Service level is one of the most common metrics employed at call and contact centers to define how the center is performing. Senior management becomes acclimatized to looking for that service level number and reacting to it as a gauge of how well they’re performing against targets and in meeting their customer needs. But not everyone understands what service level is really referring to.
When we look at service level, we are really referring to two different numbers, the first being the percentage of calls and the second being the period of time within which that percentage of calls is answered. So if we refer to a service level as 80-20, that is telling us that 80% of the calls are being targeted to be answered within 20 seconds. The 20 seconds here is also referred to as Average Speed of Answer (ASA) or “wait time.” The 80/20 service level suggested above is actually the most common service level in place today for customer service organizations.
80/20 is the Most Common Service Level in Use Today
Now of course by definition, if we’re answering 80% of the calls within 20 seconds, we’re not answering 20% of the calls within that time period. The inference there is that those calls are being answered in a much longer time period; 60, 90, 120, even 360 seconds is possible, depending on the nature of your calls, contacts, and the average handle time.
Service level or total service factor; TSF, as it is referred to in some telephone systems; is a fairly standard metric you’ll find in most ACDs, which means that you can establish a report and a reporting protocol that’ll generate performance reporting against this standard. It’ll tell you every day what percentage of your calls were answered within a 20-second period. So, you may find that on day one you’re at 83%, but on day two you’re at 78%. You can even look at this on an inter-day measurement basis; every 15, 30 minutes, 60 minutes; and gauge your performance against that target that way.
Have Service Levels for All Channels
It’s important in today’s world where we’re moving increasingly to multi-channel and omni-channel activities, that we look at the service level not just for the voice transactions alone, but also for emails, chat, or SMS interactions. Each of these channels requires that we define what our service level is. What is the standard that we aspire to deliver? In the voice calls, that may have been 80% of the calls within 20 seconds. But in email, that may equate to 80% of the emails within four hours, or chat 80% of the chat requests within 90 seconds.
Whatever those metrics are, as we define them for our organization, we will need to establish the reporting protocols and parameters to glean that information from whatever systems are appropriate, be that our ACD, our CRM, or our standalone point or niche solution supporting our email management or chat.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Remember a service level is an arbitrary number. There is no single perfect set of service levels that everybody should be using. The service levels employed really need to relate to your organization and your customers. Every service level can in fact be different. What may be appropriate for one organization at 80-20 may be appropriate for a direct competitor at 90-10. Or at 70% of the calls in 60 seconds.
What is the customer experience you’re striving to deliver? And what is the service level that you can realistically match against that to become a reasonable standard metric for that experience and performance? So determine what your customers are expecting, what you have communicated to your customers that they should expect, and then establish your service levels to reflect these expectations.
Once you’ve established the service levels, determine how you’re going to report on these metrics over what periods of time. Remember that it is difficult to be perfect all the time. There will be periods during any given day where you’ll receive more contacts and your service level will decline. That’s to be expected.
When somebody sets out to meet an 80-20 standard, they don’t expect to meet it 100% of the time. But they do expect to meet it the vast majority of the time and they expect to meet it on average for that day. It’s important that we establish a standard, establish how we’re going to gain the reporting, generate the reports, and then be able to manage and take action based on the data generated.
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When my father passed away, I spent hours in queue, waiting for help from a variety of companies and agencies that should be providing service to those who call. In fact, they did all eventually provide the required service (except for one government agency that proved so difficult to reach, I gave up and visited them in person!). I spent much of that hold time compiling my list of queue time grievances.
If you want to provide a more effortless and pleasant customer experience, I recommend you start with these basics:
Stop Telling Us We’re Important!
How many companies are telling their customers their calls are important, then leaving them in the queue for long minutes? It’s perhaps the most common introduction to the dreaded time in queue: “Your call is very important to us, so please wait for the next available representative. Your call will be answered in the order it was received.”
How many customers are yelling at the phone at that point? “If my call was really important, you’d have enough people available to answer it! And, how else would you answer my call but in the order it was received?” In fact, calls may be prioritized in many ways, like annual spend, loyalty status, recent catalog receipt, etc., but even companies who do all that still tell customers their calls will be answered in the order received.
Callers may have believed you thought their calls were important when the phrase was first used, but now it’s just empty words. Get enthusiastic voice talent to create a clear “Thanks for your call!” greeting, cover the “your call may be recorded” line quickly, and move on.
