How to Select the Best Contact Center Outsourcer & Create a Win/Win Partnership
How can you select the best outsourced contact center that will meet your requirements? What services and solutions should an outsourced contact center provide? There are the basics that any contact center must measure well on: needs assessment, reporting, web-based solutions, agent effectiveness and competitive pricing.
As you examine each area, the strategy used to implement must be examined as well to be assured that a win/win partnership is formed. An outsourcer must support your core objectives of decreasing costs and increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.
You want to reduce the number of calls and call time and you want your outsourcer's people, process and technology to help you do this. However, your costs are revenue to the outsourcer. You will probably have a contract where you pay based upon the number calls and length of each call. There is great potential for your organization goals to not be aligned with the outsourcer's goals. Your objective is to select an outsourcer that can bring the right mix of capability to meet your core objectives. You want to show the outsourcer how and why to accept some of the risk which will give them a vested interest in meeting your goals.
The strategy used by your outsourced contact center to implement their technology is as important as the technology itself so that there is shared risk and a win/win for you both. We will review each area and discuss ways to generate a win/win partnership.
Does the contact center help you document your requirements? This is the very first step. They should help you document the service features and functionality your organization needs. They will ask you for your requirements, but they should also provide tools such as Excels and other checklists. You need an outsourcer because you are busy! Do they understand this? Pay careful attention to the sales process. It will establish an outsourcer "footprint" that can be carefully examined to provide insights into their organization. Do they respond timely to your requests for information? Will they help you think through requirements? Will they help you improve call flow and make suggestions for lowering call volume which in the short-term will translate into less revenue for them? Do they ask questions to understand your business? If you listen carefully, you can determine the quality of the outsourcer by the quality of their questions. Do they provoke you to consider things you may not have considered before such as monitoring social media?
When selecting a contact center their ability to provide actionable information will help align objectives. The best way to reduce costs and increase quality is through call avoidance. Your outsourcer must have the ability to report in real and historical time. You should also be able to run ad hoc reports anytime in the call tracking system that you share with little or no training. Reports must add value to your development team, sales and marketing team, and verify the performance of your outsourcer.
With the technology that is readily available today you should never be blinded as to what is happening in your queues. Real-time access to view queue conditions is one of the best ways to create a win/win partnership. Both your company and the outsourcer view day-to-day customer contacts. This allows the companies to work together to better understand volume and to respond to emergency situations. Through real-time reporting you no longer blindly ask your call center, "how's the day is going?", or "what are service levels?"-you already know. The fact that you both have access to the same real-time information will help you both work together to manage service levels and decrease call volume in a true partnership.
Every outsourcer today can provide historical data. It is important to evaluate the ability to provide this data in a valuable format that your organization can pass around with no "friction". Does the historical reporting help the engineering, manufacturing and marketing teams know what issues to focus on? Does it help your company eliminate the common and most costly issues? For example, if your company makes products, ask the engineering and manufacturing organizations what feedback they need. How will the outsourcer provide feedback on any quality issues to your company in near real-time for remedial action? With today's social media, golden reputations can be quickly damaged by a problem exposed to a very large audience. Conversely, your reputation can be enhanced when satisfied customers rave in social media to their networks about how well they were treated.
Can the outsourcer provide information to your marketing team about the origin of interactions? Can they help increase your sales efforts and retain customers? When carefully analyzed, historical reporting should provide deep insights to your company in your goal of improving quality. An outsourcer who is a true partner will want their business to grow as your company's sales grow-not through growth of more technical or customer dissatisfaction related issues.
You want to be able to closely monitor your outsourcer with a real-time dashboard so you can see the volume and type of calls and other important metrics as each day unfolds. Calls that the outsourcer cannot close first contact will be escalated to your company. You want the ability to see what is being escalated to your team in real-time so you can quickly route it to the correct team or individual. The outsourcer should have real-time dashboard technology that indicates constant visibility to hot spots and highlights critical issues with charts, metrics and analytics. You also want this dashboard to be easy to use and intuitive so that nontechnical people such as senior managers can easily change views and monitor the call flow, when necessary or desired.
