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How to Evaluate a Contact Center Outsourcer

happyOutsourcing has been a game-changer for so many companies, but let’s face it, it’s not always sunshine and blue sky. In fact the divorce rate amongst contact center outsourcers and their clients is higher than the rate of marriage breakdown!

As with any relationship, it takes two to tango, but what if you could optimize your chances of success by understanding the reasons for failure and avoid a bad fit in the first place?

I dug deep into the many stormy outsourcing relationships I’ve witnessed throughout my career to uncover some common themes. Finding a great fit for an outsourcer boils down to is three key pillars:

  • You need clear vision to know what you want and what the market offers.
  • You need to find a great fit - it’s more than about your requirements; it’s about how much trust you can place in the outsourcer.
  • And finally, you need to nurture and build a true partnership, based on common goals and shared values.

There are some contact center projects, such as a short outbound telemarketing campaign to register people for an event, that could be described as tactical. Most contact center outsourcing, however, is long-term and strategic, so it’s critical to invest time and effort into finding the right fit.

I sometimes get asked to just provide the names of a few of the “best” contact center providers. But of course there is no one size fits all and, therefore, there is no reliable list of “best” outsourcing companies. The best company for your needs will vary from others based on your specific criteria, which might include budget and location, industry, capacity, and experience in the contact center service you require.

Outsourcers can specialize in many different areas, including customer care, technical support, sales, emergency response, collections, concierge assistance, and market research. Some outsourcing decisions fail at this early stage of evaluation, like when a company has outsourced sales to a contact center that mostly does service and therefore lacks the sales culture needed to drive performance.

Another common pitfall is a mismatch, or rather a misunderstanding, of financials. Outsourcers often quote based on hourly rates. Clients assume all hourly rates have the same definition, so they are puzzled when one outsourcer quotes 30% more for the same work.

All hourly rates are not the same - there’s a “payroll hour”, an “attendance or timesheet hour” and a “logged hour”, for example - and the variation is significant. A logged hour, for example, will always look more expensive because you are only paying for agents’ time logged into the system and available to interact with customers. That’s different from an attendance hour, where you are paying for the agent’s time at work, regardless of whether they are taking or making calls. Some outsourcers build the cost of recruiting and training replacement staff into the hourly rate – but others may strip this out as a separate cost.

One way to boil down the hourly rates to the same level is to ask the outsourcer to explain how many hours will be billed per FTE per year, so you have a view of the total annual cost, making it easier to compare apples to apples.

One of the most common reasons outsourcing partnerships falter goes beyond financials, and it’s around a misalignment of values and goals. If the outsourcer’s goal is simply to make more money by billing more hours, this may be in direct conflict with the client’s goal to enhance the customer experience and lower cost with self-service options. This is a recipe for disaster. Goal alignment is something you should screen for during the selection process.

Now it’s a big leap to hand over the voice of your brand to a third party, so there needs to be a strong foundation of trust between you and your outsource partner. Key to building trust and a successful relationship are transparency and integrity. In the evaluation process, look for any “trust red flags”, such as deadlines not being met, meetings being chopped and changed, or excuses about not being able to supply references. Speaking to client references can be a real eye-opener – it’s often the last piece of an evaluation process, the final box that needs to be ticked, but in my opinion, it should be one of the first things you do. Existing clients are an excellent barometer of how the outsourcer communicates and operates.

Finally, my advice is to give outsource partners room to demonstrate their innovation and partnership approach by not being completely prescriptive, as Request for Proposals (RFPs) and Tenders (RFTs) too often are – some of the best outcomes I’ve seen have come from a “Request for Solution” (RFS), giving the outsourcer an opportunity to differentiate and propose a unique approach.

Topics: Best Practices, Outsourcing, Customer Experience

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