Get S.M.A.R.T. : Key Criteria for Customer Care Outsourcer Selection

Mar 25, 2015

Service quality and value are critical factors in a client's decision to outsource some or all of their call volumes. I believe that there are a number of factors that must be considered when making a decision to outsource customer care. I've developed a series of what we term S.M.A.R.T. criteria as shown in the chart 1.0 below. In order to make them easy to remember we have mapped them to the word 'SMART':

S Strategic Scale Service/Sales Stability Security
M Measurable Monitor Maintenance Management Metrics
A Attainable Agents Analytics Automation Accountability
R R.O.I. Reliability Reputation Redundancy Responsiveness
T Time Table Training Technology Track Record Total Cost

Source: Frost & Sullivan analysis

S.M.A.R.T. Questions to Consider

Strategic:

  • Is outsourcing your contact center, part and parcel of your overall corporate strategy or is it simply part of a stand-alone cost reduction initiative?

Scale:

  • Can the provider scale up or down to meet your business requirements in line with seasonal periods?

Service/Sales:

  • Is there a good cultural alignment with your organization when it comes to customer service and sales? Can a potential partner provide the kind of sales talent that you might require?

Stability:

  • Has the provider demonstrated financial stability and a history of growth in the market?

Security:

  • How capable a security organization does the provider have?
  • What makes up the system of internal controls and security measures to ensure the privacy of your customer data?
  • What about the level of PCI and HIPPA compliance?
  • What are the physical controls within the contact center facility, secure including clean desk policies?

Measurable:

  • With which KPI's and metrics does the vendor measure its agents?
  • Will the kind of customized reporting that you require be available to you from the supervisor level to the site Director level

Monitor:

  • What does the provider do to regularly monitor and properly coach your agents?
  • What the level of support will be there for the agents and how often does monitoring occur?
  • What is the agent to supervisor ratio and how detailed are agent report cards and appraisals

Maintenance:

  • How often are systems, processes and procedures maintained and updated?

Management:

  • How seasoned are the executives that run the company?
  • What is their experience in the industry?
  • Have you established a vendor management team within your organization to be responsible for monitoring the relationship with a provider?

Metrics:

  • Can the center outputs - sales, service, tech support- be "metricized" against what you consider the most important Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) for your center?
  • How is customer satisfaction measured?

Agents:

  • How does the service provider recruit, select and hire their agents?
  • How are agents compensated?
  • Is there the flexibility you need to quickly add and remove agents, move them to different queues and change agent utilization for inbound/outbound campaigns?
  • Is there a home agent option?

Attrition:

  • What is the average agent tenure and what is the annual attrition rate? Having the right number and type of agents is very important.

Analytics:

  • Will calls be recorded and then mined for useful information on customers and agent performance?
  • Will some form of analytics be applied to customer satisfaction surveys?
  • What other agent optimization solutions will be applied in the center?

Automation:

  • Are you able to decide on the level of automation and even configure call flow, IVR scripts, and call routing?
  • Is there intelligent call routing to the best available agent based on business rules?

Accountability:

  • Which workforce management tools will be utilized for forecasting and scheduling?
  • Will the provider be responsible for integration with your own back office applications and agent desktops?

Return on Investment (ROI):

  • What kind of return on investment and savings can be expected from the provider?
  • Will your company engage in a gain sharing plan for sharing risk and reward as the engagement moves forward?

Reliability:

  • What is the history of outages and system uptime at the network, applications and desktop level?
  • What is the meantime to failure?
  • How current is the provider's hardware and software?

Reputation:

  • What is the track record of this provider with companies like yours?
  • Will the potential partner provide other referenceable clients who can provide an honest assessment of the history of performance?

Redundancy:

  • Where has the provider located its hardened data centers, secure data backup and redundancy?
  • What measures have they taken for disaster recovery, localized outages or even a pandemic like an H1N1 or Ebola outbreak?

Responsiveness:

  • Do you have reliable case studies and other customer testimonials that demonstrate the responsiveness of your prospective partner?

Timetable:

  • How quickly can the provider implement an agent or automated solution for your call center?

Training:

  • How does your partner train its agents?
  • Is there refresher training for low performers and how is sub-par performance and discipline handled?

Technology:

  • The technology used by the service provider to connect and route calls from your customers to their agents is also critically important. Are there special processes, tools and platforms that make the agents' work easier?
  • Will these enhancements allow them to better connect with customers and provide an optimal customer experience?

Track Record:

  • Do you have an honest assessment of the history of performance?
  • Is the company flexible easy to do business with?
  • What are the parameters that govern daily contact center operations?

Total Cost:

  • What is the Total cost of ownership?
  • If you decide to offshore, what are the true costs going to be to monitor that facility from your end?
  • Are there travel and re-location expenses that need to be figured in to house your management team in a foreign-based call center?

A Caution on Delivery Capabilities

In some cases, clients have geographic preferences for call delivery. These choices often have to do with labor cost arbitrage, language support or proximity to the U.S. If an outsourcer has limited delivery geographic capabilities, it could be cause for a re-evaluation of the potential engagement. Most clients, in my opinion, are looking for a balanced sourcing portfolio from their outsourcing provider; practical real-world solutions, not 'shores'.

In the last 2 years, Mexico, Central America and South America have become very viable options for near shoring capabilities. This is especially true for U.S. companies that are looking to diversify their global customer care footprint. In addition, a host of key market participants have recognized client plans to accelerate sales and marketing activities in the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic market and have strategically established a contact center presence, with a service provider, to support both English and Spanish language calls.

A vendor without a nearshore, offshore or home agent presence may be putting themselves at a huge disadvantage against competing outsourcers.

Final Thoughts

Customer care outsourcers are under more pressure than ever to deliver operational excellence and retain customers for clients. These top-tier providers understand the pulse of the market and attempt to stay a step ahead by helping clients gain a winning edge. These outsourcers manage highly complex organizations that face tremendous internal challenges as well –retaining executive leadership; agent hiring and training; performance management; coping with the forces of globalization; forecasting and scheduling; foreign currency fluctuations; career development; innovation and continuous improvement; disaster recovery; cloud technology choices; government regulations; social media management; voice of the customer (VOC) feedback; and creating value – added solutions that will benefit clients and shareholders.

Caveat Emptor. Ask lots of questions, get references, and make an informed choice!


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Michael DeSalles

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DeSalles has 25 years of contact center operational experience. He combines this with 10 years of research and analytical expertise in: Emerging trends, convergence, collapse and disruptive technologies in the contact center industry; Insight into site management, supervision and agent development; Customer care outsourcing; Skills based routing; BPO Near shore deployment; Home based agents


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