Blue Ocean Contact Centers - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
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!
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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
Ever have one of those days when you simply don’t want to talk to anyone? That day inevitably coincides with the renewed urgency of the task you’ve been procrastinating over: calling customer service to fix your computer/check your warranty/renew your membership/reset your password.
We know you hate calling tech support. We know you’d rather not “press one for yes.” We certainly get the irritation of being left on hold forever. And so it’s unsurprising that we’ve seen a growing popularity in self-serve customer service. Variations include Tier 0, IVR, automation, and artificial intelligence, and they all have one thing in common: you no longer have to interact with a real live human being. It’s not a new concept, but it has evolved over the years.
If you’re looking to outsource your call center, self-serve at some level will likely be part of your solution design. Tier 0 support has the potential to significantly reduce transactional call volume, while simultaneously engaging your customers on their own terms. However, automation in customer service also carries the risk of negatively impacting the customer experience. Finding a sweet spot is vital.
What Self-Serve Used to Look Like
Assuming you’ve already cut the cord with the few companies that never upgraded from the earliest forms of self-serve customer service (aka “IVR Hell”), we probably don’t have to remind you what Tier 0 support looked like “back in the day.” It’s that circular, primitive version of self-help where you get stuck in an automated loop of endless numeric options and voicemail boxes. Good luck finding what you need.
Companies that implemented the earliest versions of Tier 0 technology were likely excited by the possibilities. It was cutting edge. It relieved agent bandwidth. Their customers hold times were reduced. Most of all, it drove down call volume, resulting in lower call center costs.
But being lowering costs came with a different price: customer frustration and compromised customer loyalty.
What Tier 0 Support Looks Like Today
Today’s self-serve or Tier 0 customer service is heavily focused on customer satisfaction, and as a result, the technology has become increasingly elegant, better integrated, and – most importantly – more user-friendly.
Self-serve is an integral part of omni-channel customer service, seamlessly integrating with the customer experience across social media, live chat, email and phone. Every transaction is captured and stored so that when a customer does eventually interact with a live agent, the agent understands the customer journey and what steps they’ve already taken towards reaching resolution.
Building the right Tier 0 strategy requires a lot of collaboration with your frontline agents as well as a comprehensive understanding of your brand and its promises. It’s not a simple matter of bringing in programmers and saying, “automate this function.” Your customer care team members, including frontline agents, are critical resources in helping to decide how and what to automate. They’ll know which kind of processes and queries can be easily and effectively translated into self-serve customer service. And they’ll know how to communicate it all in a way that aligns with your company’s brand.
It’s also worth mentioning here that engaging a self-serve option or triggering Tier 0 is rarely the first step in the customer journey map. A great self-serve strategy is acutely aware of everywhere a customer may go first before picking up the phone. This includes both online customer support and crowd-sourced customer support. Think of your iPhone or iMac for a moment. Although Apple has a wealth of customer support channels, many people will turn to public forums before they go to Apple’s website, store or phoneline. Being aware of the reasons why people might turn to crowd-sourced customer support is essential in building a strong self-serve strategy.
How Self-Serve Fits into the Customer Experience
We’ve already mentioned the companies that went with the primitive self-serve customer service automation when it was shiny and new. They wanted cost-effectiveness and excitement, and many of them implemented it on every level. On the flip side, though, are companies that go kicking and screaming to Tier 0. Their core belief is that they want 100% agent interaction for every query. But this is equally detrimental to the customer experience.
Sure, your 87-year old grandmother probably wants nothing to do with self-serve. But according to IBM, 75% of Millennials want to solve their own issue. As an ever-growing portion of your customer demographics, supporting the specific preferences of this generation of consumers is vital. When they have a problem with their computer/car/password/membership, they will almost always go to Google first. From there, they will turn to social media, FAQs, public forums, and live chat before they pick up the phone. If you can pleasantly surprise them with a simple, elegant self-serve option via phone (or better yet text or chatbot) that solves relatively simple problems, then you’ve just gained a notch in their level of loyalty (which, as studies show, is fragile and difficult to gain in Millennials in the first place).
Interestingly, although the Millennial generation prefers less human interaction in their customer service, they do value personalized support. That’s where Tier 0 support – and strategic omni-channel service in general – has upped the ante. The proliferation of data that floods into the call center from every channel helps to build a very specific profile of each customer, which enables an agent to personalize their interaction and deliver a differentiated customer experience.