Simplify the Language Question
If there’s one primary language among your callers, make it the default language for your Interactive Voice Response System (IVR). Quickly offer the option for other languages in those languages, then leave everybody else in the queue for the primary language. You can even use country or area code of the caller to determine the default language and offer the others as options.
Tell Us How Long You Plan to Keep Us Waiting
If you can tell a caller how long they’ll be waiting, and then meet or beat that estimate, that’s a big customer satisfier. Those who don’t have time to wait will call again later, and you’re meeting the expectations of those who choose to hang on.
Don’t Keep Saying You’re Sorry
The government agency I chose to visit in person was one who told me how long I’d be waiting. I made several calls, and they gave me a one hour estimate each time. I wonder if they don’t have software that estimates wait time at all—maybe they just tell everybody one hour. I tried to wait, but something always interrupted me before the hour was up. Despite having already set this, admittedly low, expectation, they then interrupted the hold music every 30 seconds to tell me they were sorry I was waiting or to encourage me to go to their website. Obviously, if I could have done that and accomplished my purpose, I would have done so. Once you’ve mentioned the website a time or two, let it go. And if the wait time is generally long, don’t stop drawing attention to it by apologizing. I was multi-tasking during my wait time, as most people do, and I found the ongoing “Sorry for your Wait” messages a complete distraction.
Create High-Quality Recordings
You should call your own number and wait in queue on a regular basis. Make sure your voice talent comes across as sincere, your IVR prompts are clear (and go where they should!) and your hold music and messages are all high-quality recordings. Scratchy music sets people’s teeth on edge, and that’s the last thing you want to do right before your customer reaches your agent. One well-known shoe company offers an optional joke of the day when you call, but this great idea is ruined through poor execution because the sound quality is so poor.
Don’t Ask for Stuff You Won’t Use
In perhaps a dozen calls in the past few weeks, I’ve dutifully entered account numbers, postal codes, phone numbers, and a variety of other numbers, only to be asked for them again by the agent who eventually answered the call. If you can’t use the information, don’t ask for it. If you’re using it to route your calls, make sure it’s accessible to your live agents.
No matter what business you’re in, it’s better if your callers are calm when they reach your live agents. If you aggravate them while they wait, they will take it out on your agents, resulting in higher handle times, greater customer defections, and decreased employee satisfaction, which leads to higher employee attrition. These are all real costs you can avoid if you just follow these tips and regularly put yourself in the shoes of your customers.
The month of March is now upon us and the predictions and prognostications for the new year are pretty well behind us. But before we bid adieux to the pundits’ predictions and Top 10 lists, I will add my voice to the collective noise. Predictions are challenging and dangerous; people remember and can take great delight in pointing out missed predictions. Below are what I believe are the top trends that will impact contact centers and customer facing organizations.
AI or Artificial Intelligence
AI has been a top pick for many pundits. Forget the fact that, according to Elon Musk and other doomsayers, AI will literally be the death of us. For contact centers and customer interactions it is a very positive tool. We have been using algorithms for more than 30 years in the contact center world, but changing the label to AI makes it seem fresh and new. The application of AI to the contact center is gaining momentum: organizations are deploying chatbots and voice bots leveraging technology from Google and Amazon, machine learning is helping to train these bots to be more accurate, and more effective and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is being used to effect automation where no integrations exist.
Digital Transformation continues to redesign contact centers, leveraging omni-channel communications to reflect the appropriate customer journey and lifecycle stage and build upon machine to machine and IoT communications. Digital Transformation is beginning to live up to the promise of The Right Channel, with the Right Context, served by the Right Resource, equipped with the Right Information and Right Options, resulting in the Best (dare I say “Right”) Outcomes.
Analytics is not a report, and not a number on a page. It is data and knowledge and it must be deployed. We will continue to see a shift away from simple reports and dashboards that show us what is happening towards “data aware” workflows and processes that act on the data and make adjustments in real time.
There is saying that it can take “20 years to be an overnight success.” That was certainly true of CRM and may also be true when it comes to Omni-channel. While the majority of organizations have deployed multi-channel in their contact center, they are struggling with the costs, benefits and use cases to go omni-channel. As we empower AI to make more decisions and deploy more automation the cost barriers to Omni-channel will be lowered, hopefully in less than 20 years.
Clouds are everywhere today and everyone is using them: Public clouds, and/or private clouds. Cloud has gone mainstream and those who aren’t seeing them today soon will. Cloud is ubiquitous, it’s secure and it’s often Amazon. With the emerging dominance of a few tech giants over Cloud (think Google and Amazon), individual organizations no longer have to engineer their own cloud…they just sign up.
