Before You Go to RFP, Get Friendly: A Guide to On-Site Contact Center Visits




  • — June 4, 2019

    Picture this: You’re in the RFP process for a new contact center partner. You have a short list of participants. You give them a couple of weeks to return their answers, and then you spend a few more weeks poring through those answers with your team to eliminate the deal-breakers and discern the winner. Finally, you’re down to two choices – both options have versatile capabilities and impressive metrics. You make plans to visit their offices for the first time. But when you walk in the door of the first, your heart sinks. This simply isn’t somewhere you could see yourself – or your agents – working. Maybe it’s the lack of windows and the glaring fluorescent lights. Maybe the leisure spaces are uninspired and uninspiring. Maybe it’s something you can’t quite put your finger on. Can your brand really shine in this kind of environment? You walk away from that option and visit your second finalist with your fingers and toes crossed. Miraculously, it’s the perfect fit. You only wish you could have saved the precious time and effort spent in the RFP process by having this insight beforehand.

    This isn’t just an imaginative exercise – it’s a situation we’ve witnessed in real life, with one of our own valued clients. And it’s why – for the same reason you wouldn’t throw down thousands of dollars on a house you haven’t walked through – we recommend always conducting site visits before diving into the time-consuming RFP process.

    Process vs Strategy

    The procurement process can be a thing of beauty. It exists to achieve consistency, efficiency, and objectivity. You know exactly what you need in regards to channel support, reporting metrics, technical capabilities, agent training, and more, and the contact center RFP makes sure you’re checking all the boxes. The goal of this process is an apples-to-apples comparison of capabilities, performance rates, and price points.

    It’s a worthy goal, but procurement can’t happen in a vacuum. Putting your brand in the hands of an outsourcer requires a strategic partnership, not just a vendor who checks all the boxes. And establishing that partnership isn’t as simple as following a checklist. It means physically shaking hands with leaders and agents, walking through office spaces, and getting to know the people you’ll be working with. It means asking the question, “can we see ourselves working here?”.

    Getting on-site with each potential outsourcer will enable you to narrow down the options. Then you can deliver a tightly curated list to procurement to let them do what they do best.

    What Should You Be Looking For?

    Don’t go in blind. Know what you should be looking for on your contact center site visit before you get there. Here are a few considerations:

    Culture fit. A shared culture is key – that’s probably one of the biggest reasons you’re choosing not to offshore your project. Your outsourced agents must be able to empathize and engage with your customers – and that goes deeper than simply speaking the same language. An organization that is culturally aligned with your own is one that shares similar values, commitment to their employees, and vision for the future.

    Capabilities in action. Your RFP process will naturally require vendors to list and describe their capabilities, but getting on-site may reveal innovations, complexities, or nuances about technologies, workforce management or processes that you simply didn’t know to ask.

    Physical work environment. The people representing your brand will be entrenched in the workspaces you observe, all day every day. Is there a friendly atmosphere? Is it an engaging space designed to nurture employees? Or does it feel oppressive and tense? Are employment standards similar to your own? Remember that the happiness of your agents directly impacts the happiness of your customers.

    Brand representation. Without a site visit, it’s difficult to get a sense of how agents identify with the brands they’re representing. In person, however, you can see firsthand how well the client brand resonates in the subculture of the contact center. If the entire center feels homogeneous and mundane, your unique brand is unlikely to reflect in the customer experience. In our experience, agents who are truly aligned with a brand see themselves as employees of the client first, and of our contact center second.

    Safety and security. Your RFP will likely have an entire section dedicated to safety and security, but a site visit enables you to see how security measures are actually fulfilled in real life. How is data kept secure? Are sensitive projects kept separate from others? What does a safe space mean to your potential outsourcer – and does it match your own definition of safety and security? Observe how careful your hosts are with you on site. Chances are, other visitors (your competitors perhaps?) are likely to be held to the same security standards, or lack thereof, that you are. For example, if during a tour, you’re “treated” to a sneak peek into a highly secure area, beware.

    Ease of travel. Regular site visits – annually or even quarterly – are important for a highly strategic partnership. It’s likely another reason you’re choosing onshore or nearshore outsourcers. You want to minimize time spent in transit. However, be careful who you rule out in light of this consideration. Nova Scotia in Atlantic Canada, for example, may sound distant if you’re unfamiliar with the region. But it’s a stone’s throw from New York, with direct flights to major US cities including Newark, Chicago, Boston (and the added bonus/ease of US Customs pre-clearance at Halifax International Airport!).

    Obstacles to the On-Site Contact Center Visit

    We get it – touring multiple contact centers can be cost- or time-prohibitive on the front end. If you’re struggling to get buy-in on the time and expense, we recommend that you invite potential partners to visit your offices instead.

    Meeting them in person and giving them a behind-the-scenes look at your brand and operations will still go far in being able to narrow down your list of vendors. You’ll get a better sense for who they are, how engaged they are with your own people, and how committed they are in accommodating your needs.

    Improve Your RFP Process by Getting On-Site First

    Meeting your potential contact center partners before you send them the RFP empowers you to build a better list from which to choose. Figuring out the subjective, intangible elements of the decision process up front allows you to focus simply on the skills, competencies, and cultural make up of those partners you already feel you can work with. In this situation, your customer service leaders and procurement department can work closely to tailor that RFP based on your visits. For example, if something struck you as innovative or essential at one center, but you didn’t observe the same factor at another, be sure to ask about it in the RFP.

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