Blue Ocean Contact Centers - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
Contact center implementation is an art and a science, and over 24 years in business, we’ve learned exactly what it takes to make the smoothest transition possible. Every milestone and every moving part is integral to a controlled acceleration towards a seamless transition that results in a positive customer experience. On top of that, the implementation phase – where collaboration is key - is what sets the tone for the duration of your strategic partnership. No one wants a rocky start to jeopardize the whole thing.
If you’re getting ready to outsource or to launch a customer service RFP process, here are critical factors for a successful launch. (And brace yourself, it’s not a “sign the agreement and watch from the sidelines” situation. Every one of the critical factors requires the investment of time and resources on both sides of the client/outsourcer equation.)
A Comprehensive, Clearly Articulated SLA and SoW
Our SVP of Corporate Services frequently reminds us that stress and discord in business relationships (or more generally… in life) almost always emanates from misplaced expectations. Basically, “It’s not what you got. It’s what you thought you were going to get.” From a spouse not knowing they were supposed to make your coffee this morning (shouldn’t they be able to read your mind?!) to your customer care partner not knowing you expected a zero percent abandon rate (let’s get realistic, folks), successful relationships are founded on clear expectations.
Understanding with complete clarity which measures of success are most important to your organization is the most important aspect of the contact center transition. If we don’t know what success looks like to you before we get out of the gate, we’re guaranteed to fail. It’s that simple.
We need to be on the same page about KPIs and metrics, call volumes and forecasts, training, scheduling, and more well before that magical go-live date.
A Structured Launch Plan
A successful contact center launch isn’t as simple as flipping the switch and 3-2-1 blast off. It begins with a carefully constructed implementation plan that identifies deliverables, owners, dependencies, and timelines. All milestones and objectives need to be clearly defined and assigned to accountable resources. (In your RFP process, when you ask for an implementation timeline, Milestone #1 should be “Build the Implementation Plan.” Don’t mistake the proposed plan included in your RFP response for the firm and final plan. That comes after you’ve awarded the business.)
Adherence to Communication Plans
“Houston, we have a problem.” You never want to hear words like that in the middle of your new customer service program launch, but the famous scenario does emphasize how important communication is. Frequent – and transparent – communication is essential to a smooth takeoff.
Who should be communicating with whom? In our experience, a frequent cadence of communication between leadership on both sides of the equation, as well as between functional area managers on both teams, is critical. Implementation meetings should occur at least weekly, if not several times a week or daily.
Smart Resource Allocation
A successful program launch cannot happen in a vacuum. Implementation often depends upon the unhindered efforts of different functional resources from both teams. Key resources simply must be able to make the customer care program transition their top priority to ensure success. If executive buy-in is needed to clear the way to meet milestones, a reorganization of priorities has to happen in advance. If your tech team is too caught up in other deliverables to meet with your partner’s tech team, for example, the launch is likely to be negatively impacted.
Overall, launching your outsourced contact center for long-term success requires a highly strategic partnership with your outsourcer. Two critical factors behind this partnership are, simply, trust and cultural alignment. You must be able to trust your contact center partner, their experience, and their processes. Of course, to have that confidence, you need a partner that is transparent in their capabilities, expectations, and track record. Once established, trust will facilitate effective communication throughout the implementation process.
For example, we always tell our prospective clients, we’re going to drop the ball at some point. It is inevitable that something will go wrong, however slightly, along the way. How we handle that with our clients is the important part, and our approach is to resolve issues through transparency, proactive communication, ownership, and action.
Cultural alignment is equally important. When the mission and values of both organizations align, it is much easier for the outsourcer to embody your brand when interacting with your customers. Strategic agent hiring and training is also key here, so that your brand experience is delivered seamlessly to customers from the moment your outsourced contact center goes live.
Will Your Contact Center Launch Be Successful?
A smooth launch is paramount to the long-term success of your outsourced contact center program. If a solid foundation isn’t in place, things will fall apart quickly. Clear expectations, frequent communication, detailed plans, dedicated resources, and strategic partnership are all must-have elements – on both sides of the table.
Looking to transition your contact center? Check out our list of contact center RFP questions, or request pricing directly today.
Publish Date: June 12, 2018 5:00 AM
You’re no stranger to RFPs. Love them or hate them, the undeniable truth is that they’re crucial to making informed business decisions about future vendors and partners. The purpose of a contact center RFP is no different: it’s an essential process to use when choosing an outsourcer. However, the contact center RFP is unique and can’t be modeled on the same old RFP template used for other services your company may procure.
Your contact center partner owns a huge part of your customer experience. And customer experience comes with complexities not found in other service offerings. And your outsourced partner is going to act as an extension of your own brand, so their employee experience, hiring philosophy, and corporate culture truly matter. Thus, crafting your contact center RFP takes thoughtful preparation. Here are our most popular resources to guide you in crafting an RFP that will address the unique challenges of selecting a contact center partner.
1. Sample Contact Center RFP Timeline
We get it: you urgently need a new contact center outsourcer. But despite the time crunch, sending out an RFP with a short deadline is unlikely to yield the reliable results you need.
The right partner, the one that will serve your business best in the long run, goes through a deeply collaborative internal process to collect the information you request. The most helpful RFP response – one that is thoughtful and custom-tailored to your unique business scenario – can only be attained through an equally thoughtful RFP process and timeline on your side of the table.
Definitely check out this article for more guidelines on the contact center RFP timeline.
2. 51 New Contact Center RFP Questions
Your boilerplate RFP template might be a reliable, time-tested resource for other industries and services, but the contact center industry is unique. That said, the process of figuring out the right RFP questions doesn’t have to be stressful. That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive list of questions for you to use.
These contact center RFP questions are designed to effectively compare vendors while digging deep into details that will drive your decision. For ease of use, we divided these 51 questions into six categories, including: company overview, agent hiring/training, contact center reporting, project management, and pricing.
Don’t stress. Rely on this article to help put together your RFP.
3. Writing a Contact Center RFP? 10 Mistakes to Avoid
Speaking of stress, even armed with the right questions and backed by a thoughtful timeline, there’s still room for mistakes to be made and decisions to be compromised. It’s just an unfortunate part of the procurement process (we’ve all been there).
We’ve compiled a list of the mistakes we see most often in the contact center RFP process. These are areas that are frequently overlooked amidst the urgency and complexity of your needs. Don’t neglect these crucial parts of your RFP. Read on!
4. 5 Top Procurement Tips for Seeking an Outsourced Contact Center
This resource looks at the big picture of contact center procurement. We recognize that seeking an outsourced partner is one of the biggest undertakings for any procurement professional. It requires a thorough understanding of an industry that even the best RFP response can’t necessarily communicate. A truly exhaustive evaluation of contact center options also requires an intimate understanding of your own company and its culture and brand.
The more complex your customer service scenarios, the more you need a trusted partner over a generic service provider. At Blue Ocean, we take that partnership seriously. It’s why we put together this article examining the 5 steps to building that relationship from scratch. We’re all about sharing valuable insight and keeping your best interests front and center. Can’t wait to hear your feedback!
