One of the biggest, looming questions over outsourcing is: what about the quality of work?
Sometimes things that are cheaper feel like they must be worse quality – we’re all just waiting for the shoe to drop. Fortunately, that’s not necessarily the case with outsourcing. With proper management, outsourced teams can conquer just as well as in-house.
Outsourcing, while it removes the time spent on the tasks, still requires a hands-on approach to ensure quality. Your outsourced team is just that – part of your team. Invest the time and effort in leading them the same way you do with your internal team.
In this article, we’ll deep dive into the key aspects of quality assurance for outsourced teams. In short, interview well, create great training material and make time for 1:1’s with new hires. Then develop and monitor your KPIs, give immediate feedback for good and bad work, provide positive encouragement through bonuses. But ultimately, the important thing is to be a good leader. Make sure your people know why they are there, that they have an impact, and that they are valued.
Thorough interview process & trial period
When looking to hire for positions, don’t just take the ‘best looking’ resume from Upwork simply based on cost. Honestly, I’ve fallen into this because sometimes the interview feels unnecessary/arbitrary for simple tasks, or even make me nervous.
But there’s a little more to it. Interviews act as a barrier to entry, which filters out the people that don’t necessarily have the skills or language proficiency you need.
It’s less about the specific interview questions and more about assessing personality and generally feeling.
How fluidly does this person communicate and ask questions? This is a good indicator of how much work you’ll need to do to train new tasks – fewer questions asked during the training process, the more problems you’ll run into. So it’s good to find someone that is comfortable talking and asking questions.
Conduct both written and oral interviews.
This allows you to assess language barriers and knowledge more thoroughly by seeing on the spot performance versus edited, written responses. It’s great to have example problems that are simplified examples of the work they will do so you can assess whether they’re a good fit.
Set a trial period before making a full hire.
A trial period can be as long as you need to asses fit: 2 weeks up to 6 months can make sense depending on the project.
This period gives you a chance to really feel out the relationship and ensure that this person can meet your needs. You gain insight into the things that are harder to interview for like punctuality, curiosity, responsiveness, and culture fit. It also allows you to minimize your time spent on full training until you know it’s a good fit.
Something worth doing is creating a generic login for these trial periods. This can save time later if you end up terminating the contract early – removing permissions quickly upon termination can be annoying.
Lastly, if you already have some outsourced teammates, get them involved in the interview process too. Our interview process looks something like this:
- The person applies to the job with resume and cover letter
- Mia, Philippines Operations Manager, does a phone interview to qualify
- Interviewee comes into the office and meets with Mia for a hard skills test (written and oral)
- Interviewee shadows with the rest of the team for the day
- If the team says YES, Courtney to personally interview
- If Courtney says yes, we begin a 2 week trial period doing a subset of the tasks
- The team meets and discusses the trial period
- Offer a position if 100% of the immediate team agrees.
Thoughtful and hands-on training
Once you’ve selected your hire, it’s time to start training. To train outsourced agents, we utilize a combination of methods:
- Written training manual with examples
- Training videos
- Hands-on training via screen sharing
- 1:1 review of process & question time
We use a complex training process because it helps mitigate the cultural differences. The combination of 1:1s and a Philippines manager are the most help in this. A common theme we run into is a fear of being fired without warning (a common occurrence within outsourcing). Ultimately this fear bubbles up and results in new hires not asking questions, pretending to understand, and moving very slowly. Keep this in mind when training – it takes time to break down this barrier and requires attention and kindness. Tackling this head on is the fastest way to ensure high-quality, productive work hours as soon as possible.
This is where the 1:1 and screen sharing become crucial. Create a dedicated time and require questions to be asked. You’ll quickly see where your instructions are unclear so you can fix and you’ll start building an open feedback loop. It’s also important to put a face to your name as soon as possible, creating a human relationship in a remote based environment.
Worth noting is the importance of really good training material. If you can keep fine-tuning your training materials, you can create a very scalable process. It becomes very quick and easy to onboard, which means you can hire for shorter-term projects with minimal time investment. It’s a skill to create good training material, so you’ll want to listen to your outsourced team for feedback on what can improve.
Creating training material
Be clear and precise. Simplicity is key.
With videos, we usually do shorter videos to show pieces of the process and how to navigate tech products. It’s a helpful tool to have for new agents so they have fewer technical questions to ask – instead they can refer to the video if they forget which button to click. This removes a pain point. However, these videos cannot as easily stitch together the moving pieces. That’s where a written training manual comes in.