Let me know what you think of this list of top trends. Do you agree with them? Are there others we missed? We would love to start a dialogue.
What is a high performance contact center? High performance is generally accepted to mean performing at the top of any possible performance range. So a High performance contact center is one that meets or exceeds the performance parameters or metrics expected of it. In contact center these parameters will include quantitative: grade of services, AHT, ATT, ASA etc., and qualitative: First Call Resolution, Customer Satisfaction, Quality scores etc., measures.
So what steps can a leader in a contact center take and what actions should they complete to achieve high performance within their center?
In order to answer this question we must first understand the environment that the contact center operates within. Of course contact centers exist in every industry and vertical each of which has its own unique aspects and elements. But there are consistencies and constants which are universal and are present in each center regardless of the specific industry.
The first of these “universal truths” is that all things are connected. We already know that that our center is connected to the broader organization: when Marketing creates offers, Sales sells a new client or when Distribution ships or doesn’t make a shipment the phones will ring. The butterfly effect is alive and well in our centers…when a butterfly flaps its wings in Marketing the effect is more calls into the center. We know that when staff calls in sick, our Service Level may suffer. Any contact center is collection of thousands of moving parts that are connected in obvious and hidden ways.
The second “universal truth” is that our contact centers are “always on.” A contact center is a live environment where we operate in the moment. A ringing phone must be answered. Many center managers spend their entire day “putting out fires.” This leave little time for fire prevention.
The third “universal truth” is that our centers are staffed with individuals. A center is in fact a community or a village. Like most small communities we have the familiar characters, the village idiot, town drunk, busybody, the flirt and the gossip. Are centers are full of cliques, groups and loners all of whom have their own goals aspirations and agendas.
Against this backdrop of the universal truths that form the basis for all of our centers we strive to build a center that can meet the defined goals and objectives that our senior management team has established for us and that we have established for ourselves. Let’s examine some of the strategies that can help you transform your center to a high performance environment.
Building & Understanding Teams:
In any center we will have a number of teams: teams of agents under a supervisor, an HR team, a workforce management team, a quality team etc. We will also have the management team within the center. The Management team often consists of Supervisors representing each discipline, as well as the Manager(s) and/or Directors. Like all individuals each member of these teams has individual goals and aspirations. It is essential for a team to function effectively that the individuals identify as a member of a team rather than as an individual. This can be an extremely difficult task. Likely each of us has been on a team where one or more team members couldn’t or wouldn’t subjugate their personal agenda for that of the team. When this happens the team can become dysfunctional: not all members participate, the workload is not shared equally or fairly and the team can easily devolve to individuals striving against the team’s own lack of direction and ineffectiveness.
It is of course the Team Leader who has the responsibility to try to prevent this from happening and the leader is just as familiar as we all are about the importance of teams. In the language of business being a “team player” is seen as a valuable attribute, but in reality you cannot manage a team unless you are a team builder. This is the first strategic point where great centers and companies can differentiate themselves from the average and the good ones.
So how do you build effective teams? There are bookshelves full of books that have attempted to answer this question and certainly a number of their approaches can be successful. My favourite approach is one set out by Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
Teamwork is one of the most prevalent “buzz words” employed in business today. Everybody who reads the business press hears constantly about the need for teamwork. Virtually every author who has written a business or management book in the past fifteen years devotes significant ink to this topic. But how do you ensure that your teams function effectively and achieve their goals? In my experience, ensuring that teams are effective is a far more challenging exercise than “buying in” to teams and teamwork.
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team
The most effective way to ensure that your teams succeed is to examine the most common “traps” or dysfunctions that often (or almost always) creep into the team managed process. According to Lencioni, there are five primary dysfunctions of a team. At the bottom of the pyramid is the fundamental dysfunction that will sink a team even if they are doing everything else right, which is unlikely in the absence of trust.
To understand the interrelation of these dysfunctions lets look at the pyramid from the top down. In order to be attentive to results you must be able to hold to team members accountable. In order to hold team members accountable you must have their commitment. In order to gain their commitment, you must engender Productive Conflict. In order to achieve Productive Conflict, you must ensure that there is a high level of trust and vulnerability within the team.
Now when we look at teams we must remember that no two teams are alike because no two people who are on any given teams are alike. Therefore it can be dangerous to generalize, however the 5 dysfunctions are, in my experience powerful indicators of the effectiveness that a team achieves. Let’s look at some of the dysfunctions in a little more detail.
