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Contact Center Vendor Evaluation: Current vs. Future Needs

Evaluating a contact center vendor is a complex exercise in assessment. Every Communication Service Provider (CSP) has an evaluation process in place in their office of procurement. But, when’s the last time you really took a hard look at how the evaluation aligns to current business objectives?

Telecoms are going through a period of intense transformation due to the evolution of devices, service expectations and encroachment from over-the-top service providers, such as Apple, Google and Amazon. Standing out in a continuously deregulating marketplace, where the competition is fierce, means that every frontline department of the company must be able to contribute positively to the customer experience—especially your contact center.

Another factor adding complexity is the notion of vendor consolidation. Working with fewer partners allows you to capitalize on better pricing due to scale and to streamline the vendor management process, cutting down on the paperwork and partner onboarding processes that can stall the execution of contracts. But it also challenges the procurement office to look at the business from a joint perspective that includes both current and future needs. If you hire for only one or the other, you’ve got problems coming that your company would prefer not to encounter.

To see just what this means, let’s take a look at a possible scenario for each orientation:

Current scenario:

  • Your inbound contact center supports all of your customers as if they are the same. There is one process in place that follows specified procedures for each issue as presented. Because the contact center is viewed as a cost of doing business, the current outlook is to avoid cost increases by minimizing average handle time (AHT) and to nullify deactivation calls by offering discounts on service bundles to get customers to renew their contracts, essentially upselling them in the process.

Evaluating a vendor to meet these needs would indicate that you’d look for a track record for AHT, renewal conversions and their ability to perform these tasks well at a nominal price point. Due to this orientation, procurement is evaluating the contact center as a cost to be minimized, rather than a value-added service to be maximized.

Future scenario:

  • Your company is grappling with a low Net Promoter Score (NPS) and there is a new customer service initiative under discussion. Not only is customer satisfaction moving up the priority list, but attention is being placed on customer lifetime value and loyalty. Last week, you sat in on a meeting where a discussion about the need for the quality of customer service to promote advocacy in social media channels was initiated by your new VP of Customer Experience.

Given the support these initiatives are receiving from the executive board, you know change is coming down the pike—sooner, rather than later. As you review the expertise needed to execute on these proposed initiatives, it becomes obvious that the way you’ve evaluated contact center vendors in the past will not produce a partnership that will serve the company well in the future.

Future-Proofing Your Vendor Evaluation Process

In order to meet both current and future needs, given the scenarios above, consider modifying three evaluation criteria to ensure that the contact center vendor you select can deliver, both today and tomorrow.

Capabilityis the level of skillsets and expertise possessed by the vendor to perform given the requirements and business objectives assigned to contact center operations. With the increasing focus on customer experience and the role of the inbound contact center in improving customer relationships, it would be prudent to evaluate a vendor based on their approach to designing customer interactions supported by a workflow and quality assurance process.

    • What use cases can the vendor supply to demonstrate its ability to meet current requirements as well as those necessary for the transition to the future scenario?
    • How will the vendor manage change to make the transition from current to future state, adapt workflows and retrain agents to meet the new objectives?

Capacity is the actual or potential ability to perform based on the scope of the project. With contact centers, volume can swing wildly depending on product launches, natural disasters, service disruptions and other causes. Additionally, during the transition from current to future state, the potential for AHT to lengthen based on improving the customer experience will affect how many calls each agent can process over a period of time. This can put a strain on the vendor’s capacity to perform as expected.

    • As part of the change management initiative, how will the vendor manage volume spikes and a reduction in the number of calls that can be processed over a specified period of time?
    • What types of reporting can the vendor provide to show that business value is being derived from the potential of longer call times that may be necessary to meet future customer experience objectives?

Collaboration is the ability of the vendor to work with your company as a partner by providing information, expertise and ideas that can help to ensure the success of applying customer service interactions to achieve the new initiatives. For the vendor relationship to contribute strategically, both parties must work together proficiently to create a smooth transition that enhances the customer’s experience, rather than confusing it.

    • What demonstrations of the vendor’s culture and organizational style will enable you to discern how well they will work with your company’s orientation?
    • What innovative ideas have they introduced to clients—similar to you—that have helped them transform the customer experience in the contact center—and also informed other frontline processes?

Evaluating a contact center vendor is no longer about ticking the boxes on a static checklist. With the rate of change in the communications industry and the need to earn customer affinity, selecting a vendor primed to contribute to your company’s goals as a strategic partner can more than make up for hiring based on the limitations of cost and current needs.