Leveraging Self-Serve Customer Support in Your Call Center
The beauty of an intelligent self-serve solution is that you can redirect your agent efforts to much more complex customer service situations. The auto club member who is experiencing an emergency wants human support not a chatbot. The network administrator who’s troubleshooting a critical issue that impacts enterprise stakeholders needs a partner in the process to make the right decisions and take the right actions quickly. The caller who’s genuinely befuddled by the fine print on their insurance contract wants less frustration and more clarity. These are scenarios where frontline agents are the star of the show. Putting your resources here – instead of the password resets, the membership activations, the billing transactions – benefits both your customer and your bottom line.
We’d love to provide more insight into how Tier 0/self-serve customer service fits into the big picture in your contact center. Let’s chat.
Publish Date: May 23, 2017 5:00 AM
True or false: your outsourced contact center provider is just another vendor. Attempting to establish a strategic partnership with your contact center is like chasing a unicorn.
It’s a valid question. There are plenty of areas of your business that you outsource without a second thought. The place you order office equipment from or the cleaning crew that comes every day are important to the life of your company, but they’re not really a “partner” in the full sense of the word. When we think of partner, we think of someone who is as invested in your company’s success as you are. A partner is committed to your strategic goals and is a key collaborator in helping you achieve those goals. A partner, in fact, is willing to share risk with you for your long-term success even if it means perhaps taking a revenue hit themselves. And a partner can make decisions with a comprehensive understanding of what’s important to your organization and your customers. In that context, is it actually possible to have a strategic partnership with your contact center?
After 23 years in business with the majority of our client relationships spanning eight to ten years, we say yes. It is possible. Below, we explore some of the myths that the naysayers might have you believing.
Myth #1: Outsourcing is About Cutting Costs Not Adding Value.
We all have that image in our heads of the stereotypical call center where there’s been no investment in the agent experience and all the energy goes into keeping overhead low. You know what we’re talking about… the windowless offices with rows and rows of depressing cubes. But those ugly stereotypes represent a just slim segment of an industry and there’s a reason this bad reputation exists. It comes down to the choices those businesses have made in putting cost-effectiveness over value.
Yes, efficiency and cost-savings matter. Our workforce management teams and operations teams work hard to refine staffing models and improve efficiency – their expertise is essential to driving cost out of our clients’ businesses through productivity and efficiency gains. These metrics are important, but the other side of the ledger is the customer experience – and lifetime customer value. We understand there is a business model for low value transactional work. And there are outsourced models that support that kind of requirement. But in today’s world, the conversations are focused more and more on how a contact center partner can drive that volume down (or even away) through self-serve or “Tier Zero” solutions while adding value to a client’s complex support requirements that can’t be met through self-serve options. That’s where the strategic partnership comes into play: build a solution that positively impacts your CSat and/or NPS and that maximizes customer loyalty and drives long-term revenue while driving down expenses that don’t deliver long-term value. For one of our clients, a global player who has been with us for more than ten years, we have driven 60% of transactional work out of our program while concurrently tripling the size of the program. How does that even make sense? We are constantly looking for new ways to add value and evolve the program like any good strategic partner would.
When we’re deep in your systems on a daily basis, tracking customer engagement, placing orders, and solving issues, it gets easier to see where there are possible gaps in your processes, where procedures could be streamlined, or if any errors exist in your databases. In fact, some of these weaknesses could be the culprit for increasing call volume, a scenario in which we could actually profit, since contact center costs are in part dependent upon volume. We could choose to profit, or we could choose to act in your best interest and reveal the opportunity for process improvement. And that’s exactly what a strategic partner would do. If a potential contact center outsourcer doesn’t broach the subject of process improvement, quality improvements, risk mitigation, service improvement, etc., then you can’t be sure if they’re acting in your best interest.
When your procurement team is in search of a new contact center outsourcer, they must understand that a true strategic partner will always put value ahead of cost. Cost reduction cannot be a primary driver behind the way your contact center does business. That’s one serious reason why asking for contact center pricing shouldn’t be your first question.
Myth #2: You Sacrifice Your Culture When You Outsource
A recent article titled, “Why My Company Stopped Outsourcing Customer Service,” claimed that an outsourcer could never build the kind of culture that delivers the level of quality service you could achieve in-house. Respectfully, we disagree.
