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Vendor References: More Than Just Checking The Box

One of the activities included in selecting a new technical support vendor is the reference check. Most vendors will go out of their way to provide their best references based on your selection criteria. But, to really understand what you’ll get from the vendor you hire takes an approach beyond the standard verification that what they’ve said or proposed is representative of what each one will deliver.
Requests for proposal (RFPs) are very specific. The questions asked are designed to help you gather input from prospective vendors that allows for a comparative review based on standard components. However, there is much more to a vendor relationship than will be exposed in their RFP response. This includes culture, consistency and responsiveness and customer sentiment.
Below are four opportunities to more fully vet your technical support vendor:

Look for program matches: The vendor you’re considering may have other clients in your industry, but speaking only with the vendor’s references in this context could be skewing your view. The most important criteria should be based on references from customers who have programs most similar to yours in execution. This type of reference will be able to tell you about any challenges or capabilities the vendor has that will be most important to you during your program’s execution. Every program can have its challenges. Finding out how the challenges or areas for bottlenecks in programs like yours are handled can reveal key considerations that carry weight in your decision.

Listen carefully to the vendor’s stories: During the presentation or other exploratory conversations, the vendor will share scenarios about the way their programs work and provide anecdotal examples to prove their points. Listening carefully to these stories can help you to identify flags that can alert you to probe for inconsistencies and uncover weaknesses in their solution or organization that may not have been identified by the RFP process. Specifically look for responsiveness and culture and whether the processes they have in place are consistent across similar programs.

Ask for VOC survey results: While vendors must maintain privacy, they should all be conducting voice of customer (VOC) surveys across their accounts. They should be able to provide you with the results of these aggregate results without disclosing any proprietary information, keeping the responses generic, but providing industry definition, such as “large, global software provider.” Look for customer sentiment that supports the vendor’s claims about their track record with improving customer satisfaction (CSAT), the customers’ responses to questions about agent knowledge and soft skills, as well as other metrics and sentiments important to the support of your brand’s promise.

Go for depth in reference calls: Once you’ve validated that the vendor delivers what they promise, start probing. Ask about challenges that have occurred and how the vendor handled them. For example:

  • If a product launch is wildly successful, were they able to scale with the right caliber of agent?
  • If a bug is found in a product, were their engineers trained well enough to expedite issue resolution?
  • When operational change is needed, are they proactive and enthusiastic or did they drag their feet?
  • Has the vendor brought expertise and methodology that has resulted in greater operational efficiency and productivity than existed before they came on board?
  • Are they a cultural match for your company? What were the components you considered most important for a vendor relationship?

Prospective customers often ask whether the vendor has customers similar to them – industry and size. But what’s not often asked is whether the programs the vendor executes are similar and what goes on behind the scenes that a response to an RFP cannot distill into an accurate picture of the working relationship that will either add to or detract from the contract specifications.