Take the Stress Out of the Contact Center RFP
We’re big on partnership, starting from the very first interaction you have with Blue Ocean. That’s why we’re not shy about sharing our perspective, knowledge and experience with you before anyone signs on the dotted line. We hope our expertise will help you ease the stress of crafting your contact center RFP.
Got questions? Please don’t hesitate to reach out. We look forward to chatting.
Publish Date: May 14, 2018 5:00 AM
If you answered the headline with a yes – give yourself a major pat on the back. You are out there setting the standard for others to follow (And please, get in touch so we can get you signed on for a guest blog spot). If you answered “no, our social customer care is most definitely not kicking ass” – don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve curated five thought-provoking blogs that will help you get on the path to best-in-class social customer care. Whether you’re working with an outsourced strategic partner or whether you are operating with an in-house customer service solution, these posts are must-read content as you work on improving your customer experience on social media.
1.) Social Customer Care Cannot Be Ignored
Shep Hyken has been in the customer service industry for years, so he’s like a seismograph measuring which trends are rocking the customer experience world. One of his recent posts looks at how customer service has gone from an alternative to primary customer channel, and how damaging it is for those companies lagging behind on the essentials of social media customer service.
He discusses six points that are a good reminder for any brand. Make sure to pay extra attention to his points about monitoring social media and proactively engaging with your community. If you’re already doing them, pat yourself on the back. If not, let’s get you up-to-speed.
2.) From 9 to 5 to 24*7: Tracing the Evolution of Customer
If you don’t know where you came from, then you won’t know where you are or where you’ll be going. That’s at least the premise behind this Customer Think blog. It takes a look at the progression of customer service in recent years and how changes in consumer expectations might one day make social the dominant channel.
The 9 to 5 response has been replaced by 24/7 support, and single channel has made way for the omni-channel. What’s interesting are the brand examples Customer Think provides to show how to effectively transform your social customer service now and in the future (and if you want to read our take on the future of contact centers, read The Evolution of Self-Serve Customer Service).
3.) Death by 280 Characters: How to Avoid Viral Social Media Blunders
From the perspective of this Entrepreneur blog, a brand’s choices on social media can lead to death by a thousand cuts. One misconceived tweet or weak customer experience can ripple outward to impact the perception of thousands of consumers, damaging your brand in small but expansive ways.
The post hits the importance of the role social plays in a brand’s public-facing presence and provides smart strategies to avoid customer interactions that lead to long-term damage. We especially appreciate the emphasis on establishing a clear social media process and hiring the right people (not too different from finding the ideal contact center agent profile).
4.) How to Respond When Customers Get Sour on Social Media
This Marketing Land piece gives practical, in-the-trenches advice for companies as they put their social customer care into practice. When customers take their grievances to social media, they do so because they believe it’s the channel where their needs will get the most attention. Customers are trained to use platforms they believe will get the best results, and your business can use social media to prove that customers’ concerns can be handled favorably.
One of their strongest points from the blog is that public-facing interactions should be brief. Reply twice in the public eye (first to apologize and empathize and second to take the conversation onto a private forum). That way, your brand is shown to care without airing out all of the details for everyone to see. Additionally, we can’t stress enough the point about searching for more than just mentions of your company’s username. Only 3% of customer complaints call out a company’s social media handle – all the others require you to hunt them down proactively or create alerts.
5.) How Customer Service Can Turn Angry Customers into Loyal Ones
Is good customer service really valuable? Another great piece from Harvard Business Review asks that question, using Twitter as the platform for their experiment. They tracked interactions, surveyed consumers six months after the interaction, and tried to find out “when a brand provides better customer service, will customers reward that brand with greater loyalty or pay a price premium?”
Their findings were fascinating. A response, even with an angry customer, can boost the amount they are willing to pay for premium services. The post digs even deeper into responses, speed, and the personable approach, discussing all of them with ROI in mind. It’s really a great read.
Want to get the best ROI out of your social customer service? Contact Us and we’ll help evaluate the strength and opportunities of all your customer service channels.
Publish Date: February 27, 2018 5:00 AM
Remember when social media was the young upstart of the customer care channels and voice was still king? Way back in the good old days of the early 2010s… It seems like a lifetime ago that we were asking ourselves how to handle customers in such a public forum. And asking who really owned the channel anyway – was it marketing? Or was it customer service? We’ve come a long way since then with social having earned its rightful place in the channel choice of both customers and contact center service providers. In our humble opinion though, it’s a good idea to check in every now and again to examine the state of social customer support and dig into the trends and opportunities that have the potential to improve customer care in 2018 and beyond.
Expectations for Social Customer Support Are Maturing
Even though social media doesn’t handle the lion’s share of support interactions, customers still demand a lot from it. At least 84% of your customers expect a response within a day and 47% expect it within an hour (is patience still a virtue?). Because many social customer care interactions happen for all to see, customer service on social media needs to follow best practices from the start. Accountability and transparency, two traits highly valued by your customers, need to be front-of-mind.
In fact, 75% believe that the social channel gives consumers power, as they can speak straight to brands with confidence that they’ll be heard. Companies that take that message to heart, responding quickly and effectively when customers shine the spotlight on them, will maintain higher numbers of Promoters.
Bots Will Handle Simple Social Questions
Customer interactions are growing more complex. In fact, Deloitte predicts that omni-channel customer interactions are going to increase in complexity this year. Greater complexity means allocating more agent time and resources to resolving complicated issues. That means we can expect that contact center agents will spend more time investigating these complex problems and reasoning their way towards solutions. The good news is: AI is already transforming the way customers can resolve the easy interactions without the help of a live agent.
The goal for at least 56% of multimedia and technology companies is to integrate AI and customer service into their contact centers. How will AI translate into the social channel? There has been some experimentation to implement AI tools with social media analytics and unstructured data (text responses, images, etc.). The early results are promising but there is definitely a ways to go.
What’s most interesting is that, when dealing with the “low hanging fruit” – automation and self-serve becomes a win-win interaction. At least 66% of consumers feel good about both a brand and themselves when they solve those quick questions and problems without needing to talk with an agent. Sophisticated self-service generates brand loyalty through the most cost-effective means available and leaves your contact center agents to focus their attention on the more involved, higher value, or higher risk interactions.
Interactions Needs a Personal Touch
With the growth of social customer support and the greater sophistication of social interactions, canned responses will increasingly miss the mark. As many as 59% of customers rank personalization of interactions as being a medium or higher priority. People want their customer experiences to feel organic. No script or “Standard Operating Procedure won’t let me.” Just approachable responses that feel like the contact center agent is paying attention to the tone of the conversation and is offering a flexible solution that befits the situation.
Easier said than done.
The challenge is translating your brand voice from marketing into the voice of customer care. Doing that successfully begins with developing the right agent profile in terms of soft skills (we look for solid decision-making chops, natural aptitude for making tough judgment calls, great flair for writing in a manner appropriate to the channel, and often a sense of humor,) hard skills (tech aptitude for the tools and an ability to learn new tools quickly – this space is changing fast and changing often. How many Snapchat updates have we had this month?).