In order to be successful in any relationship we must be open and honest. Furthermore we must trust those around us. A key aspect of trust is opening ourselves up, sharing our thoughts, opinions and experiences. Of course opening up in this manner may also make you vulnerable to attacks. It is specifically this vulnerability that allows us to trust other members of our team and them, to trust us. You need to know that it is safe. If we don’t trust those around us with our reputations then we cannot trust them with our opinions. In short we cannot have an open and honest dialogue, or make commitments, drive accountability or achieve the results we desire. The establishment of Trust is the first key step to building an effective and productive team. In many organizations that I have worked with there are numerous teams they are comprised of people who have worked together, often for many years, but they don’t really “know” each other and their actions show me that they don’t trust each other very much. Now if I asked them if they trusted their other teammates, of course they would all say they did. But in their meetings there is a complete absence of healthy, productive ideological conflict. This healthy ideological conflict is probably the best indicator of trust level within a team. Good Trust = Good Conflict.
So how do you as the team leader engender trust? Well you can’t just write a memo declaring that starting tomorrow we will all trust each other…it just doesn’t work like that. What you may want to do is to walk your team through the 5 dysfunctions so that they can see the “connectivity of the dysfunctions and then encourage them to open up with the group. It is decidedly easier to trust someone you know rather than someone who is a mystery.
A good device for doing this is to use a “Check In” at the beginning of a meeting. At the start of the meeting each person goes to the whiteboard and tells their life story from when they left school. As their life improved they draw a line going up on the whiteboard, as they faced challenges in their life the line trends down. You have only 5 minutes to review your entire life to date. These ‘check ins’ are often entertaining and elicit laughter and positive feelings. More importantly perhaps, they provide a fuller and deeper understanding of the individuals participating in the ‘check in’ than any team member had prior to this exercise. I was told by one executive whose team was their senior management group, “that even though we have been together for more than 5 years, I have learned more about these folks in thirty minutes than I knew going into this meeting.”
Understanding your teammates and what drives them creates the openness that fosters vulnerability and Trust. Whether or not ‘check ins’ are for you the key is to get your team to be open and vulnerable to each other. Once you have achieved that then you can move forward knowing that you can now have healthy ideological conflict,
Now, most people assume that conflict is something that should be avoided. Why? Conflict makes all of us uncomfortable. Everyone prefers to stay in their comfort zone.
But what is the alternative to Conflict in a business setting? In most organizations it is “false harmony.” I call it false because there only appears to be harmony. In fact there is generally none. People are afraid to state their thoughts and opinions, due to a lack of Trust. Now you need to push them into Conflict. Yes push them. Because human nature and the way most companies and center train their staff teaches us to avoid conflict.
We need healthy, ideological conflict. That is to say conflict about issues and not about personalities. For it is only with Conflict which is open, honest, sincere and involving everyone can any issue or decision be aired to allow all of the team members to Commit to the outcome. Without commitment to a course of action the team struggles and often fails. Further team members fail to commit fully if they did not participate in the debate. Without getting their two cents on the table they feel left out of the decision making process and that lack of involvement absolves them from taking actions (being committed) to ensure success. It seems counter-intuitive but Conflict is good and essential. Conflict ensures Commitment, which in turn allows you to hold other members of the team Accountable for their individual actions in support of the goals of the team.
As this process takes hold the level of commitment and activity within the team grows. This is likened to someone who has “got religion” because the team members “believe.” With the team committed, they are all held Accountable. This accountability allows the team leader to focus on the results being attained. The vast majority of teams never get to look at results since teams are so dysfunctional that they rarely make any decisions. Those decisions that were made were not committed to and were doomed to failure. The freedom to focus on Results allows the team to challenge their assumptions and fine-tune the process to gain the results they desire.
It takes time to break the bad team habits. When you accomplish this, teams meet and exceed their objective and enjoy the process a lot more.
Congratulations! You’ve made it through year end performance evaluations, survived the challenges of January, and 2019 is starting off well for you! You may be pleased that you don’t have to think about employee reviews again for many months. But spending some time now could simplify the end of the year a great deal.
Now is the time to make sure goals are aligned between front-line employees, managers, departments and the company itself. Well written goals, revisited frequently throughout the year, are the key to true performance management.
Confusion about goals leads to difficult conversations between managers and front-line employees. When an employee thinks they’ve achieved a goal, and their manager doesn’t agree, both are frustrated. The solution is make the goal specific and to revisit it throughout the year.