With written, we go big picture then move into the details, processes, and instructions. Instilling the big picture helps to motivate, which I’ll touch on later in this article. Bringing together the small pieces into a cohesive whole helps agents understand the smaller tasks. For example, we use form submissions to gather data to get high-level metrics on the tasks. Sometimes the fill in the box answers were not typed 100% correctly with extra spaces or other variants. Despite reminders, the improvement was not consistent until we explained how it connects to the future data analysis we give clients. Once we did show the big picture, the little typing variances disappeared entirely.
Set standards through KPIs
Outside of thoughtful hiring and training, you need to set up KPIs. You’re creating a QA process for tasks through high-level data points.
With an outlined task, you need to isolate which quantifiable metrics to track. Start collecting data and use the averages as your benchmark. Adjust these data points as the team gets more comfortable (i.e. once they normalize, stop using the first months’ data in your average calculations). Compare both your agents and team as a whole to the averages, flagging when metrics leave the normal range immediately.
Share these metrics and explain how and why they are tracked.
Sharing the metrics helps agents to understand which pieces of the work connect to larger goals and how they are being judged. Additionally, it tells the agents that you are absolutely watching, which for remote work, is an important external motivator. Something a little bit out there, but has worked well for us, is to coalesce the high-level metrics of each team in one doc that everyone has access to. It creates a form of accountability to see how the rest of the team is performing compared to oneself.
Monitor metrics and take immediate action
When starting out, I recommend monitoring your KPIs daily, weekly, and monthly. Additionally, adding in an ‘employee review’ every month is a great way to connect, build a feedback loop, and touch on good and less good performance.
In monitoring the KPIs, as soon as you see fluctuations in performance levels as a team and/or individual, take immediate action. This counts for bad and good metrics. This highlights that you’re watching, huge motivator, and it also shows that you’re invested. When working on bad metrics, approach with open questions, not aggression – remember there is an underlying fear that really hurts overall productivity if triggered. Approach the ‘slacker’ inquisitively and ask things like: Hey I noticed that yesterday the numbers were a bit lower than normal. What bottleneck did you experience? Or is something personal going on? What can I do to help?
The goal is to instill that you are a team, working together towards the same goals. Less good performance doesn’t mean you will fire the person, it just means there is room for improvement and creates an opportunity to work hands-on with this individual to train them to be better. Rather than instill negative consequences, fault, and failure, approach form an angel of mentorship, improvement, and positivity.
Feedback loops are key with remote teams.
When you are alone with minimal intercommunication, it can be hard to stay motivated (hell, it is for me!) so openly talk and make everyone feel a sense of comradery.
While you must handle bad KPIs, it’s equally as important – in my humble opinion – to draw attention to good KPIs. Give a shout out to agents or teams that are overperforming. Noticing good work goes a very long way in creating a team mentality, boosting engagement, and ultimately, boosting the overall quality of your outsourced team.
Another strong action to ensure consistent good quality for your team is to introduce a bonus program. If certain KPIs are met or exceeded, why not offer a slight reward? Reward-based motivation is far superior to consequence-based motivation for quality in the long-run, so if you want to build a strong scalable outsourced team, this is important.
The bonuses do not need to be big, a bonus worth a few hours of work is plenty. It’s about giving respect and appreciation, and also recognizing that a small financial bump can make a huge impact for your agent. For reference, I do about $20-$30 in bonuses.
Quality Assurance for manual labor is born from intangibles.
Connect outsourced tasks to a greater mission
People do better work when they are engaged. I believe that engagement and great work stem from teaching WHY > HOW > WHAT. Show each team member WHY they are working for you by showing what impact the company has and what impact they as an individual have on the organization.
Periodically reflect on this and connect your agents with the company successes. Revenue increases from return customers? Give a shout out to the outsourced customer support team for making the customers happy. The success of your company as a whole is due to a collection of individuals doing kick-a$$ work, your outsourced team notwithstanding. By bridging the outsourced team tasks with your company successes, you’re motivating your team to have top-notch quality consistently. They see the real impact, love the appreciation, and want to keep it going.
Overall, be a good leader and inspire your team
Building loyalty is one of the best ways to ensure consistent quality.
Building loyalty comes down to taking care of your outsourced team, making them know that they are valued and that they make a difference. Giving praise for jobs well done is important, but it’s also important to give a little. Loyalty and trust are a two-way street.
For outsourced teams, build a good relationship by treating them with the basic rights you and your internal team enjoy. Provide holiday days. Don’t overwork your team. Go out of your way to interact and ask how they are doing. Get involved with the part they play and make sure they know how important their daily work is.
Simple kindness from a leader to an outsourced agent can be one of the best tools to ensure quality.