With the profile in place, training for the social channel takes priority. Your training team (or your outsourcers training team) are going to be challenged with developing a curriculum that is never going to stay static for long. In today’s social environment, that “move fast or get left behind”, mob mentality means you have to be constantly vigilant in ensuring agents are up to speed, not only on process changes, tool upgrades, and the like, but that they are also current on evolution of language, hashtags, and trends that are unique to the channel.
And finally, you need 2020 metrics – not 2016 metrics. What does that mean? It means making sure your QA tools reflect the nature of interactions that your agents are being faced with today – more complex interactions in the channel, longer handle time, shorter average speed of answer, first tweet resolution. Yes, those sound like traditional voice channel metrics. But today, if you can answer social as fast as you answer the phone, and take care of your customer’s issue quickly and effectively in the first contact – whether that’s an Instagram comment, a Yelp review, a Facebook post, or yes, a Tweet, you’re going to be in great shape
We know that getting the right balance from your social customer support is no small feat. Instead of building your own program from scratch, you can provide exceptional customer experiences from an outsourced team of experts. Isn’t it time that your social media represented the best of your brand? Click here for our Pricing Request Form.
Publish Date: February 14, 2018 5:00 AM
Every day, we interact with executives who are in the early stages of discovery, looking for ways to improve their customer experience and/or drive cost out of their customer care model. The conversations often revolve around whether the time is right for them to consider an outsourced model.
Obviously, every company is different: customer journey maps, pain points, and growth projections are all different. But there are several triggers that, alone or in combination, can indicate the time may be right to look at adding a strategic outsourced partner to your customer service solution.
As we work through discovery with prospective clients, we frequently touch on these core questions.
Do You Need to Add Capacity?
When abandon rates and average speed of answer are trending up, and CSAT and/or NPS scores are trending down, something isn’t right. This is when outsourcing customer care to a strategic partner may be critical to the life of your brand. An outsourced partnership can add resources to your own team without upfront investment in human resources, facilities, or technology. Your pricing model can be built on “cost per contact”, in which the cost of idle labour lies with the outsourced partner not the client. You pay for what you use – not the infrastructure to provide that support.
Do You Have to Scale for Rapid Growth or Seasonal Volume?
When a company experiences either rapid growth or significant seasonal peaks, scaling up or scaling down quickly becomes a priority. A strategic partnership with an outsourcer, either as a stand-alone solution, or working in a multi-site solution with your in-house team, can provide cost-effective scalability. The right outsourced partner will bring deep expertise in workforce management plus the ability to deploy Artificial Intelligence/Tier 0 solutions to meet the challenge of ramping up either for unexpectedly rapid growth or for seasonal peaks. And for those companies with major seasonal peaks, it’s equally important to ask your HR team how much ramping up and ramping down costs in terms of tangible and intangible expenses.
Can Your Business Benefit from More Robust Redundancy?
Redundancy is a big topic to consider. For some, the word means simply having back-up systems in case of a technical outage. But for many of our clients, the benefits of redundancy go beyond business continuity in times of crisis. Some of our longest-lasting, most successful partnerships have been for clients who operate their own contact centers and bring us on board to enhance their offering and provide that valuable back-up for business continuity. You can leverage your outsourcer’s locations to expand your hours of operations as an add-on to the business hours of support in your own center. For programs providing mission-critical support (think roadside assistance, financial services assistance, or emergency assistance for insurance,) working in conjunction with an outsourcer to ramp up and down to meet even isolated spikes can be incredibly valuable – not to mention having a second center functional and fully staffed if you are hit with extreme weather, technical issues, or unpredicted high absenteeism.
Are You Well Positioned to Integrate AI into Your Customer Care?
We’ve said it before - even in an earlier paragraph of this post. AI isn’t the future of customer care. It’s the right now of customer care. If you know you need it, but don’t have the resources, expertise, or strategic insight to execute an elegant AI solution, an outsourcer partnership is the way to go.
AI is evolving, and the tactical execution of AI in customer service is going to be in a state of rapid evolution for the next few years at least. It makes sense to outsource the responsibility for staying current, for seeking out best in class deployments, and for developing next gen strategies to a partner you trust.
Do You Just Need to Focus on Your Core Offering?
For most organizations, providing customer service, tech support, or order management support is a necessary part of doing business – not the business itself. For an outsourcer like us, providing support solutions is what we do. If you want to free up resources to focus on your core competency and grow your business, it’s time to work on partnering with an experienced outsourcer whose expertise, culture, and capabilities are aligned with your requirements.
Want to get honest and detailed answers about outsourced customer care as you go through the discovery process? Contact us and we’ll help you evaluate and improve your customer service model.
Publish Date: February 7, 2018 5:00 AM
Siri, Alexa, and OK Google… these are the virtual interactions that Sci-Fi movies have portrayed for decades past. The future is, it seems, here at our fingertips. These technologies are sparking new expectations in today’s consumers on an almost daily basis. We want intelligent interactions that are personalized to our own situations and we want them on demand – not after we waste our precious time sitting on hold.
Long gone are the days when customers almost expected to experience IVR hell and would pretty much tolerate jaw-dropping wait times. We’re in a whole new world now and that world is evolving at a rapid rate. IBM reports that by 2020 – that’s just two years away – 85% of all customer service interactions will occur without a human agent. Instead, in addition to self-serve customer service, the majority of interactions will be driven by AI technology. Forget AI being the future of the contact center. AI is the now of the contact center.
What Does AI Customer Service Look Like?
Artificial intelligence in the contact center is one significant piece of the puzzle that is omni-channel customer service. With integration between live chat, video chat, SMS, web forums, email, social, self-serve apps, and, of course, voice, the omni-channel experience must be seamless. Using superior language processing, voice and text recognition, sentiment analysis, and big data analysis, leveraging AI is essential to delivering a fully integrated customer support experience.
Consider that the large majority of customer interactions are currently transactional processes. Password resets, changed addresses, parts ordering, status updates, appointment setting, and more are straightforward calls that can easily be addressed by virtual agents or chatbots. Automating transactional processes through AI tools can help deliver a higher level of responsiveness while driving cost out of the equation.
Furthermore, AI tools, as well as machine learning and business intelligence, can be used to customize interactions like never before. With the help of big data analysis, AI tools can personalize every call, email, live chat, social response, and conversation based on the customer’s prior interactions, preferences, transactions, purchases, browsing habits, and more.
According to a Deloitte study, 33% of contact centers have taken the first steps and plan to invest in AI and robotics in the next two years. For companies in the multimedia and technology industries, 56% plan to implement contact center AI technology in the near future. Here’s why: out of all available contact center tools, AI and chatbots are expected to gain the 3rd highest ROI, after website capabilities and mobile applications.
The same Deloitte study reveals that the biggest hindrance to implementing artificial intelligence in the contact center will be integration with existing systems. At Blue Ocean, we are no stranger to the challenges this presents. Even the best intentions in your technical investments can be thwarted by duplicated processes and inefficiencies that threaten to arise when implementing innovative technologies. Check out our latest case study about our custom integration between a client’s IVR system and cloud-based ticketing system.
Ultimately, however, the ROI on AI in the contact center will be a massive motivator. IBM reports that by 2022, businesses will save approximately $8 billion annually, up from the $20 million dollars saved in 2017. In other words, investing in AI is essential if contact centers want to stay simultaneously cost-effective and competitive.
