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Call Center Vendor Relationships: Warfare or Welfare?

Inarguably, your customers are the most important element of your business. Often times, the interaction that follows the purchase of a product is a call to technical support to resolve an issue the customer is experiencing. Turning over that critical customer experience to an outsourced call center vendor requires that effort from both sides is expended to build the right relationship based on shared values.

A call center vendor must present the appropriate view of your company to your customers. The experience each caller receives is indicative of your brand. With technical support, even more pressure is placed on the call center agent because it’s likely that the customer has already tried everything they can think of to fix the problem on their own.

Launching the relationship requires certain things to be put in place, such as contracts, performance measures, budgets, and more. But what often falls to the wayside are the acts that can inspire a working relationship that goes beyond the contractual minimum for the provision of services. When this fails to happen, an attritional relationship akin to warfare can develop between the vendor and the company. Skewed expectations and static management are the tumors that must be excised to create a vendor relationship based on mutual welfare.

Three Areas of Improvement for Vendor Relationships:

Crystal Balls Only Work for Gypsies: Remember that the vendor must understand your business goals, vision and expectations in order to manage to them. Your company’s culture is reflected in the brand experiences for your customers. Consider how best you can arm your call center vendor with the knowledge they need to understand the nuances and translate them into great customer experiences that help improve performance and satisfaction.

For example, if your company is known for going the extra mile to solve customer issues, then focus on reducing Average Handle Time as a key performance indicator (KPI) reinforces behavior that’s in conflict with your brand and goals. Metrics are powerful components of any vendor agreement, but it’s imperative that they align with how you prepare your partner to provide the best service experience.

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen: Communications are critical to every relationship. The call center is no exception. Without a dedicated manager, things can get tricky fast. If the management of a vendor is by multiple process owners, conflicts and misunderstandings can sour the relationship. Expectations must be maintained steadily with regard to work performance. Metrics, the method used to evaluate performance, can be interpreted differently and ranked in importance differently, depending upon perspective.

For example, a decision may have been made to focus on moving satisfaction from the middle boxes to the top, but one of the managers is still focused on reducing the bottom two boxes. If a vendor proudly reports improvement based on middle box improvement, only to be questioned about the static nature of the bottom boxes, motivation to exceed minimum requirements can wane. When energy is expended due to misdirection, both sides become frustrated and trust diminishes.

It’s the Way You’ve Always Done It: Sometimes, an outside view can bring insights that can be critical to process improvement. The way you’ve always done things may have been overtaken by an even better approach. Customers change, markets shift, and products evolve. If your vendor relationship relies solely on tools and metrics, but leaves out intangible, but important, elements such as trust, confidence and understanding, then the vendor is less likely to propose innovations that can help to transform the service experience for your customers.

If, however, you exert the effort to collaborate with your vendor, looking beyond the metrics for opportunities to evolve work flows and processes that reflect your customers’ current priorities and preferences, transformational improvement becomes more likely. Call center vendors are specialists. The vendor you select will have years of experience and expertise in creating excellence in service. Tapping into that knowledge can bring new methods into play to achieve higher KPI scores than you may have thought possible. And adoption of ideas inspires the vendor to do even more.

Vendor Management Takes More than Contract Adherence

A relationship devoid of meaningful human interaction becomes dull with only the contract to hold it together. With no incentive to move beyond the minimum contract requirements, it can take a lot of energy to manage a vendor. When that relationship becomes antagonistic due to misunderstandings or misdirection, so much energy is required to manage them to the minimum acceptable standard that there’s little left over to apply to innovations.

However, with a bit of effort from both sides, a dynamic relationship can be created that is beneficial to your brand, exceeds your customer’s expectations and delivers beyond the performance required. In essence, warfare with a vendor is not worth the effort—not when there’s so much welfare to be gained with the right vendor relationship. A contract is just the launch pad for the relationship.