It does, however, take a very strategic partner to align their solution with your needs, brand, and culture. The author of this article writes, “it’s a huge mistake to leave these valuable customer interactions to strangers.” But that’s just it: a strategic partner is anything but a stranger. From the moment you start the discovery process between procurement and sales, we make the effort to find out everything about your company. Once the contract is signed, it’s an intense process to establish your unique customer journey blueprint, nail down the exact hiring profile of the perfect agent to represent your brand, train those agents in your systems, and assimilate them into your culture. But it doesn’t stop there. If there is one thing we’ve learned in 23 years in business, it’s that successful relationships are built on good governance. For us that means a commitment on both sides of the client-partner relationship to invest in a formalized relationship management process that extends from daily contact to weekly status updates to monthly and quarterly business reviews. We take this so seriously, our president and the senior leadership team attend all our client QBRs. It becomes a mutual effort focused on process improvement and shared strategic vision. How, after this much interaction, could we ever be considered “strangers”?
At the end of the day, your customers shouldn’t even realize that we’re an outsourced call center. The author writes, “outsiders will never have the same level of commitment to your vision.” But that’s where he’s wrong. If we don’t have the same level of commitment to your vision, then we know we’ve failed before we even started. Find a contact center with this core value, and you know you’ve found a genuinely strategic partner who is committed to helping you grow.
Myth #3: Outsourcing Robs You of the Connection to Your Frontline Agents
The author of that article stated that working with an outsourced partner robbed his company of the chance to identify stars within the organization. Again, we respect the author’s experience, but we have clients who would state that they had the opposite experience with outsourcing. Success comes from committing to regular investment in the relationship at all levels.
It takes time and attention, but it is completely possible to have a relationship with an outsourcer that builds a unified team from frontline agents to senior leadership on both sides. Regular site visits where you as the client can have roundtables or focus groups with your agents can be a useful strategy. We know from experience that engagement is enhanced when agents know our clients by name and know that their experience on the frontline is heard and valued. Regular video conferencing supports the relationship between visits. And for us, our clients expect their quarterly reviews to include updates on stellar performance by agents and coaches. In these ways, identifying stars and building careers is entirely possible. We can count four or five clients who have hired for their key positions from within our ranks. That is a true success measure. There are people working today in management positions for the world-leader in networking technology (our client) who started their careers as agents with us. That is a win-win-win, for our former employees, for our employer brand, and for our client who got smart, capable, new managers with valuable experience gained while working for us, their contact center partner. That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens through attention to governance, communication, and regular calibration of mutual goals.
Here’s one way we sort of agree with the author. He states, “You get what you pay for.” We would paraphrase that to say, “You get out of a strategic partnership exactly what you put into it.” If you want an outsourcer who operates as an extension of your own operating team, make that a priority in how you source that partner and how you participate in the relationship. If you want to hand the keys for your customer care to a call center and sit back and wait for it to work, chances are your vendor is going to fail to meet your expectations.
Chasing Unicorns Just Got a Little More Exciting
In short, a strategic partnership with a contact center can exist. Aiming to establish that elusive relationship is a lot less hopeless when you know you’re not chasing the impossible. We hope it’s a little bit more exciting too. We’re passionate about the way we do business and the commitments we make to our clients’ brands. We refuse to work with companies who want just another vendor, because a partnership is mutually beneficial; we can help each other succeed.
Let’s talk strategy. Tell us about your contact center needs today.
Publish Date: May 16, 2017 5:00 AM
Some of our most popular blog posts are the ones that help potential clients navigate their way through the procurement process for contact center services – especially content that looks at what questions to ask potential vendors.
The first quarter of the calendar year is typically a busy time in the world of contact center RFPs and site visits, so we’ve updated this previously published piece for those who are in the trenches of procurement right now. This post focuses on the end zone of the buying process with a look at seven of the toughest questions to ask your potential partners. How your prospective providers answer these hard-hitting questions can help you whittle that short list down to one clear winner.
If you’re looking for more detail about the contact center procurement process, get your End-to-End Contact Center Buyer’s Guide here.
7. Where are the two biggest gaps in your capabilities?
Make the potential partners get specific. You want to go into a long-term relationship with your eyes wide open. Every company has things they could do better. Your potential partner should be frank about theirs. If their strengths offset your weaknesses and vice versa, you should be in good shape.
6. What is your reporting going to tell me that I don’t already know?
A data dump of yesterday’s (or last week’s) volume and grade of service represents little more than a scorecard of a center’s performance. Meaningful contact center reporting allows you to glean insights about what happened yesterday (or last week) that contribute to informed decision-making and help achieve your business outcomes.
5. How is your training and development different from the next guy’s?
If the vendor makes the claim that training is a differentiator, make them prove it. Look for stats like total agent time spent in continual training. Look for investments in process and people. Do they have a team of corporate trainers? Do they invest in peer mentors and coach development? How do they approach testing for applied knowledge? What third-party validation can they offer to support their claims – awards, client testimonials, accreditations?