How Will AI Impact Customer Experience?
But it’s not just about cost savings. The number one priority for almost all contact centers is the customer experience and customer satisfaction. That’s where AI in the contact center once again steals the limelight.
Leveraging big data and machine learning algorithms, AI can quite literally anticipate the needs of every customer and deliver answers to questions they didn’t even know to ask. Furthermore, artificial intelligence tools are free from bias and day-to-day emotional challenges that can impact all of us. Additionally, the seamless omni-channel experience that AI can help support will promote customer satisfaction and loyalty. If you use AI correctly, get ready to see those NPS stats go through the roof.
Of course, AI can’t solve every customer service issue. There will always be complex customer service scenarios that will be (and should be) escalated to human agents. The live agent voice or chat channel can be leveraged as a value-add, representing an opportunity to build a deeper, differentiated relationship with the customer in a world that is all too often transactional. These interactions will require greater insight and an emotional connection that can be fulfilled by live agents where AI may have fallen short. This level of relationship when an issue is escalated will prove to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The Future of AI in the Contact Center
AI is not one “tool” in the customer support toolkit of the future. AI represents a whole new set of tools to add to your customer care workshop. Creating a differentiated strategy for deploying artificial intelligence in tandem with empowered, capable, well-trained agents, integrating it seamlessly into existing systems and infrastructure, and taking advantage of data mining and machine learning to enhance your customer journey should be Job One for every chief customer officer in 2018. If you’re looking for a strategic partner who can get you where you need to be, contact us.
The Evolution of Self-Serve Customer Service
IVR Custom Integration for a Multinational Communications Corporation: A Case Study
Automating Transactional Volume for Multinational IT Corporation: A Case Study
Publish Date: January 9, 2018 5:00 AM
This multinational communications, electronics and IT corporation has a health solutions arm delivering connected devices for which Blue Ocean provides both sales support and customer service support.
For both types of customer calls – sales and support – the client was using an IVR system which directed calls, by type, to an appropriate contact center agent. However, the IVR was not integrated with the client’s off-the-shelf, cloud-based help desk ticketing system, Zendesk. As such, once customers were connected to a live agent, the agent would need to verify account information and manually enter other details. These steps and manual entry resulted in longer Average Handle Times, lower quality customer experience, and, sometimes, inaccuracies or errors in customer information. Streamlining this process would improve all of these areas.
Collaborating with our information services experts and the operations team that supports this client, Blue Ocean’s technology team designed a custom integration between the IVR and Zendesk ticketing system. The integration ensures that all questions answered through the IVR, including customer or product ID, language, category of call, and more, are automatically recorded in a web-based app that integrated directly with the ticketing system. With this seamless integration in place, when the customer is connected to an agent, their information automatically pops up on the agent screen. Instead of spending valuable call time on verification and manual entry processes, agents are able to jump immediately in to resolving the customer’s issue.
With development and testing from both a back-end and front-end perspective completed, Blue Ocean launched live demos with the client to ensure all objectives were met. From there, agents underwent one-on-one training to get up to speed quickly.
The custom integration between the client’s ticketing system and IVR was immediately successful. The data reveals that after the IVR integration, AHT per call was lowered by 53 seconds reducing cost per call. Efficiency is a core component of a good customer experience – with the streamlined process in place and average handle time successfully lowered, our quality assurance results improved as well. We measure “How would the customer rate the service experience?” as part of our QA process. After integration of the systems, the customer rating increased by 34%.
Contact us today to learn how an IVR Custom Integration can streamline your processes and improve customer experience. Learn more about the various IT Services we provide to our clients.
Publish Date: December 5, 2017 5:00 AM
If enhancing your customer experience is a strategic priority over the next 12 months, you might be looking at putting out a contact center RFP or RFI early in the new year. Because the partnership you have with a contact center is core to your customers’ journey with you, it’s a relationship that matters more than most client-vendor connections – so this is a procurement process that won’t follow your average templated path. In other words, the pressure’s on. But before you pull your hair out over what seems like an insurmountable task, take a breath and take a glance at the top 10 mistakes we’ve seen in contact center RFPs. Sometimes knowing what not to do makes it easier to get it right and to make the best decision for your business.
Mistake #1: Relying on a Limited Procurement Tool
Procurement software and tools promise to make your life easier and make the process more consistent. Sounds like a dream come true (and truth be told, templates for call center services RFPs have improved by leaps and bounds in just the past year or two,) but you need to know the potential limits. While some industries benefit from limits, the contact center world is very dependent on more intangible factors like cultural alignment and customer experience. These factors require some creativity when responding to and differentiating through the contact center RFP. If you’re set on using an existing procurement tool, ensure that the format and systems allow a vendor to clearly communicate their competitive differentiators and how they would structure your solution. Pro tips: Excel may not be the best choice of file formats and you will want to make it easy for bidders to add supplemental files and file types to highlight their facilities or share case studies.
Mistake #2: Not Setting Content Limits
The New Year is already a busy time; how much time do you realistically have to send out and then analyze RFP responses from potential vendors? We’re going to guess that you probably don’t want to be reading through multiple 150-page RFPs from different vendors when you have a deadline looming large. However, open ended RFP questions without setting limits or structure on answers will lead to that very scenario. We have seen all kinds of limits. For submissions that have to be emailed, you want to set a maximum file size. Bidders can choose what to prioritize within that limit. In some cases, we have seen word count limits on certain questions or page count limits on total submissions. Your procurement team and decision-makers will thank you. No one really wants to read a 75 page BCP plan in detail when a summary will allow you to assess risk just as well.
Mistake #3: Neglecting to Streamline Questions Written by Multiple Stakeholders
The perspectives of your company’s stakeholders are highly valuable because everyone will have their own expectations of a contact center partnership. Including their questions in the RFP will help you capture the big picture, but you need to ensure that they are not simply asking the same questions in different ways. Look for redundancy that might slow down the selection process. (We frequently see RFPs that ask essentially the same question several times in slightly different ways. At best, you will get multiple versions of the same answer written in a slightly different way, or even the same answer copied and pasted multiple times. In the worst case, you’ll get an answer that says: Please see the response to Question 2.3.ii. Something that will drive your adjudication panel bonkers while adding no value.)
Mistake #4: Being Too Vague About Employee Engagement
Customer experience and employee experience are closely correlated, so you want an outsourced partner who genuinely treats their employees well. An engaged contact center agent will likely be able to better connect with your customers. Achieving that level of engagement takes true commitment, so your RFP questions about employee engagement need to be specific to provide more value. Specifically, find out about the contact center’s commitment to their employees and the metrics they use to measure engagement. Ask about the engagement measurement process and ask what they do with the results. Ask about engagement trends over the past three years. Ask about exit survey results and trends. Dig deep on this one to find out what kind of an employer your potential strategic partner really is. For one of our clients, the final deciding factor at the end of a very long procurement process, was: which one of the finalists would you want to work for? You can weed out the weak links early in the process if you have strong engagement questions.
