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Selecting Contact Center Vendors Goes Beyond Specs

As procurement professionals step into a more strategic role for telecom companies, one thing becomes clear: what looks good today may not bring the most value when things change.

While procurement has always been about ensuring the best deal for your telecom, matching specifications to vendor capability, getting contracts to align with legal mandates and validating vendor sustainability, it’s no longer enough to assure the provision of continuous value exchange. Even if the vendor selected meets all of the specifications included in the RFP, this is no longer enough validation that the right selection is being made.

There are some very good reasons why specifications are no longer enough to guarantee your contact center provider will bring long-term value.

  • Contact centers used to be thought of as a cost of doing business. They are now a critical component of the customer experience. This requires a shift in perspective to look beyond traditional KPIs to strategic expertise.
  • Companies used to present products and services they wanted customers to buy—on their terms. Now, customers demand more, better and faster and want to do business on their terms. Serving and supporting customers in the way they want takes skill beyond answering calls and resolving issues. Soft skills, such as empathy, are as important as technical knowledge.
  • Telecoms used to have virtual monopolies over service areas. Now adjacent industries are competitors and the cost to switch is cheap and easy. Consumer applications are all about simplicity and ease of use. Traditional contact center processes are not designed around the customer, but around operational efficiency designed to lower costs. It’s not that one cannot compliment the other, but that they rarely do so in ways mutually satisfying to the company and the customer.
  • Contact center vendor contracts usually cover a period of several years but change is coming faster than ever. These two realities can be in conflict if not carefully considered. Given this, the prudent path in selecting your next vendor is to look beyond the specifications in the RFP to what may be required to successfully address a constantly shifting marketplace.

Today’s Specs Could Become Tomorrow’s Handcuffs

What your contact center must deliver today may not be what meets customer or business needs next month, next quarter or next year. As the nature of services and products change, so do customer needs and preferences—and so must how your contact center addresses them.

There are three areas of expertise that Telecoms must assess in addition to specifications which are not so easily proven through the RFP process. But a procurement professional with the future in mind can help customer service and experience professionals evaluate against constraints that can limit the ability to address future needs.

  • Agility:

How fast can your contact center vendor implement new processes and modify operations to address shifts in business models or customer needs? It’s also important to remember that agility relates to responsiveness, availability and performance when dealing with the unknowns that can arise in the short term.

These could be represented by a shift in support channel preference by customers—such as social media. Or it could be spikes in call volume related to a natural event instead of a product launch—such as downed networks during a recent hurricane. If services are bundled differently or new ones rolled out in quick succession to gain competitive advantage, what’s the ramp time for new processes and agent proficiency?

  • Innovation:

When the marketplace shifts or new competitors emerge, what expertise does the contact center vendor have to develop new methodologies based on the science of service? What type of identification processes will they put in place to enable the recognition of new trends and the potential to create added value? As data volume grows, how will your vendor be able to mine it for insights that can provide value across the enterprise? What’s their capability to take learning from the one-to-one customer service interactions and apply it to helping marketing, PR, R&D or Finance create more customer-centric programs, products and pricing?

  • Adaptability:

What training programs and coaching structures exist that will help customer service agents to adapt to the changes swiftly? Is there a methodology behind the vendor’s claims of continuous process improvement?

It’s important to consider that a contact center that operates in the environment of continuous improvement as a standard of doing business will be more adept at identifying shifting trends through the nuances of problem identification. Because they are predisposed to incremental adjustments, they will be able to adapt more quickly.
If the vendor selected applies a formulaic and rote approach to customer service based on past implementations and relies on standard metrics and KPIs, a lack of evolution in the contact center could stymie business growth when things change—as they invariably will. With a vendor that has the expertise to assess operations with a forward-looking perspective, your telecom can move from reactive mode to proactive responsiveness. And this will make a big difference to business agility, brand reputation and profitability over the long term.