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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
About Michael Hasler:
As Blue Ocean’s Vice-President, Sales and Marketing, Mike Hasler has responsibility for our corporate brand and accountability for strategic growth from both new and existing clients. Mike’s experience provides him with understanding of the contact center industry from both the client-side and the perspective of solution-provider. Mike’s over-riding philosophy is that sustainable, successful partnerships begin with asking smart questions and truly listening to the answers. Mike applies discipline and vision to the process of building successful, lasting business relationships.
About Blue Ocean Contact Centers:
We thrive on delivering critical customer service solutions that go beyond transactional interactions. As such, our goal is to enhance lifetime customer value, providing support that is a reflection of your brand promise, even in high-pressure, complex customer service scenarios.
Published: Thursday, December 7, 2017
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In today’s competitive business environment, contact center and marketing professionals are constantly challenged to manage a growing business, achieve superior performance levels and at times are asked to support services and products that are becoming more complex.
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