Mistake #5: Overlooking the Big Picture with Technology
It’s likely you’re already asking about technology in your contact center RFP. However, it can be easy to be too shortsighted in your questions. It’s important to recognize the outsourcer’s commitment to staying ahead of the curve in technological trends. Find out about recent platform upgrades and when the next ones are planned. How is a vendor staying ahead of new technologies? A great partner is one who can guarantee they will continue to invest in evolving technologies to enhance your customer experience even five or ten years from now.
Mistake #6: Duplicating RFP Templates from Other Service Requirements
It’s tempting to reply on existing procurement documents for the contact center RFP; this may in fact be a best practice or formal procedure within your organization. However, even the most talented procurement team may not be familiar with the intricacies of contact center operations, and using an RFP template from a different functional area, such as logistics or transportation simply won’t work. (We have even seen warehouse RFPs repurposed for call center services.) Ensure there is close collaboration between your procurement department and the operations staff who are involved the selection process.
Mistake #7: Focusing on the Wrong People Who’ll Be Doing the Work
Asking for the résumés or CVs of the mid-level operation people or specialized roles like trainers is a typical practice when sending out contact center RFPs. After all, you want to verify the qualifications and expertise of your outsourced team. However, getting too deep in these details may be a waste of time, especially if your selection process is quite long. It may be enough time for the person or people you’re checking into to move on or up in their career. Instead, focus on the more senior roles who will work on your account, since this scenario is likely to occur.
Mistake #8: Being Shortsighted Regarding Metrics and Reporting
Asking a potential contact center partner about metrics is a commonsense part of the RFP process. However, it shouldn’t stop there. The industry is evolving and the standard level of reporting is changing. You need to find out about their vision for the next iteration of reporting over the next five to ten years. What feedback is this outsourcer receiving from their clients regarding reporting? How do they act on that feedback? Your RFP needs to set up your partnership for the long-term. If you are seeking a strategic partner who can take your customer experience to a new level, focus less on asking about AHT and more about practices, processes, and reporting around customer satisfaction.
Mistake #9: Neglecting to Ask about Worst Case Scenario Customer Service
80% of your customer service is based on the everyday scenarios and finding out how a partner handles those interactions is obviously highly important. But you need to gain a solid understanding of how they operate in worse case scenarios. For the retail industry, this might be during the high volume and rush of seasonal shopping. For roadside assistance, the height of summer or depths of winter are often inundated with complex seasonality spikes and worst-case scenario customer service situations. Find out how a partner prepares for and adjusts to these cases.
Mistake #10: Failing to Ask about Management Team Tenure
Comparing the tenure of an outsourcer’s management team of the history of the company will give you insight into how they weather together in the storm. High turnover is a red flag and will create turmoil for clients.
Is your contact center RFP ready to go? We can’t wait to see how we can help reach your customer service goals. Contact us today.
The End-to-End Contact Center Solutions Buyer’s Guide
51 New Contact Center RFP Questions
Upgrade Your Contact Center RFP by Asking about Awards
Publish Date: November 30, 2017 5:00 AM
When you think of a call center, the last thing you’d associate it with is baseball. But for those of us who work in contact center workforce management (WFM), the connections are obvious. You might ask, what do baseball and WFM have in common? In short, it’s statistics. Predictive pattern analysis is essential to managing a baseball team, and at Blue Ocean, we live by it, too. It’s what helps us manage call center resources to meet our service levels and operate at peak performance.
“There will always be people who are ahead of the curve, and people who are behind the curve. But knowledge moves the curve.” – Bill James, Author, Statistician, Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations – Boston Red Sox
“Moving the curve” and staying ahead of it are essential in areas like roadside assistance (especially as we gear up for the winter) and grocery service (in preparing for the holidays). When you partner with an outsourced contact center, you play a key role in getting your team in the best position for a championship win. Look at it this way: you’re the team owner. Your workforce management guy is the “team manager.” You can help him (or her) empower the team and take home a win with the use of great data and clear goals.
Here’s how to turn your contact center WFM into champions.
1. Get deep and specific with your historical data
Accurate forecasting begins with looking back on data from the last year to shed light on what may happen in the coming year. The phrase “the data doesn’t lie” is a common one and often integral to our work in data analytics and forecasting. However, the numbers don’t always reveal the big picture. Although all data is relevant, we need to be strategic in how we use it – and don’t use it.
For example, depending on your service offering – from reservations to grocery delivery to tech support and more – your call volume can be impacted by a wide range of anomalies. Sporting events, corresponding holidays (such as the highly rare occasion that Thanksgiving and Hannukah occur at the same time), and website crashes are all times when call volume likely spiked in each of these service offerings. In these cases, when conditions are unlikely to be repeated, depending solely on the data will lead to misinformed workforce management decisions. That’s why you have to get really specific about historical data. Get the whole story.
2. Preach the importance of collaboration in forecasting
It’s not just about historical data. Collaboration across all areas of the contact center is essential to accurate forecasting. Your marketing, sales, or IT departments may not fully appreciate or understand the efforts of your workforce management team, but their departmental plans may have significant impact on how WFM plans to staff a program.
For example, if your IT team knows they are conducting a website upgrade or changes to back office functions, this is critical information for WFM in predicting related call volume. Likewise, if your marketing department plans a promotion or campaign that will impact the number of callers, WFM needs to know.
If the forecast is off, it will have a domino effect on the success of the program. If workforce management gets it wrong, then your departmental team will be off to a bad start, too, making judgements calls from inaccurate information. Although 100% accuracy in forecasting is often unrealistic, the WFM team wants to be as close as possible. Using historical data is one step; strategically using information from other collaborative sources is another critical piece of the puzzle.
3. Keep your eyes on the metrics that matter
“I pay you to get on first, not get thrown out at second,” said Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, in the baseball movie Moneyball. It’s a philosophy focused on what first steps are necessary to add up to a win. Stealing second base might be tempting, but is not a successful long-term strategy for winning games.
The same philosophy should apply to the goals of your contact center team. If your ultimate objective is brand loyalty in your customers, it’s essential to understand how customer experience in the contact center builds that loyalty. Thus, service level metrics should reflect your brand promise; low Average Handle Times probably won’t be as important as Average Speed of Answer and low Abandon rates.
4. Build the right parameters for your game
Every inning of a baseball game might not be perfect, but it’s the score at the end of the ninth that counts. The same goes for your contact center. If your program operates with a monthly service level contact, you have to be realistic about the smaller half hour intervals that add up to those 30 days. There will likely be intervals and maybe even days that won’t make the service grade, but your WFM will do everything in their power to make sure you are on target by the end of the month. If this isn’t acceptable to your company, you may need to consider upgrading your service level to daily instead of monthly.
5. Give your team the freedom to focus on the future
Although we love statistics, we recognize how easy it could be to fall prey to “paralysis by analysis.” While data can tell us how to move forward in WFM plans, trying to explain exactly why something happened isn’t always to best use of our time. The next call still needs to be answered.
That’s why every service level you choose leaves some room for error. A contract to answer 80% of calls within 30 seconds means that there will likely be a handful of calls (less than or equal to 20%) that are answered after 30 seconds. When a small percentage of calls don’t go to plan, do you want to spend time analyzing them or would you rather focus your team on making the future moves that lead to consistent, high quality service?