Contact centers today should not only be used to answer your customers' inquiries, but also to act as a testing ground for pre-product releases. By utilizing your contact center as a testing center you can begin to educate the agents for possible future questions, and you educate your QA and engineering teams about possible issues. You can better utilization your outsourcer by having them accept calls on limited releases to beta customers. This will also give them the opportunity to update knowledge bases and prepare training classes before new products are formally launched. Once again, this is a great way to align your objectives with your outsourcer and continue developing a strong shared risk partnership. You might negotiate special pricing on new product introductions since the call volume will without a doubt increase and then level off to a steady state. This steady state will be the sales growth we discussed above. This will be a stream of new incremental revenue for your outsourcer. You should ask the outsourcer to put some "skin in the game" with an investment in your business and give you better pricing on the call spikes for new products. As a result, they will be motivated to help you quickly smooth out that spike and get to a steady state. They will be economically motivated to give you the right feedback to share with your organization and that creates a win/win partnership.
Contact centers should be actively engaged in maintaining the content of your website. After everything has been done to create a great product, everything must be done to provide tools to customers that give them the ability to find their own solution. Your outsourcer must be able to demonstrate that they can actively eliminate costly interactions from reaching the contact center. The reporting focus should be changed from how many interactions did my outsourcer take, to how many did they eliminate from occurring through effective self-service tools. On-line knowledge bases need to provide valuable document to customers. Common issues must be structured in a way that customers have immediate access to them. The effectiveness of the self-service tools should be tracked. Objectives will be aligned when your outsourcer is an integral part in your ability to eliminate calls.
Outsourcers with a powerful chat utility can add considerable value to your sales effort, increase first call resolution, and center utilization. Current chat tools provide the ability to multi-task, use pre-scripted libraries, push files, and seamlessly escalate customers. Once again your outsourcer will be able to reduce the costs of support by implementing a robust chat tool. A typical ten-minute call becomes a simple three-minute chat session. Not only is the call length shortened, but it is also certain that the solution was received, and all while the agent is helping two to three other customers at the same time. Sales may also increase as your site is given a human element and agents are able to show customers recommendations, without decreasing their utilization.
The approach that an outsourcer uses in creating it's corporate culture is key to evaluating how the future relationship will work. Some contact centers have been labeled as the modern day sweatshop. Many win/lose relationships originate from an outsourcer's lack of employee loyalty. As a result of high attrition, many contact centers never have fully-trained agents responding to customers and never achieve impressive first call resolution rates. They boast of outstanding technology or low-per-minute pricing, but at what cost? Who wants to save a few cents on the dollar if it promotes increased handle times and customer issues?
Training can be a considerable challenge for any outsourcer. Finding a strategy to provide training to a group of agents that is also meaningful to each individual, can be one of the most difficult tasks an outsourcer faces. How do you provide training to agents without impacting the queues? Each outsourcer's approach to this challenge is different. However, an outsourcer who implements effective training will have lower attrition and happier agents. Providing valuable training to support agents will decrease attrition and increase the loyalty of agents.
After the tools and technology are implemented through a strategy that aligns your core objectives, your pricing strategy must promote those same objectives. Creating a pricing structure that allows both companies to share risk will prevent a relationship that has opposite objectives. Many outsourcers like to refer to themselves as a partner rather than an outsourcer. However, if there is no shared risk, there is no partnership in the context of this discussion.
Do not let an outsourcer fool you into believing that they are the least expensive because their price per minute is the lowest. An excellent outsourcer partner will reduce your costs by helping you to eliminate the number of interactions, increase first call resolution, maximize agent utilization and provide competitive per-minute pricing. When evaluating the pricing an outsourcer provides, you should always consider their abilities to eliminate calls, increase first call resolution, and maximize utilization.
Rewards & Penalties
Take a new approach to the way you pay your outsourcer. The pricing structure that you implement should reinforce your objectives. You can give some alternate incentives to your outsourcing partner such as giving a bonus for staying within a percentage of your sales and helping you control your costs; or penalize them for low first call resolution, therefore being partially accountable for the high volume. There are many different approaches to pricing and strategies that you can use. The key is to establish rewards and penalties that promote your objectives and allow the partnership to share risk.
In the end, the key to creating a win/win partnership with your outsourcer exists in your ability to align your objectives. You need to reward your outsourcer for helping you to achieve your objectives. Reporting should add real value to the other divisions of your company and not just the individual department managing your outsourcer. Web-based solutions should be implemented in ways that maximize agent's utilization, increase customer touch rates, and directly result in increased sales and customer retention. Culture and training must promote loyalty to the client and decrease attrition. Pricing must promote the relationship and the core objectives of your company. Overall, your outsourcer should be willing to have a true win/win partnership with you and willing to share the risk.