If it can’t be measured, how can it be achieved? The goal should be quantifiable and both manager and employee should be able to see how close it is to being achieved. Good judgment is needed here. When he first proposed this system, Doran explained that not every goal would have all of the SMART elements, and some might be less quantifiable than others, especially at the middle management level. (https://rapidbi.com/why-smart-objectives-dont-work/) Progress on most goals, though, should be clearly measurable throughout the evaluation period.
Determining whether a goal is achievable requires collaboration between manager and employee. We want to stretch people, but we don’t want to be unrealistic. As Robert Heinlein advised, “Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.” (https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/07/10/sing-pig/) Our people are not pigs, and most of us aren’t teaching singing, but we have to be cognizant of the true capabilities of our team members and realistic in the goals we are setting before them.
If it doesn’t matter to the business, why is it a goal? Each objective should be relevant to the person’s position in the company, to the department goals and to the goals of the company. Alignment here means the employee is working on goals that support the company’s mission.
What needs to be completed by when? Each goal must have a date by which it is to be achieved. Larger goals should have milestones along the way.
Goals that are written down and signed, then tossed in a drawer for the year, accomplish nothing. If goals are to be achieved, they need to be revisited regularly. What progress has been made? Should the goal be adjusted? Is it too ambitious in the current time-frame? Not ambitious enough? Has something else occurred that makes the goal irrelevant? What help can you provide the employee? What questions do each of you have?
Evaluation leads to readjustment which leads to better, more useful goals that are clearly understood, can truly be achieved, and support department and company goals.
Bringing it all together
By setting SMARTER goals and revisiting them throughout the year, you will simplify your next performance review discussions and make them truly worthwhile for you, your employees and your company.
Research tells us that 85% of customer churn is due to poor service that was in fact preventable. 11% of customer churn could have be prevented by simple company outreach and 67% of customer churn is preventable if the customer issue had been resolved at the first engagement.
This tells us something about the sorry state of far to many contact centers. More than 50% of all customer interactions will occur in a contact center. The contact center is the hub or the Customer Experience. It is, as they say “where the rubber meets the road”,
We all know it is significantly more expensive to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one, so retention efforts will always pay off handsomely. Look at your center, are you driving churn due to neglect?
By neglect I mean, do you have ineffective policies that place you in opposition to your customers, or are your processes dysfunctional. Is your training really equipping your front line staff to interact with your most valuable assets, your customers? Is your First Contact Resolution (FCR) a cause of your churn? What about your customer outreach? Do you have welcome calls, do you reach out when you suspect there is a problem with a customers order?
These problems can be overcome and superior Customer Experience is the benefit. Unfortunately all to often we, and the way we do things are the biggest problem we need to solve.
The process of implementing any new technology in your Contact Center can often be daunting. What is the best process for establishing which technologies are best aligned with your organizational goals and needs? I am going to walk you through the technology acquisition process with proven strategies that will enable your organization to easily and effectively chose the most suitable technology.
Sole Sourcing vs. Request for Proposal (RFP)
You have determined you wish to source new technology, now what?
The next step is to establish whether to Sole Source or issue a RFP.
What is Sole Sourcing?
A “sole source” procurement process can be defined as any contract entered into without a competitive process.
What is a RFP?
A request for proposal solicits proposal, from qualified vendors who you believe can meet the requirements of the organization.
Sole Sourcing can be perceived to be a risky proposition. What if you have missed some detail or neglected to reach out to a leading provider?
RFP Process is a safer approach. Although more time consuming, it allows you to assess all of the major players in the market.
In determining how to move forward it is important to realize:
What we know
What we believe we know but that is incorrect
What we know we don’t know
What we don’t know what we don’t know
5 Reasons to issue an RFP
Improve decision making,
getting more options before narrowing down to what works;
avoid jumping to conclusions without evidence
due diligence on major purchases and contract.
Reduce overt bias both internal and external
Increase the transparency of decision making, reasoning and clarity
Ensure that all people / management are complying with steps, rules and regulations, reviews etc. and have the authority to commit the organization to a contract.
For infrequent purchases RFPs reduce the issues risk of poor purchase and allows the decision to be broadly accepted
10 Steps When Going Through the RFP Process
What are you Seeking
There are some questions you need to answer:
What will you ask for?
Who will you send it to?
How will you evaluate the responses?
In determining what you are seeking, you need to ask yourself the following:
Why do we want this technology?
What will this technology allow us to do?
Unclear goals will produce unclear results.
