6 questions to ask before choosing an outsourcing vendor

Question 1: Can I speak to a reference?

The best way to understand if you are talking to a high quality BPO is to ask for their references. They should be able to provide you with some references to speak to who can tell you the pros and cons of working with that particular company. If you know of other companies working with that outsourcer but that are not on the reference list, definitely backchannel with them as well. In terms of vetting a potential partner, there is no replacement for talking to people who have already worked with that outsourcing company.

If you hear different things from their existing customers than what you heard on the sales call that is a sign that the company may not be everything they told you they were.

Question 2: What is your employee turnover?

Don’t be afraid to ask for detailed information about attrition. A BPO that is focused on quality will have voluntary attrition rates between two and four percent a month. Anything more than that raises questions. High attrition could mean employees are underpaid or there is a bad culture at the company. Either one of those things will ultimately impact your customers. Also, high attrition means there will likely be turnover on your team which will also impact the quality of service your customers receive (not to mention cause additional headaches for you).

Question 3: How do you assess language proficiency?

A high quality BPO will have multiple layers of language evaluation as part of their hiring process. This is something you should ask about during the sales process.  

At an absolute minimum, every employee should take one of the three major standardized language tests (Efset, TOEFL, IELTS). These tests will put people into categories based on their proficiency level. The categories range from A1 to C2, C2 being the highest level of proficiency. A good BPO will only hire people who rank in the C1 or C2  range. While someone in the A or B range may be somewhat proficient they will likely struggle in a fast paced phone or chat conversation with a customer and won’t be a good fit.

In addition to the standardized tests, a good outsourcing partner will do phone screens that evaluate oral language skills as well as a written portion of the application as a final check.

Getting into the specifics of language ability is important. Below is a list of questions you can ask to make sure you know what you are getting when it comes to language proficiency:

  • What standardized tests do applicants take to show language proficiency?
  • On the A1-C2 range, what is your threshold for hiring?
  • What other mechanisms do you use to evaluate language proficiency?
  • Can I speak to a “typical” hire to get a sense of their language skills?

Question 4: Tell me about your leadership team

In many ways the leadership/management layer is as important, if not more, than the frontline associates when it comes to quality. These are the people that you will meet with day in and day out and who will be your partner in scaling your team. Do you trust them? Do you enjoy talking with them? Do they have experience building teams like what you are envisioning? Do you trust their advice? These are all questions you should ask yourself as you meet with each BPO on your list. 

Question 5: What do you look for when you hire candidates?

Digging into an outsourcing company’s recruiting strategy can teach you a lot about what it will be like to work with them. You should ask about a number of things:

  • What is the profile of typical hires at their company?
  • How many years of experience do employees at different levels typically have?
  • How do they evaluate the language skills of candidates?
  • How long does it take to bring on new team members?
  • How will the outsourcing company match candidates for your specific company?
  • Can you look at writing samples and the background information of candidates that will be placed on your team?
  • Can you see the assessments they use for front-line agents and managers?

A BPO’s ability to quickly hire great talent is one of the main reasons to hire a BPO in the first place, so pay close attention to their ability to do it well.

Question 6: Can I meet some of the team?

If you get close to signing a deal with a company you should ask to meet the management layer that you will be working with. These are the folks you'll be meeting with on a weekly or monthly basis for reporting, performance and training purposes. Make sure you like and trust them. Do they seem like accountable managers that you’d actually enjoy working with? If not, pass on the company. A mismatch with management will cause a lot of headaches for you down the road.

Don’t stop at the management layer. Ask to meet with some frontline employees. They likely won’t be the ones assigned to your team but it will give you a good sense of what to expect for the ones who will join your team. These are the folks that will talk to your customers day in and day out so you should have the experience of talking to them too.