What happened to the bureau?
A bureau is a common term used for a group of call centre agents handling calls for multiple clients. This is an ideal solution in a number of circumstances such as the following:
(1) Where a client doesn't know how many calls they will receive
(2) As an overflow for out of hours
(3) Where calls spike for a number of reasons such as in the response to television and radio advertising
Due to the nature of the environment, the agents can only receive minimal training on each client or product. Therefore, the bureau only really lends itself well to a certain type of calls.
Shared Call Centre Agents In The UK
For many outsourced vendors, the concept of a shared service bureau was quite tempting at one time. Having multiple clients helped absorb and bad credit issues and if worked efficiently, a shared service bureau could actually be a highly profitable business. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, having a bureau was also a way to start with a client for what might become a large and highly profitable client. Until 1996, Merit Direct (now part of SITEL UK) had the largest live agent bureau in The UK. However, when SITEL acquired them, they didn't like this particular business model and decided to get rid of clients who were too small. Smaller outsourcing companies took on the bureau model but for it to work effectively; it has to be big enough to be productive and a number of companies dropped out. Then came the growth in automated systems through companies such as Broadsystems and Greenmarch.
With the advent of offshoring, the majority of outsourced vendors didn't see a place in their offerings for a bureau/shared service offering. They were generally focussed on larger projects and very few decided to go for this type of business. There were a few exceptions but we believe that there are only 3 good shared agent beuraus offshore. There are many companies who claim to offer shared agent services but very few actually do. You should therefore be careful when sourcing a vendor offshore on a cost per call basis.
There are, of course, challenges for bureaus. Many of the call types handled in this environment were often simplistic and transactional in nature and automated systems and the internet are now the primary modes of interaction in many industries. However, there are many companies who still prefer the human option. One challenge that companies outsourcing to a UK based bureau have found is that the bureau is often focussed on 1 client. For example, we worked with a client who had built a bureau based on 1 large television shopping company. To make the campaign more efficient, they offered shared agent services to other clients. However, the call centre was so focussed on their major client that they offered a poor service to all other clients. Having worked with a number of companies in this sector, we have realised that bureaus with many similarly sized projects tend to offer the best service.
The situation also varies from industry to industry. Industries which are seasonal and need high levels of efficiency to cope with small margins such as retail tend to employ shared service bureaus if only for certain parts of the year. There are also some industries which use specialist outsourcers on a shared agent model. One example of this is where companies want to outsource low level technical support. There are companies who offer shared agents on this basis as the skills required for one agent are very similar for other clients.
After years of decline for shared agents, they are on the rise. In 2012, we received a total of 3 shared agent enquiries. In 2013, we received 18! In January of 2014, we have already received 5. If you would like help in finding a shared agent call centre, please use our find a call centre form.