4. Who poaches your frontline people?
This may seem like an odd question, but it tells you a lot. If the vendor says, “Poaching isn’t a problem – no one poaches from us,” maybe that’s because their employees are not sought after in the marketplace. They might have a “warm body” mentality toward hiring contact center agents. We consider it a good sign other employers of choice in the market are working hard to try to poach our center’s people – or when our clients hire our people to go work for them. For us, that’s the pure gold and it happens more than you would think.
3. What did you learn from the last client who fired you?
Beware of bull@#$%. “We’ve never been fired.” We’d call BS on that. You’re looking for a real answer that tells you something about the organization’s ability to self-assess and to adapt and change.
2. What will winning my business mean to your strategic goals?
It helps to see where you fit in the big picture. You want to know how important your business will be to the vendor once the contract has been signed and the quarterly sales target is met. Go ahead and ask: where will we fit in your client roster – will we be a top five client? Top ten? Small, medium, or large program in your client base? Be sure your view of how you want your program handled is aligned with where the prospective partner sees you.
1. What percentage of time will my project manager give me day-to-day?
Hold their feet to the fire. In fact, the answer to this question could be something to include in your SLA and something you can scorecard performance against. Whatever the model of your solution – shared, dedicated, or semi-dedicated – you want to understand exactly what that means in terms of time and attention from the project management team before you sign the contract.
If you are seriously considering call center outsourcing as a solution for your business, make sure you get the ‘true’ resolution of the potential vendor you’re looking to use. We’re happy to answer these hardball questions.
Publish Date: March 28, 2017 5:00 AM
Blue Ocean Contact Centers Wins Bronze Stevie® Award in 11th Annual Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service
Canadian Contact Center Recognized Alongside Top International Sales and Customer Service Organizations at Las Vegas Award Ceremony
Blue Ocean Contact Centers, an outsourced Canadian contact center providing high quality solutions for complex customer care requirements, won the Bronze Stevie® Award in the Customer Service Team of the Year – Recovery Situation category at the 11th annual Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service. The awards were presented during a gala banquet on Friday, February 24 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada and more than 650 executives from around the world attended.
The Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service are the world’s top honors for customer service, contact center, business development and sales professionals. The Stevie Awards organizes several of the world’s leading business awards programs including the prestigious American Business Awards℠ and International Business Awards℠.
This award marks the first time Blue Ocean Contact Centers has received recognition from the prestigious Stevie Awards. The award recognizes the work of Blue Ocean’s Order Management Tier 2 team supporting the world-leader in networking technology in their delivery of premier customer service during crucial, time-sensitive situations that require fast action. Blue Ocean Contact Centers’ official Stevie Awards recognition expands their growing list of accolades from prominent organizations in both the contact center industry and Canadian business community.
“Our Tier 2 Order Management team handles mission-critical situations every day, making difficult decisions when the stakes are extraordinarily high. We are honored to be chosen for a Stevie Award from among our industry peers and to have our services, and this particular team, recognized as best in class in a competition of such high caliber,” said Andrew O’Brien, President and Chief Operating Officer at Blue Ocean Contact Centers. “An award like this is about the people who do the work day in and day out. Our agents are fully invested in our clients’ brands and their commitment is reflected in the quality of the work Blue Ocean is known for – including this most recent recognition on the international stage.”
Details about the Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service and the list of Stevie winners in all categories are available at www.StevieAwards.com/sales. A complete list of Blue Ocean Contact Centers’ recognition can be found at https://blueocean.ca/about-us/recognition/.
About Blue Ocean Contact Centers
Blue Ocean Contact Centers is an award winning North American Contact Center/Call Center and part of the IMP Group Limited family. They provide innovative call center outsourcing services that provide practical solutions to real problems, enhancing the relationships that clients have with their customers. Blue Ocean Contact Centers is driven to strengthen and enhance these customer relationships and build lifetime loyalty leading to increased profitability.
About The Stevie Awards
Stevie Awards are conferred in seven programs: the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards, the German Stevie Awards, The American Business Awards, The International Business Awards, the Stevie Awards for Great Employers, the Stevie Awards for Women in Business and the Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service. Stevie Awards competitions receive more than 10,000 entries each year from organizations in more than 60 nations. Honoring organizations of all types and sizes and the people behind them, the Stevies recognize outstanding performances in the workplace worldwide. Learn more about the Stevie Awards at www.StevieAwards.com.
