[Tribune] Soft-skills, the essential foundation for offshore customer relations
This article was originally published by Emmanuel Richard.
Inshore, offshore, homeshore, the subject of outsourcing has always been the subject of debate. But while everything has been so perfectly thought out, the arrival of Covid-19 is forcing everyone to suddenly discover the limits of their choices.
The pandemic spares no one. All economies and companies are affected, and are catching up - albeit badly - thanks to teleworking or workstation adjustments. This unprecedented situation has led inshore and offshore agents, but also sponsoring companies, to work in a context of extreme instability, requiring responses to the limit of what is possible.
It should be recalled that although offshore is often chosen for economic reasons, it implies - because of the distance created - a reinforced support, notably with regard to the training of agents. Indeed, knowledge of the cultural and social environment in which the client is located is necessary in order to fully understand and respond to its needs. Among all the participants in the outsourcing of customer relations services, this issue is the subject of great attention: best practice guides, training on culture and current events are all tools that can help to provide customer service that meets expectations. We notice today, in a crisis situation, that the outsourcer - despite (or thanks to?) this geographical distance - has planned everything to adapt to the needs of the limited partners.
But, if the offshore has not foreseen one thing, it is that the "difficulty" may not come from him! Built around the clear instructions of companies with stable and predictable needs, the offshore has not imagined that these companies could find themselves... in a total blur that paralyzes their activity. This is the reality for most companies in 2020. How can you train if you don't know what tomorrow is made of? How can we explain the French socio-economic context if it changes every day? How can we convey to a geographically distant agent the news related to the closing of stores, the authorization of click&collect, the opening hours of restaurants or the arbitration between the essential and the non-essential, if even for the government in France it does not seem very clear?
The question is no longer whether agents or managers in the offshore are able to follow developments, remotely and despite time differences. The question is how to manage contingencies - both on the side of the client and on the side of the outsourcer. How to ensure quality of service despite the absence, or inadequacy, of any plan, and how to respond, once again, to the needs of the end customer, who is stunned and disoriented, and therefore unpredictable? How to keep links running smoothly?
As a result of this unpredictable consumer behaviour, it is no longer sufficient to simply follow guides. In the midst of continuous unexpected events, the agent's help will be his situational intelligence, which will allow him to cope with any situation. His compassion, to better understand the particular and unique situation of each of his audience. His ability to take a step back, to control his emotions and make reasoned decisions. "Simple" soft-skills that become a matter of survival, both on the sponsor's side and on the outsourcer's side. Soft skills in front of which we are not all equal, and about which we can learn a lot from each other, and from remote cultures. In this context, the long-discredited offshore and its agents, who have been training in intercultural communication and soft skills for a long time, have a real head start!
Although we will not stop for a moment the efforts of pedagogy and knowledge transfer to the outsourcer, it is up to each client to be aware of the margin of evolution that is left for him to cover on his side. Take advantage of new skills training initiatives. Learn to work - and to telework - in the dark, to keep the necessary hindsight in relation to the context that surrounds its collaborators and to make good decisions.
Be it the relationship between the agent and the end customer, but also between the client and the outsourcer, we all need to maintain lively, reassuring, customary links during this period of crisis that is becoming perilously prolonged. It is on these links that many companies today depend for their survival.