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Outsourcing with the right call center partner

Looking for tips to repair a difficult outsourcing relationship or how to select a call center outsourcer? Read advice from call center expert Donna Fluss in this expert tip.

We use an outsourced call center service to qualify the incoming business-to-customer (B2C) sales leads. We are now with our second call center service, and this one is as frustrating as the first. Both keep an unacceptable percentage of our calls on hold (20% for more than one minute). Both have trouble following our simple, but detailed, script.

Our call center is an important element of our growth opportunity, and we really want to find a quality vendor who truly wants to partner with us. Can you offer some ideas for finding and selecting a vendor that "gets it?"

Your issue is very serious because your call center outsourcers are negatively impacting your bottom line and the perception of your company. Unfortunately, your situation is not unique and this is an issue that I have encountered on a number of occasions. Below are some ideas.

Selecting an outstanding outsourcer for the call center

There are some excellent and highly-motivated outsourcers in the market. (There are also quite a few who do not live up to their promises.) It is best to address these issues at the outset, before you sign a deal with any outsourcer. One of the most important components of a productive relationship with an outsourcer is the service level agreement (SLA). Many people think that drafting an SLA is a waste of time, but it is not. A well-drafted SLA is absolutely essential to setting and achieving expectations on both sides. If you treat the SLA as a positive document and include rewards for outstanding performance as well as penalties for non-compliance, you will be on the right track, particularly if you have a way of accurately measuring adherence.

Even before negotiating a final SLA, I suggest that you undertake a thorough outsourcer selection process. Draft a detailed request for proposal (RFP) that reflects all of your call center needs and wants and include a draft of your SLA. (Let prospective outsourcers know what you will expect from them.) Once you know what you want, it's time to start calling outsourcers to pre-qualify them.

Create a list of five to 10 qualifying questions based on your RFP and find five outsourcers who say they can do the job. Then, even before you issue an RFP, call two or three references for each outsourcer. If their references are strong, then send them the RFP and go through a formal selection process. This will take some time, but will enable you to find an outstanding partner who is dedicated to your success. If you're looking for a good list of outsourcers, DMG Consulting offers an industry report on North American Contact Center Outsourcers that is very helpful.

Some outsourcers feel that their clients push them so far down on price that it's barely worth it for them to take on the business. Price is important, but performance and effectiveness are more critical. Leave your outsourcer with some breathing room on price and they will be more committed to the success of your call center.

Fixing a bad outsourcer relationship

There are ways to improve your current relationship, although what can be done depends upon your contract and SLA. Here are a few ideas for you:

1. Install one of your call center managers at the outsourcer's site.
2. Send in your own trainers (even if it's their responsibility) and retrain their staff.
3. Set up a quality assurance process and call in frequently.
4. If you have a service-level agreement (SLA), insist that they adhere to it.
5. Have daily review meetings with the outsourcer regarding performance.
6. Insist on the right to select and reject call center agents, and then go to their site and do it.
7. Consider providing financial incentives – yes, it will cost you more, but the benefits could far exceed the costs.

If your issues are with an offshore call center outsourcer, then the remedies will be different.

This was last published in November 2006

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