Define Your Own Use Cases
Once you confirm what you want to be able to do and/or achieve with the new technology, you can begin to define the requirements you are seeking. Building use cases provides granularity and will allow you to specifically see the opportunities and benefits of the new technology
Where you will use it?
How it will be employed?
What benefits are expected
Researching Contact Center Technology Solution Providers
Who can provide the desired solutions?
Next you need to identify the providers that you believe can deliver the solution to help you achieve your goals.
Identify vendors who can provide the types of solutions that can help you achieve your goals
Here are some first steps when researching solution providers:
Ask you peers in similar organizations
Reach out to your network for recommendations and guidance
Look on-line for solution providers, check analyst groups like Gartner, Forrester, etc.
Defining Your Requirements
The next step is to create a list of the desired features and functionality you want to see in the technology solution:
What are our Requirements?
It is important to determine if all the requirements are equally important or if some should be weighted as more important than others. Be sure to ask for detail on how the vendors can meet the requirements.
What is mandatory? – those required capabilities you can’t live without
What is a nice to have? – features or functions are that would be nice to have, but not mandatory
What is informational- interesting, but not required today? – capabilities that you would like to know more about, which could be desirable in the future
Weighting the Value of Requirements
In defining your requirements, it is important to weight the value of each function and capability. Examine if all the requirements are of equal value or importance. This will help you determine how to assign weighting value. You can use the ‘Mandatory’, ‘Nice to Have’ and ‘Informational’ with defined values, of 3,2,1 or you can add separate weights based on each requirement.
Ask the vendors to explain how they will meet your requirements – don’t just ask for confirmation. As with most things, there can be a lot of ways to comply; a simple ‘Yes’, will not communicate as much information as requesting the detail on ‘How’.
Define ‘Rules of Engagement’
Defining the ‘rules of engagement’ is crucial. One of the objectives of any RFP process is to eliminate bias and ensure that all vendors have the same opportunity to win the business. We don’t want sidebar discussions taking place with vendors, as this could provide an unfair advantage to one over the others.
You will want to mandate the vendor communication to only take place in writing, by email. This facilitates information sharing with all parties and provides an audit trail supporting the process.
When defining the rules of engagement:
Do not allow vendors to communicate with anyone except as authorized in the RFP
Mandate that all communications will be in writing
Allow Technology Vendors to Ask Questions
It is impossible to identify and answer all of the possible questions that could arise from reading an RFP. Vendors will have questions and you will need to understand and answer each question, subsequently sharing the responses with all vendors.
Plan on a question period following the release of the RFP
Share the questions and answers with all vendors
Many of the questions asked, are likely answered in the RFP, but vendors want to ensure a correct understanding. Ambiguity can be dangerous as it can lead to unidentified assumptions – the objective of the vendor Q&A is to eliminate any confusion or ambiguity that may exist regarding what you are seeking or how you intend to use the solution.
Scoring and Evaluation
The biggest mistake we see organizations make, is that they have not defined how they will score and evaluate responses until after they have begun reviewing the responses. This can be dangerous as it creates a risk that the scoring and evaluation becomes influenced by one or more of the responses, possibly providing an advantage to one vendor over another.
Be detailed and specific when developing your evaluation scorecard:
Know how you will evaluate the RFP responses before you receive any
Define your scoring approach in detail, be specific. Common evaluations elements include;
Reputation and References
Ease of Use
If you over-weigh one of these elements, the others become less important.
When establishing your scorecard:
Don’t be influenced by the responses, to change your weighting
Ask vendors clarification questions
What are the set up and recurring charges?
Ask vendors to provide a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), and calculate TCO yourself
Have more than one person evaluate the RFP’s
It is easy to be influenced by vendor responses to cause you to want to add, remove or change requirements, but if we allow this, once we start reviewing the responses, we compromise the entire process. If there are great points you wish were included in the RFP, note it, and look for the same in the other responses or add it to your vendor clarification questions but don’t change the scoring criteria.
Evaluations should be completed by multiple individuals, not everyone brings the same experience, knowledge or attention span to the reviewing process. By enlisting multiple stakeholders in the review process, you will increase your odds of a good outcome. It is the dichotomy of scores that can add value to process, as the team will discuss why they awarded X or Y to a particular response which may present a different perspective than another person saw. All this discussion improves the rigor in the process.
Here are some sample requirements you may wish to include in your RFP’s
What is the security protocol?
What are the language requirements today, will they change in the future?
Will you own the data?
How important are API’s to you, to what systems?