When services levels are being met and everything is working smoothly, a ton of preparation was done in advance. Championship teams may make it “look easy,” but you can guarantee every piece of the complex puzzle was in place to help them win.
Looking for more strategies for workforce management success? Check out this infographic:
We know it’s not easy to win every game, but we’ve been fine-tuning our craft for more than 20 years. Let’s chat about how we can help you achieve higher rates of success in your contact center.
Publish Date: September 28, 2017 5:00 AM
In procuring an outsourced contact center partner, you’ve gone through the RFP process, you’ve made the site visit, you’ve narrowed down your decision, and, finally, you’ve signed the contract to make your choice official. The job of procurement might be done, but everything else is just getting started. Unless you want to throw your outsourcer in at the deep end (hint: really bad idea), then you need to turn your attention to agent training and contact center knowledge transfer.
Click here to get your copy of What Your Outsourcer Should Tell You About Training Contact Center Agents: A Client’s Guide.
Communicate Your Vision
Your company and its brand are unique. It can be intimidating to hand over customer care to a third-party when deciding to outsource, but you can turn that around by making sure your outsourced partner assimilates to your brand. You have a vision for the work you do, and now is the time to share it. Help new agents understand the mission and goals of their work, including both big picture goals and daily performance indicators, to ensure it will reflect in their performance. From the crafting of your RFP to the Statement of Work you develop with your new partner, your brand, your culture, your company’s voice, values, and vision must be clearly communicated.
Define Your Processes
Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know – and it is possible that gaps will only be discovered when something goes wrong. You can mitigate against this risk. When protocols are too loosely defined, knowledge transfer can easily get lost in translation, leaving agents confused and faced with a wide array of possible customer service outcomes. In rapid growth scenarios or first time outsourcing scenarios, it pays to ensure that you prioritize the development of current, accurate work instructions. Step-by-step procedures and clearly defined rules are valuable assets in establishing a successful contact center. This is especially true when processes are changed or added at any point in the project; keep your agents in the loop and be sure to keep all lines of communication wide open.
Pay Attention to Your Team’s Inherent Knowledge
Teams share information. People teach each other the best, shortest, most effective ways to do things. Processes change on the fly and people get up to speed in whatever way they can. This is how inherent knowledge becomes part of your program. And this team knowledge is often undocumented. The transfer often happens peer-to-peer and eventually “everybody just knows.” This may include nuances in certain processes, especially in uncommon call scenarios or perhaps shifts in priorities when calls hit peak volume. This can also happen when there are frequent policy changes that affect customer service. You’re going to need a robust documentation process and change management protocol to move this inherent knowledge from one team to another – whether you are outsourcing for the first time or moving your program to a new strategic partner. You must be diligent is assessing and identifying these information gaps in order to strengthen the process of contact center knowledge transfer.
Get Involved in the Training Process
The best possible thing you can do to ensure successful knowledge transfer in your contact center is to get a subject matter expert from your company on-site at your outsourced partner to deliver hands-on training – at least in the burn-in phase of a new program. Although the best contact centers will have highly skilled training programs and trainers, mentoring “from the horse’s mouth” will be especially valuable. Additionally, depending on the product or service your company offers, allow agents to get hands-on product experience. This will help them better understand and empathize with customers who call with questions and frustrations. For example, when working with a major automotive client, each year when new models were introduced our client would bring cars on site and our agents would have a chance to get in the cars and explore the vehicles and new features.
Continually Monitor Progress
Your relationship with your contact center partner should be founded on, and grounded in, a strong governance model. Out of the gate, from the award of contract, you also need a robust implementation plan that will help both of you successfully transition your program and identify any areas where knowledge transfer may have been unsuccessful. These are the two most important components to set yourself up for long-term success in the new strategic partnership – good governance and a successful transition. Your program should continually evolve – and how you manage knowledge transfer between your team and your partner’s team will be an important piece of that evolution.
Knowledge Transfer in the Contact Center
Training customer service agents is an art and science, and contact center knowledge transfer is the link that holds it all together. Strong documentation, hands-on training, clearly defined processes, and communication are all part of a successful training program to ensure a smooth transfer from in-house to outsourced contact center.
Looking for more insight on agent training? Grab your copy of What Your Outsourcer Should Tell You About Training Contact Center Agents: A Client’s Guide today!
Can You Train Contact Center Agents in Empathy?
Weighing the Pros and Cons of Cross-Trained Contact Center Agents
Three Secrets to Implementing an Outsourced Customer Service Program
Publish Date: September 25, 2017 5:00 AM
Would you buy a house without first walking through it? Even fully armed with an exhaustive list of property details, features, and listing information, would you really be comfortable forking over your hard-saved down payment and signing on the mortgage without at least taking a tour? Unless you’re a daring risk-taker, the answer is probably not. You need tangible reassurance that your new home will be the best fit (and won’t end up costing you more than it’s worth.)
The same must be said when you’re looking to build a strategic partnership with a new contact center outsourcer. Before you sign that contract, due diligence is required to make sure it’s the right fit. The contact center RFP is essential, of course, but the contact center site visit is invaluable. The question is, which comes first? The RFP or the site visit?
The Contact Center RFP Process
The RFP is all about discovery, scoping out exactly what functionalities, capabilities and infrastructure you require a partner to fulfill. It will tell you almost everything you need to know, from the experience of the account managers on your project to the training processes of the frontline agents to the intricacies of the technical solution. The RFP process helps you shortlist the number of outsourcers you’re willing to consider.
But the RFP falls short in two places.
First, as valuable as it is at describing all the objective features of the program, it is pretty much entirely useless at telling you much about the culture and environment of the outsourcer. Even if you include questions asking about those very details, no answer can truly capture the intangible nature and personality of a dynamic work environment. And that work environment is what nurtures and supports the frontline agents as they interact directly with your customers. Ensuring that a partner’s culture and environment is a fit with your program requires a site visit.
Secondly, the contact center RFP timeline is by necessity a time-consuming process. Estimates of 4-6 weeks may seem generous but are rarely long enough. The worst part is that you have no guarantee that your short list at the end of the RFP process will even include partners whose environment is the right fit. A real estate listing might tell you the square footage, number of rooms, and age of the house, but it won’t reveal the “character” of the house, how its layout feels, or the integrity of the foundation like a tour and inspection will. Likewise, an RFP can be just as shortsighted, leaving you with a couple of shortlisted options that may not fit the bill once you finally get around to visiting them. And that would put you back at square one.
The Contact Center Site Visit
Time is money. The potential for set-backs in the RFP process is enough to reveal the true value of the contact center site visit. It might even be enough to prove it should happen first. Once you’re certain that the intangible features of a contact center have been met, the RFP process becomes much more certain and effective. Here’s what you should be looking for:
• Collaboration. A true contact center partner is seeking a mutually beneficial relationship with their client. That means they’re going to want your insight and collaboration regarding the agenda of your site visit. Is this a team you can envision collaborating with on a daily basis? Are they demonstrating trust and transparency, encouraging their employees to interact openly with you? If, instead, management is controlling, using your visit as just another opportunity to pitch the sale, be warned that you may not be getting the whole story.
