Carhart acknowledges that it’s a very different concept for people to get their head around when they’ve been working in a traditional environment for so long. “There’s still a general reluctance to
adopt this business model, compared with building internal teams, but once you’ve embraced it, I don’t think anyone would change back.”
“We work in a fast-paced environment where meeting deadlines is critical, so people need to feel confident that their orders will arrive on time,” says Carhart. “Since Solid8 spearheaded the initiative, calls have reduced from 500/month to around 200, and numbers are still falling. We also get far fewer complaints, so it’s been a really positive experience,” adds Carhart. Communication is key, and ensuring that information is accurate and up-to-date so that everyone can believe the data.”
Solid8 has worked hard to improve the quality of information available to customers, with clearer web page layouts, more comprehensive product descriptions, and explanatory notes. “We discuss
lead times with suppliers, to ensure customers receive up-to-date and accurate information,” says Brumpton.
While Solid8 is an outsourced service, they are definitely viewed as an integrated part of the team. “We do treat them as ‘us’ and both Emma and Josh are regarded as senior managers,” says Carhart. “They work closely with me and have built a high level of trust and respect, which enables them to take responsibility without always referring back to me. They have good analytical skills and a mindset geared to continual improvement, which helps drive the business forward.”
Brumpton also attributes the relationship success to providing a seamless service, so that Barriers Direct customers don’t feel they are dealing with a third party. “Delivering solid ROI is essential, but it comes from being a company our clients can’t do without and that their customers can rely on – because that’s where the growth potential is for everyone.”
“If we can resolve challenges, provide great service and deliver strong returns, then what else can we do for that client? For me it’s about proving our worth, that we’re a trusted adviser and your
business is in safe hands.”