In the Contact Center world, we tend to focus on what we can do with the solution to improve Contact Center and customer outcomes, and not so much on what risks a new technology may present from a security or IT perspective. Be sure to engage these folks in the establishment of your requirements.
It never ceases to surprise me that folks think it is their data just because it is logical as it is their center, their customers and their agents. But, at the end of the day ownership is determined by the agreement and the ‘grey squinty print in 4-point type’
Make sure the data is yours, and you know how you will extract it if you ever choose to migrate to another solution.
Reputation and References
Checking references is commonly not completed as this can be a time-consuming process and we assume that any reference will only say positive things about the vendor, but, this is not always the case. Reference checks may yield responses like, “I wish we had never selected this vendor” and “we signed the contract 2 years ago, but haven’t implemented, as the vendor still can’t get the solution to work as promised”
When checking references, ask about:
The implementation process and team
The cost and any variance or surprises
The timeline, was there any slippage
Any surprises in the process
How well the solution met their needs
Research the vendors
Research the vendors and to understand how have others rated them. Look for high-quality research and rankings such as analyst firms, magic quadrant, Forrester wave, check their websites. Look for credible awards received and reviews of the solutions on websites, in discussion groups and online communities.
When researching vendors, look for the following:
How do analyst firms rate them?
Have they won awards or recognition?
Are the on-line reviews positive?
Ask the Vendors Questions in Terms of Ease of Use and Support
Ease of Use:
You will want to assess how easy the solution is to operate and manage. Most organizations don’t want to acquire a solution that incurs a professional service charge each time they make a change. Ask about training and background required to manage and employ the solution. Ask if additional or advanced administrator training is offered by the vendor.
How easy is the solution to use?
Do you staff need additional training?
Can you make changes yourself or are ‘professional services’ required?
No matter the solution or vendor, you will need to reach to support at some point in time. It’s important to understand how this will work and what it costs.
Most vendors offer a multi-tier support models and the cost of each will vary with the speed of response and accessibility to the support team.
How do you get technical support?
Are hours of support limited?
How is on-going professional services charged?
It’s advised to over-spend on support in the first year. This is when we will be least knowledgeable and will have the highest degree of change thus assistance and support will be desired.
Assistance may not be deemed support and may be considered a professional service – understand how professional services will be charged.
Shortlist and Vendor Demos
At this point you will want to down-select by creating a short-list. To carry too many vendors forward is time consuming and generally yields very little in terms of changing the overall ranking. Short-listing the top 2 or 3 vendors can make a great deal of sense.
With each short-listed firm, you will want to set up demos of their solution, typically via WebEx or similar. You will want to see how the solution operates, the different dashboards available to differing classes of users and assess its ease of use and flexibility. Get the entire team to attend the demo and ask the vendor to record the demo so it can later be shared with those who didn’t attend.
You will then score then demos, employing you scoring model.
The final step is to combine the scores from the RFP and Demo to generate a final score or ranking
Then, reach out to the highest scoring vendor and begin the negotiation.
Hafeez’s cartoon is fashioned on a Like all Goldberg machines, if you take the time to follow the flow, it does work. The question is, “But, is it worth the effort?” The Goldberg machine suggested a complaint often heard in Contact Centers – “thanks for the fix but it’s too complicated.” Enter Customer Effort Score (CES) and its applicability in a well-crafted Customer Journey.
CES Defined and Exemplified
CES measures the effort the customer must expend to rectify the issue they have experienced. A good CES experience means the customer does not have to expend too much effort. A typical CES situation flows like this:
A failure occurs in a product
Customers bring the failure to the attention of 1st tier agents in the contact center
2nd tier support personnel isolate, validate and replicate the failure
A failure-report (bug) listing is entered in a quality tracking system with all the details
3rd tier personnel (often engineers) evaluate the failure, assign priority & remediate as the priority dictates
Note the use of the word remediate; remediate has a broad connotation meaning the fault is addressed but not necessarily fixed. Fixed means the failure is designed out of the product, out of the customer experience (CX), while remedied may mean the failure is still in the product but there is a workaround. Note – and this is key – that the 3rd tier personnel crafting the remediation may not have a strong understanding of what a customer may deem too much effort.
Delivery is the next step in the process. Depending on the severity of the failure, delivery may be anywhere on a priority continuum from;
‘Give the customer the remediation steps when they experience the failure.’
‘Recall all units in the field and remediate immediately!’
