I saw this article on Self-Service and Outsourcingby Allen Bonde and Alan Winters over on destinationCRM and it made me think about discussions I have had with Allen in the past around using Enterprise Decision Management to automate and improve critical customer-facing decisions in this context. It seems to me that an EDM approach offers both a way to enhance self-service and outsourcing strategies and a way to make it easier for you to move between the two approaches or combine them.
Firstly, by focusing on the automation and improvement of customer-facing decisions I can make self-service more possible, more rewarding and more extensive. Customers who want to self-serve will appreciate being able to do more if you replace the need to seek approval from an employee with an automated decision process, especially if you can get the automation up into the 90% range (which you can). In general nothing frustrates a customer more then not being able to get things done - no matter how nice your staff are or how helpful they try to be, if they can't actually do what the customer wants the customer will be frustrated. Now sometimes the customer wants something the company does not but often the customer wants to do something that should be possible but that the customer service staff are not empowered to do. Automating these decisions can empower the customer service staff and allow you to push these decisions out to a self-service channel. Creating the sense of an "always there for you" environment where the company makes rapid decisions about the things you need will help lure customers to self-service - it will create a pull.
Secondly if I control the critical decisions within a process (what price to offer, what kind of refund to give, how much of a claim to pay) then not only can I make more of these processes self-serve I can also outsource them more effectively. I can take advantage of an outsourcers cheaper labor to handle the standard processing steps while still exerting control over the critical business decisions with the process. If the outsourcer can approve things as effectively as you can (because you automated that decision) then customers may well feel pretty good about talking to the outsourcer.
There is a great comment in the article about cost benefits- "Various studies have shown that answering a question online can cost between four to 40 times less". I don't have the numbers but I have to feel that getting a decision made automatically has got to offer the same kinds of benefits.
I have blogged on some of these topics before - check out this one on rules and BPO and this one on the decision-maker's dilemmaas well as this one on call center automation. The general sections on BPO and CRM contain some others too.