Outsourcing. It’s basically the corporate equivalent of walking down the aisle. You’re making a decision to trust someone else completely and you’re inviting them to build a future with you. Not a decision to be taken lightly. And it can induce more than a little anxiety in even the toughest executive. We’ve heard stories from VPs who spent sleepless night after sleepless night wondering if they’d done the right thing, if they’d trusted the right partner.
We’ve heard the story from one of our clients, a chief customer officer who told his CEO that he’d decided to outsource their customer service and was met with “Over my dead body.” But he went ahead anyway. (We’ll be celebrating nine years as their contact center partner soon…)
We know this can be a nerve wracking, career-impacting decision of epic proportions. And like a marriage, you want to do everything in your power to get the relationship off to a good start. That’s why you want to make sure the first 90 days with a contact center partner set both of you up for long-term success.
Let’s preface the rest of this post by saying: clear definition of success metrics is critical to your outsourced program. In our book, both client and provider need to be 100% rock solid on what success looks like and how it will be measured and reported on before you sign a contract together.
Day 0 to Day 30 with Your Contact Center Partner
From the moment you award the contract for contact center services to a new partner with those clearly articulated metrics in place, the most important consideration is how the transition will impact your customer experience strategy. This is a lot like stopping in the car on the way to the honeymoon to talk about how you’re going to restructure your mortgage – you want to sit back and just enjoy the moment, but you need to focus. As soon as the ink is dry on the dotted line, your new team should be focused on three key priorities:
- Getting the technology working perfectly
- Building the agent profile and hiring the right agents
- Designing training and testing that will put competent, confident agents on the floor from Day 1
Obviously, there is a mountain of work that goes on in the first 30 days – but these three areas are so core to the customer experience that they top the priority list. If there is one piece of advice that we can offer to make sure that your partnership is successful it is this: free up your resources to work on the technology, people, and training pieces with your partner. Yes, your partner needs to do the heavy lifting. Yes, they should be driving the transition bus, so to speak. Yes, it is their job to get it right out of the gate. But if you don’t make the right resources available within your own organization, it is going to be an uphill battle to launch smoothly and on time.
One of our clients told us that he has been involved in launching dozens of contact center programs during his career and that Blue Ocean had the best managed implementation he had ever witnessed. But the reality is that smooth transition (and every smooth transition) was the outcome of teamwork and commitment of resources on both sides of the client-provider equation.
Getting to Day 60
While the tech, HR, and training teams are working on their implementation, your partner’s workforce management team, business process team, and program management team will be laying the groundwork for delivery on your KPIs – everything from Average Speed of Answer to your quality scores.
This is where your new partner’s workforce management team needs to really dig in to understand your forecast. This may seem like a straightforward math exercise informed by historical data, but do to this well, you need cross-functional collaboration. Bring marketing into the picture. What major initiatives are going to impact the forecast? Bring Sales and Brand Managers into the tent, too. What are their goals for the next two quarters? How do those goals vary from past performance? Are there any exceptional circumstances on the horizon?
Making sure your contact center’s workforce team has strong data and a clear vision is one of the best things you can do to make sure your first quarter in production with a new partner is a success. Having a solid forecast means that your team will be properly staffed. Proper staffing means your customer experience is protected and your new program managers can focus on consistency, communication, and problem-solving, instead of being distracted by under/over staffing issues. And most importantly, they can focus on quality.
Speaking of quality – between the award of contract and the cut-over date, your team will be working out how to measure and coach to your quality standards. With a new partner, the urge to simply say “Do it our way” is intense. This is where the anxiety of outsourcing to a new partner can actually work against you. If you selected your new contact center team because of the quality of their offering – trust them. If you can’t find it in yourself to trust them completely because they haven’t earned it yet, at least trust them enough to listen to and consider their input. And calibrate. Calibrate. Calibrate. Make sure everyone is on the same page where quality is concerned. Test out your quality measurement tools on archived calls. And calibrate some more. Test out your quality measurement tools with your new hires in training. And calibrate some more. Then have your coaches test out your quality measurement tools in role play with each other. And calibrate some more.
In this 60-day window, open, honest and frequent feedback, with constant communication is the critical factor.
Getting to Day 90
The focus is on cut-over. Your partner’s tech team will be testing systems and integration and working out the bugs. Yes, there will be bugs. A good tech team knows that and goes looking for them before they become customer-facing. Your partner’s information services team is designing your reports, and together, you’re working out the cadence and content of those reports. The workforce management team is running various scenarios to ensure maximum efficiency in resource deployment while meeting (or more likely exceeding your KPI requirements.)
Your HR team is still recruiting for a phased-in, ramped up start. Your trainers are training, testing, calibrating, running role plays, and testing some more. Most likely your contact center partner will have deployed some tenured, experienced, highly capable agents from other programs to seed your new project. And they also have a whole bunch of new hires to onboard with a focus on connecting them both to your brand and immersing them in the culture of their company. Your program manager and executive sponsor’s nerves are starting to jangle even if they never let you see them sweat.
The priority here has to be on building a confident team that has the tools to do their job well. The cut-over is nerve-wracking. That is all there is to it. Taking that first call, doing that first coaching session, handling that first interval when volume exceeds forecast by greater than 15%. Those are high pressure scenarios. So let your team, from the agents to the real time analysts, to the coaches, and program managers focus on building their knowledge and confidence.
You want your frontline team to go live knowing that they’ve been well trained, knowing that they won’t have all the answers but knowing where to find the answers they need. You want them to have confidence in their tools and confidence in their relationship with you and your brand. You want your team (agents to program managers) to know that when something goes wrong (when, not if) they can safely ask for help and make it right. In that scenario, your customers are going to be in good hands. And the foundation for a long, successful relationship with your contact center partner will be set.
At the end of the day, implementing customer service outsourcing is a complex process that can only be achieved through constant communication, strategic ramping up, and a generous helping of patience. This way, your contact center partner will most effectively be able to adopt your brand as their own, and your customers will remain blissfully unaware of the transition.
Over the years, we’ve perfected our implementation strategy, and we know what works. If you’re currently writing a call center RFP or even just beginning to research contact center outsourcing, we’re here to help. Tell us more about what you’re looking for.