Here are three examples from the industry;
1) The smartphone applet community is a great example of best-practice; low CES with transparent delivery. Smartphone patches are slipstreamed into the product over-the-air resulting in zero effort on the consumer’s part. In this case, the CES score is zero as the remediation is effortless.
2) Contrast that with the auto industry; where updates are affected by mechanics when the vehicle is brought in for routine maintenance. The auto industry receives a low CES score and has a customer friendly delivery mechanism. For more severe failures a recall may be announced which bumps up the CES as the customer must return the vehicle.
3) White goods & household fixtures industry receives a higher CES score as, in most cases, remediation is a reactive protocol; the failure must occur for the mfg. to act. The remediation may be free but the consumer must initiate the dialog. Therefore, while the CES is high, it is not a great customer journey. However, white goods & fixtures are being quickly introduced to the new millennia by virtue of the Internet of Things (IoT). Our refrigerators pinging the mfg. service center to presage a component failure is just around the corner.
CES Prescription Applicable to Contact Centers
Returning to CES – Most remediation processes are reasonable in that a limited degree of effort is required to affect the workaround.
Example: many computer problems are remedied by a double click on a self-extracting file and the fix is applied automatically. This rates a CES score of 1 as not much effort is involved.
That being said, at times consumers have been served workarounds that are the equivalent of a Goldberg machine. The remediation works but at a disproportionate complexity to the consumer. In these situations, the CES score is 10. The workaround is available, the manufacturer met their customer service obligation, but, the effort to affect the workaround is unusable! Enter, the customer advocacy role in the contact center comes in.
Prescription to Avoid Creating a Goldberg Situation – Taming CES in the Contact Center:
Contact Center personnel should take the customer advocate role and run alpha (internal test) and beta (limited external test) tests on suggested remediation steps for any given failure. Using results from the Contact Center tests, personnel can then provide quantifiable data to drive a go/no-go decision.
First put a CES measure in place. Benchmark historical performance by reviewing the fixes issued in the last year correlating customer success with the remediation. Perspective is important; strongly recommend the correlation exercise should be conducted by customer facing personnel and not the personnel designing the fixes/workarounds.
After the benchmark is established, negotiate a CES target with the Product Management team. This could look like:
CES 0 to 3 – acceptable effort, release workaround immediately
CES 3 to 6 – borderline effort, release with reservations, expect support volume to increase
CES 7 to 10 – too much effort, do not release, go back and reengineer the effort
Next time a failure is discovered and remediated, run it thru the test above; is it acceptable (CES 0 to 3)? Does it require resources from the contact center to assist consumers (CES 3 to 6)? Or is it onerous (CES 7 to 10)? Compile empirical data on CES as it relates to NPS, CSaT and temper those measures with the cost implications tomake the right decisions going forward.
Some borrowed wisdom to close: “Don’t be more precise than the subject warrants.” – Plato
The call center or customer service department has long been call the ‘canary in the coalmine’ for its ability to provide early identification and diagnosis of problems and issues impacting the satisfaction of customers.
Despite of numerous warnings most organizations don’t change, but rather convince themselves that ‘friction-less’ service is too difficult, expensive or just simply isn’t needed. We know intuitively that in the world of the customer experience all things are connected. This connectivity when viewed from the customer perspective, is vastly different than from the point of view of the organization.
Friction Produces Heat and Makes Customers Hot Under the Collar
Policies and procedures are all too often designed with the company in mind and not the customer, this creates friction. Forcing customers to repeat themselves has been cited as the number 1 frustration that customer have when dealing with brands. Yet the vast majority of multi-channel contact centers operate each channel as separate and distinct from the others. This results in siloed data an information. In operation this creates friction with the customer as the agent isn’t aware of what was entered into the IVR, or the chat or the email when the customer calls. The company may have saved money, by not integrating these channels. It could be suggested that it is customers who pay the price, but the brand pays a price as well; customers remember the difficulty the friction has caused them and that may reduce their loyalty and lifetime value.
“You Can Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later”
There is even a more basic cost to the organization and that is the cost to have agents capture duplicate information, over and over. Live agent time is expensive and should be conserved wherever possible. To waste minutes of your agents’ time, while wasting your customers’ time while frustrating the customer is a recipe for woe. On top of all of this, due to the siloed and fragmented nature of the resultant data, it is harder to make business decisions and to see trends. It is like that old Fram Oil Filter ad; “You Can Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later.”
So listen to the ‘canary’ and your customers. Invest in a fully integrated solution, remove friction from your customer interactions and begin to deliver the informed and knowledgeable Customer Experience you are striving to deliver.