• A Friendly Atmosphere. Remember, these people will be taking care of your customers. If the atmosphere is anything but hospitable, can you expect a positive customer experience? Look for friendliness and warmth not only in conversations but also in body language – and across all levels of employee, from agents through to management. Tension or disengagement are warning signs that this may not be the right fit.
• A Nurturing Environment. Being a contact center agent can be tough. These are the people dealing with complaints, unhappy or frustrated customers, and nonstop phone calls. A contact center partner needs to help their agents from burning out and becoming disengaged. A nurturing physical environment is most definitely part of that; it’s the difference between working in a drab builder-beige cube farm or windowless-dungeon and working in an engaging workspace with loads of natural light and attention to the small details of design. Ask yourself the question: can you picture yourself working there? If you answer yes, that’s a good indicator that your company and the contact center are probably culturally aligned.
When it comes down to it, the decision-making question in choosing a contact center partner is, “can you work with these people?” If there’s close cultural alignment between your teams and your environments, then the answer is almost certainly, “yes.” But ascertaining that alignment is only possible through an in-real-life site visit. Once you have a handful of yeses on your hands from a small number of outsourcers, it will likely speed up the RFP process and decision-making.
But what about the expense? The expense of site visits is probably the number one objection to scheduling them before the RFP process. In all honesty, we’re not denying that conducting a number of site visits can get costly when you figure in travel and accommodations, not to mention the time of whomever is visiting. However, those costs are a small drop in the bucket compared to the investment you’re making in a new contact center partner. When you’re trusting “strangers” with the intimate and ongoing relationship with your customers, that initial cost of a site visit is inconsequential compared to what you’re willing to invest to ensure the greatest customer experience. Finally, wouldn’t you rather dismiss the bad fits first rather than risk they make it to your RFP shortlist in the place of worthier opponents?
Partnering with a Contact Center Outsourcer
At the end of the day, finding the best-fit partner for your outsourced contact center is paramount to success. How you go about finding that best fit will be a unique process that reflects the nuances and individual requirements of your organization. However, the site visit is invariably the piece of the puzzle that ensures cultural alignment, the foundation to your partnership.
Looking for a contact center outsourcer? We’d love to chat more in our sun-lit offices over a steaming mug of good coffee. Let us know when you’re ready to visit. We’ll be waiting. Click here to send us a message.
Want more info? Download one our complimentary eBooks for more insight:
• What Your Outsourcer Should Tell You About Hiring Contact Center Agents: A Client’s Guide
• The End-to-End Contact Center Solutions Buyer’s Guide
Publish Date: July 24, 2017 5:00 AM
Looking for a new contact center outsourcer is rarely as simple as it sounds. That’s why we’ve pulled together our top “How To” procurement tips so you don’t have to spend hours hunting down the resources.
From call center outsourcing costs and RFP questions to onboarding and strategizing with your new outsourced partner and their workforce management team, this Slideshow provides a high-level outline of everything you need to know. Check it out below.
For more insight, get your End-to-End Contact Center Solutions Buyer’s Guide today.
Publish Date: July 11, 2017 5:00 AM
Looking for an outsourced contact center partner is one of the most complex undertakings for any strategic sourcing professional. It requires a thorough understanding of the contact center world as well as the inner workings of your organization’s processes, business objectives, and brand promises. Finding the right contact center for you is going to take more than a strategic RFP. Here are our top procurement tips for seeking an outsourced contact center.
1. Start with the Basics
An internal assessment builds the foundation of your search. These might seem like basic questions, but they get everyone on the same page and on the right trajectory for the best fit partner. Make sure you’re asking, why are you looking for a new outsourced contact center in the first place? Are your current operations in-house and becoming a burden? Or is your current outsourcer falling short of your expectations? Where are there gaps in efficiency or effectiveness? Where do your current customer service efforts show weaknesses or blind spots? Are you able to scale? How are you measuring success? Are your processes fully optimized? What are your competitors doing in the customer service space? All these questions and more will help you set the stage for determining what an optimal solution actually looks like.
2. Nail Down Your Needs
When you have a thorough view of what your current customer service situation looks like, you can start gathering your specific requirements. This will aid you in communicating the scope of your project to a potential outsourcer. Make sure you document the details of your hours of operation, forecasted call volume (including peak seasons and times), what languages you’ll need supported, what digital channels you may need support in, and the breakdown between inbound and outbound calls. What skill sets will your agents need, and what technical integrations do you require? Furthermore, what are your expectations regarding KPIs and desired service levels? These are all critical factors to be aware of when seeking an outsourced contact center.
3. Ask the Right Questions
Both in the contact center RFP and in one-on-one discussions, it’s imperative to ask the right questions to make the most informed decisions. On the RFP side, ensure that the questions you ask are specific to the contact center sector, rather than replicated from a general RFP document used in other industries. Ask pointed questions about an outsourcer’s corporate culture, hiring process, and employee engagement practices. These are the areas where a contact center can truly differentiate itself or, conversely, fall disastrously short. Another common mistake is in asking questions that are too broad, particularly in the realm of metrics. For example, if you’re asking about attrition in the contact center, be sure to make the distinction between voluntary and involuntary attrition as well as asking about attrition rates in projects of similar scope and industry, and within a specified period of time. In short, ask the right questions, or you risk comparing apples to oranges and, as a result, making a flawed decision.
4. Look for Collaboration and Value
There’s no shortage of companies who choose a call center purely for cost-effectiveness. While there is a time and place for this business model, it doesn’t hold universal value. While we agree that cost-savings and efficiencies matter, you have to find a valuable balance between price and quality service. Contact center outsourcing means you’re trusting customer-facing interactions to people outside of your organization and corporate culture. This trust can only be found in a strategic, collaborative partnership that puts delivering value over cutting costs. You need to look for an outsourcer that focuses on assimilating its team of coaches and agents into your brand, understands the importance of the customer experience, and invests their time and resources into thorough reporting and reviews. In other words, look for commitment. If it’s not obvious in your discovery process, it probably won’t ever exist.
5. Get On-Site
Once you’ve nailed down a handful of contenders who made it through the RFP round, the next crucial step is to make a site visit. Getting the tour of a potential contact center partner will provide insight that no brochure, RFP, or phone call can deliver. It’s the kind of insight that will help you make the final decision with peace of mind. Here are a few things to keep in mind on your site visit. First, is there an agenda to your visit and how much of your input on that agenda did the contact center ask for. Second, does the work environment reflect the corporate culture they sold you in the sales and RFP processes? Is it welcoming and hospitable? Do agents appear engaged and motivated? Assess the body language of everyone you meet and evaluate how relaxed and spontaneous conversations are with employees and leaders. At the end of the day, can you picture yourself working with the people you’re meeting? Do you feel like you can trust them with your customers? Does their culture align with your own? Without this firsthand experience, it’s all too easy to miss important details about how a contact center functions and interacts.
Are You Seeking an Outsourced Contact Center?
We know that finding an outsourced contact center partner is complex. It’s a decision that must make sense for your company both today and for the future. Internal assessments, requirements gathering, smart questions, collaboration, and site visits are all part of the framework that will lead you to success. However, these procurement tips are just a small handful of ways in a sea of many to ensure you’re making the most informed, strategic decision. We’d love to chat more about your specific needs in the realm of customer service and other contact center services.
