What You Don’t Know Can Be a Disadvantage

Selecting an Outsourced Call Center: 15 Questions to Ask*

Selecting an outsourcer for your company requires more than finding a vendor that represents itself as an expert contact or call center. There are hundreds. The real question is, are they a good fit for your program and its needs?

There are many considerations that enter into the selection process. To get you started, here are 15 questions to ask yourself as you evaluate vendors and their capabilities.

  • Similar Work. Have they done similar work? If your program is inbound and they primarily do outbound, tread carefully. If you are looking for tier two technical support and they currently handle customer service only, their reps won't have the right skills and personalities. Experience in your business area, such as health care, catalogs or charities, is desirable (although in some cases it may not be a must).
  • Professional Reps. Listen to calls on a site visit and mystery shop their clients if you require inbound call handling. Do the reps sound like the types of reps you want placing or handling your calls? If you will be using web chat, e-mail and/or social media be sure to also mystery shop in those ways.
  • Knowledgeable Supervisors and Account Service Staff. These are the primary individuals who translate your wishes into telephone rep behavior. Are they knowledgeable? Are you comfortable with them? Does the company have a regulatory compliance officer and are they knowledgeable? Will the firm comply with all applicable federal and state regulations when conducting your program?
  • Training Program Quality. Reps require training in contact center skills to succeed at their job. They require training in your program to succeed on your company's behalf. Make sure the vendor conducts new hire, refresher and program-specific training. Review the training curricula and time duration to get a feel for the quality and depth of training.
  • How Much Monitoring and Coaching? This should be frequent rather than occasional. How can your vendor know that their reps are doing a good job if they rarely listen to their calls and QA their web chats, e-mails and/or social media replies? Also, look for a contact center that allows you to remotely monitor your own calls on demand (whenever you like) and that can send you recordings of your calls on request. You'll also want to be able to observe the content of web chats, e-mails and/or social media replies.
  • High or Low Turnover? If the telephone staff turns over several times a year you will frequently have new reps handling your calls. If it is a very simple program this may be OK, but most programs require deeper knowledge or experience. Lower turnover enables reps to acquire this deeper knowledge and to use it longer. Higher turnover results in more reps handling your customer contacts in the midst of their learning curve.
  • Usable Reports. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Ask for a copy of the vendors' standard reports to assess if they meet your needs. If you require custom reports, provide your requirements and ask for the cost . For inbound, make sure to ask for service level, wait time and abandoned call reports for your program. For outbound, make sure to get reports on "no" responses, bad numbers, unreachables and list penetration.
  • Value-Added Services. Does the vendor add value beyond handling customer contact? For example, will they alert you when they think your program could be improved, or could this wait for months until you notice it in the numbers?
  • Productive Culture. What's the culture of the contact center? What's the emotional feeling there? Is it a pressure cooker with people on edge, or a pleasant place to work where people are busy doing their jobs? If the reps are happy, they are more likely to treat your customers well.
  • Responsiveness. If the vendor isn't responsive when you are a prospect, what will happen after you become a client? Are their response times for set-up, and for changes to your script or program, acceptable? If yours is an inbound program, will they have adequate staff to handle your calls, chats, e-mails and social media inquiries when they arrive?

*These are general recommendations. Specific strategies and tactics should be based on a review of your needs, market and operation. For outside support contact Lieber & Associates.

The word, "Outsourcing," magnified through reading glasses on table

  • Primary Contact and Escalation. Are you comfortable with the individual who will be your primary contact at the vendor, which is typically an account service rep or account executive? If things aren't working out, how far up can you escalate to get action on your issue?
  • Fair Contract. Vendor contracts could be the subject of an entire article or perhaps a book. Here are a few basics. Is the contract reasonable or one-sided? Can you add clauses that protect your company's interests such as guaranteed service levels, maximum wait times and maximum abandon rates with penalties or courses of action if the vendor falls short more than once? Is there an "out clause" that enables your company to exit the relationship before renewal if things aren't working out? Will the vendor guarantee regulatory compliance? Will they indemnify your company for regulatory compliance errors that they may commit?
  • Adequate Technology. People are more important than technology, but a few basics are necessary. Inbound contact centers should have a robust ACD to route calls and web call-backs (click-to-call) to the next available rep. If you need it, there should also be good technology in place for chat, e-mail and/or social media Some contact centers have multi-channel ACDs that route chats and e-mails as well as calls, and others use separate systems for these. Disaster recovery is also important. For outbound, the call center should have an appropriate dialer for preview, progressive/stepped/power or predictive dialing. All contact centers should have call and contact monitoring and reporting that you can immediately access. It is essential to have an on-screen program for call guides, information display and data entry that can accommodate your company's specific needs. Or, you can provide access to your company's on-screen system.
  • References. Ask for at least three references and contact them. Do any have calls similar to yours? Surprisingly, some company references aren't all that enthusiastic, which is usually a red flag, since one expects a reference to be among the happiest of customers. It's usually a good sign when references are customers of long duration.
  • Cost. Cost is always a factor. However, think about the total value of your customer contacts to the enterprise as well. It could be a bargain to pay more if your company acquires or retains more customers at the higher price, or if the more expensive vendor is the one that is more responsive and better meets your needs. Look at the total picture.

Selecting the right call center vendor isn't a snap decision. It requires homework. It's prudent to know what and who you are buying before you sign on the dotted line. After all, you are entrusting your vendor with nothing less than your customer relationships.

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