Publish Date: March 1, 2017 5:00 AM
One of the fundamental questions that gets asked in the call center services procurement process is: will we have a dedicated team of agents or will they be shared? It’s a great question and seems pretty straightforward, right? A dedicated team is always the best solution … or is it? Say you’ve been charged with putting together an RFP for contact center services. Your company experiences both unpredictable spikes in volume and predictable and/or seasonal spikes. In addition, you are concerned about an outsourcer being able to fully represent your brand. And of course, the bottom line is important. When does having a dedicated team of agents to protect your brand take priority over the need to effectively conquer those spikes in volume? Does the need to handle the spikes capably take precedence over cost-effectiveness? Or, can a contact center outsourcer put together a program that takes care of all three priorities effectively? We believe that an out-of-the-box deployment of cross-trained agents can, in some instances, be a client’s best solution. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
The Advantage of Cross-Trained Contact Center Agents
Scheduling for maximum efficiency and flexibility is one of the most crucial tasks in your contact center (in fact, it’s one of the things your Workforce Management team wishes HR knew). And one of the significant benefits of having access to a pool of cross-trained contact center agents is that your project reaps the rewards of flexibility and efficiency without the associated costs of having dedicated agents standing by to meet unexpected, or even expected, spikes. (Why is efficiency is critical to the mix even if your program is a per-transaction model? Efficiency is what allows your contact center partner to stay competitive and keep your costs down.)
Let’s be clear on the definition of “cross-trained” before we dig into this further. At Blue Ocean, a cross-trained agent is someone who has a “home” project where they spend 80 to 90% of their time AND they have been fully trained and regularly take calls for a second project. This is not a “shared pool” approach where agents concurrently support up to three clients with low volume requirements. These are agents who can, when needed and when volume allows, be switched from their home project to temporarily support another client.
There are three essential elements for this to work:
- Agent profiles have to be aligned. The sure fire recipe for a customer experience disaster is trying to put a square peg in a round hole. The agent skills and natural attributes have to line up on both home project and secondary project.
- Arrival patterns have to complement each other, not compete with each other. If seasonal peaks happen at the same or over-lapping times or if intraday or intraweek volume tends to spike at similar times, you’ll rarely be able to deploy the cross-trained team members.
- Agents must regularly be scheduled to take calls on their secondary project to keep their skills sharp and their knowledge current.
If those stars align and your contact center demonstrates excellence in forecasting and scheduling, cross-training as part of your solution can contribute to key metrics like faster speed of answer during spikes and ultimately increased customer satisfaction. For projects with significant unpredictable volume (emergency roadside assistance, for example, where weather plays a huge role in volume), cross-trained agents who can be deployed with little or no notice represent the ultimate flexible workforce.
The Downside to Cross-Trained Contact Center Agents
Skeptics to the cross-training model frequently turn to the familiar saying, “a Jack of all trades is master of none.” That’s the biggest potential disadvantage of sharing agents across projects; when an agent must represent multiple brands and spread their skills between them all, there’s the potential that the brand experience may be impacted. That’s where careful management that can balance all the moving parts and adapt to changes efficiently is absolutely vital. It’s where the first of our three essential elements comes into play – the agent profile has to be a fit. The required levels of empathy, technical knowledge, problem-solving and other skills must be carefully aligned so a single agent can meet the need of every client they’re supporting. That’s non-negotiable in our world.
Training and continual learning are a challenge in the cross-trained model. Your outsourced partner needs to manage the process diligently. There would be few worse things for your customer experience than to get an agent who is out of touch with systems or whose knowledge is out of date. In order for the model to work, agents have to be almost as strong on their secondary project as the agents who call that project home. Why is it okay to say almost as strong? Because protecting your customer service in peak times or crushing spikes is the goal. So, for example, getting the call answered quickly because you have more available agents thanks to cross-training adds may be more important than a slightly longer handle time from a cross-trained agent.
The HR side of hiring for cross-trained agents can also be a challenge. The ideal contact center agent profile for an agent who is going to be successful in a cross-trained model must include a preference for switching tasks and must be comfortable with a degree of unpredictability in their work day. They’re often people who love learning and enjoy the adrenaline boost that comes with change.
The Pros and Cons of Cross Trained Agents
The choice to leverage the advantages of cross-trained contact center agents depends heavily upon your specific needs, brand, and performance metrics. At Blue Ocean, we work closely with our clients to determine the best fit for their project. But as you put that call center RFP together, we would encourage you to ask not just “Will we have dedicated or shared agents?” But perhaps, “What model do you recommend for staffing our program to meet our KPIs given our unique arrival patterns and seasonal peaks?”
If you’re looking for an outsourced partner to support your complex requirements, book a visit and we’ll show you how Blue Ocean solutions are working for some of the world’s best brands right now. Come say hello!
Publish Date: February 28, 2017 5:00 AM