Looking for a strategic outsourced contact center partner? Start the conversation by clicking here.
Publish Date: June 21, 2017 5:00 AM
Are you exploring outsourcing for the first time? Or perhaps you’re looking for a better alternative to your current contact center vendor? Either way, the idea of trusting someone else to take care of your customers can be overwhelming. You’ve worked hard to build your brand and establish customer loyalty. Can an outsourced contact center really live up to that?
That’s where finding out about a contact center’s hiring practices is vital. Frontline agents are the backbone of customer service. So, when you’re knee-deep in the discovery and procurement process, you need to be asking the right questions about what hiring those agents looks like.
Our latest eBook is your guide to everything you need to know about hiring contact center agents. Here’s what’s inside:
• Agent Success Starts with the Hiring Profile
• Why Gamers Make Great Agents
• Diversity in The Contact Center
• Finding Agents Who Love Your Brand
• An excerpt from Harvard Business Review: Kick-Ass Customer Service
Publish Date: June 13, 2017 5:00 AM
At first glance, attrition seems like a chink in the armor for contact centers. Across every industry, the fact that people leave their jobs and move on is a basic truth, but in the contact center, the attrition metric receives quite of a bit of negative attention.
In fact, the International Customer Management Institute pegs the average call center turnover rate at 33%. That’s definitely a number that may sound like cause for alarm, but how insightful is that metric when you break it down? From our perspective, it’s almost meaningless without diving in deeper.
It’s common practice to ask about attrition rates in the contact center RFP, but the answer is not as straightforward as you might expect. In fact, if you’re looking for a new outsourcing partner, your understanding of attrition will can impact your choice of potential partners. Here’s what you need to know.
Not All Attrition Is Created Equal
Turnover in the contact center happens for a wide variety of reasons. Even the typical divide between voluntary and involuntary attrition isn’t enough to explain what’s really going on.
One of the most important differences is that the employee experience is simply different in the outsourced world than it is in-house. It’s not uncommon that people apply for outsourced contact center jobs when they’re in career transition. They might be moving from one industry to another or from one region to another, and the contact center is a great place to gain experience before moving up in their career. We’ll talk more about how this kind of employment experience can create good/bad attrition in a moment.
It’s important to understand that career path opportunities impact attrition. It’s a pretty typical in a call center for people to move only within the agent to supervisor to program management role trajectory. That’s why we work very hard to create a differentiated employment experience on our programs wherever possible. We’re looking to create upward career paths for people who have different goals and varied skill sets. We know that projects with multiple paths for advancement tend to have lower turn-over. We work with our clients to build programs that provide career paths not just for the obvious “people managers” but also for knowledge specialists, process people, and data analysts. It benefits our clients and our employees when high potential employees can advance within the program. But with an outsourced program, here’s where the attrition/employment experience differs from in-house: when an employee is promoted from a program role into a corporate role or when they transfer from one program to another, the client experiences “attrition” even though the outsourcer doesn’t.
So let’s look at what we like to call good attrition versus bad attrition. If an employee leaves us because they’ve been able to leverage their Blue Ocean experience to take a step forward in their career or in their life, that is okay with us. The fact that those agents or coaches had an employment experience with us that helped them grow professionally is a sign that we’re hiring great people who are engaged, high-performing, and highly motivated. If an agent or coach leaves us to go to an equal job with another employer or take a step backward in their career, that is concerning to us and we examine those circumstances very closely. Yes, there are also quits and terminations that result from the occasional low performer or bad attitude, but it’s critical to understand that not all attrition is created equal.
Comparing Apples to Apples
It’s a dangerous myth that a company-wide attrition rate will tell you something about the company’s hiring and retention practices, the caliber of people they employ, and their training and engagement strategies. The truth is, when an outsourcer has 20 different clients of varying industries, services, and sizes, an average attrition rate just isn’t effective.
Your first step in discovering a more accurate attrition rate is to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples. The turnover rate for a roadside assistance project three times the size of your tech support project just isn’t going to compare (and the average rate between the two won’t help you much either.) When you’re writing a contact center RFP, any questions about attrition should be related to projects that are similar in scope, size, and industry.
It’s also important to find out how an outsourced partner analyzes their attrition rates and what the root causes are. At Blue Ocean, for example, we have seen a direct correlation between attrition rate and speed of launch. If we compromise the early, important work related to agent profiling, recruiting, and training to meet a launch deadline, it almost inevitably impacts the turnover rate some 6-18 months later. Likewise, a client’s level of collaboration in the implementation process will also influence the attrition rate. If both parties are committed to investing the time and resources to develop a solid agent profile and training program and if the timeline provides the recruiting team with sufficient breathing room to get the right people in place, that will pay off in spades down the road.
Ultimately, an apples-to-apples comparison should not only include industry, size and scope of the project, but also details that relate to the big picture. It is possible to build a strategic partnership with your contact center, and the quality of this relationship has a major effect on attrition.
Asking the Right Questions About Attrition
Hopefully it’s hit home by now that the question you do not want to be asking is, “what’s your contact center attrition rate?” it is simply too vague and it’s open to interpretation. Whoever’s answering your RFP could pick and choose from a variety of scenarios, including quit rates, involuntary turnover, or both. They might zero in on similar projects, or they might choose company-wide rates. They might calculate the average attrition rate based on the last five years, or focus on the last 12 months. In answering questions about attrition rates, contact centers will want to portray themselves in the best light. If you don’t get specific in what you’re asking, it’s likely you’ll end up comparing apples to oranges. You’re probably not going to get a meaningful answer, you won’t necessarily get the same kind of answer from your various bidders, and it doesn’t guarantee that your program will have a similar experience with the partner you choose.
Specific questions about contact center attrition are great, but so are questions that fall just outside of the realm of attrition. You’ll get a bigger picture when you also start asking about agent tenure or about hiring stats like referral rates. Or take a different tack altogether and dig deep with questions about employee engagement which has a significant influence on attrition … Keep reading for more on that topic.
Understanding Employee Engagement
The trickiest thing about the concept of attrition is that it’s not always a bad thing. It’s easy to associate turnover in the contact center with a bad working environment or low performers, and assume, therefore, that all turnover is negative. But retention does not necessarily equal engagement.
The truth is, if we put more value on improving our attrition rates than building a great employee experience, we would be working hard keep agents even if they had become disengaged. But with disengagement comes underperformance and low quality customer service. In short, we’d be doing you a disservice. If, however, we build a workforce of employees who are highly engaged while they’re here and then leave for the right reasons, we consider that a win-win scenario.
So, go ahead and ask about attrition, but balance it out by asking about employee engagement, and get specific on those questions too. Get a clear picture of the employee experience and ensure that you’re aligning your partner’s culture with your own.
Attrition in the Contact Center
At the end of the day, attrition isn’t going away. But we can stop acting like it’s a dirty word. When you accept the reality of a minimum turnover rate, it opens the door to developing a strategic partnership and bearing mutual responsibility for maintaining that minimum and managing the workforce and employee experience appropriately.
It’s time to get smart about attrition rates. If you’re looking for a new contact center partner, we’d love to chat.
Publish Date: June 6, 2017 5:00 AM