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Charities: choosing the right outsourced contact centre

From the Knowledge Centre

Karen Banfield, contact centre director at Echo Managed Services, discusses the importance of finding a good cultural fit between an outsourcer and a charity...

For years, non-profits have struggled with limited resources. Diminishing grant funding and organisational restructures have left them struggling to spread the workload. To help them focus on their core purpose of fundraising, many charities have chosen to outsource major functions, such as enquiry handling.

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

And with the popularity of outsourcing 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…

An agile approach
For many non-profits, enlisting the help of a specialist to deal with enquiries can 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 or if a key event is taking place, freeing up some much-needed breathing space for non-profits.

Outsourcing means that the organisation need not bear the costs of hiring someone full-time, yet a consistent high level of service can be maintained. 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 that 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.

Outsourcers can also help a non-profit organisation gather an unbiased opinion on their enquiry handling operations, providing much needed perspective and expertise and often able to offer invaluable advice and insights which can help increase reach, grow supporters and even raise more income.

Considering the risks
Despite the benefits, charities have traditionally shied away from outsourcing, for fear of losing social interaction or even compromising the integrity of the organisation. 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.

With some non-profit organisations already under fire for aggressive fundraising methods, doubts around the security of donor data and dissatisfaction surrounding the salaries given to bosses, public trust in charities has fallen significantly in recent months.

To try to restore this trust, charities need to engage with the public more effectively, and will be under considerable scrutiny to deal with enquiries efficiently and competently. They’ll also need to consider the various channels consumers are using to communicate, and ensure they provide a joined up service across all of them. Outsourcers are being called upon to manage telephone enquiries, handle email, social media and website queries too. Failure to get this right can cause potential reputational damage, leaving long lasting effects.

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

When it comes to outsourcing customer contact, non-profit organisations 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, however, in a customer contact situation, particularly within a charity, soft-skills are in fact one of the most important attributes of an advisor.

A strong partnership
It’s worth considering your relationship with an outsourcer, from the very beginning. Charities should be wary of using an outsourcer that doesn’t put in the work in advance of a campaign. An outsourcer should spend as much time as possible with the client before they even begin the contract, learning the scope of work, how the organisation works, and its key messages. Failure to do so can signal disinterest in your brand.

Good outsourcers work closely alongside the core team and really integrate themselves into the business. Through 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 client’s core values and operate effectively as a fully-integrated arm of the organisation.

To outsource or not to outsource?
Ultimately, for non-profit organisations, the decision of whether to outsource services is not one that should be taken lightly. If a non-profit organisation decides to enlist the help of an outsourcer, then they need to be completely sure that the outsourcer is able to match or even better, exceed the service that an in-house team could provide.

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.


About the author

Karen Banfield

Echo's Contact Centre Director, Karen Banfield, manages and leads Echo's Bristol based multi-tenanted outsourced contact centre. The site manages and runs 26 separate client campaigns and was named the South West Contact Centre Forum Outsourced Contact Centre of the Year in 2016. Karen has also been presented with a prestigious accolade in 2016, winning the Outstanding Leadership and Management award at the Bristol Business Awards.

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