Vendor selection can make or break your outsourcing initiatives whether your company is new to outsourcing or highly experienced with vendor management.
Well-matched vendor partnerships will bring the value, efficiencies and quality service delivery that has made outsourcing a sound strategy for growth-oriented companies. On the flip side, incorrect vendor selection could lead to poor performance, high stress and higher than expected outsourcing costs.
So where do you start?
The Vendor Selection Process Includes Six Key Steps
- Define your business goals and requirements. Far too many companies fail to properly identify their specific goals or reasons to use outsourced call center vendors. Therefore, the attention paid to this first critical step often determines the success of the selection process and, ultimately, the outsourcing partnership. There has to be stakeholder consensus at your organization on why you’re outsourcing and what goals you are looking to achieve.
- Define your vendor management structure and process. It is essential to set expectations for vendor management at your company. Who manages the day-to-day performance of your vendor partners and how do you ensure results? What are your training processes? What are your performance expectations and service objectives?
- Research potential vendors. Start the search process only after you have clearly defined your internal goals and have set expectations for your outsourcing objectives and vendor management process. Without establishing the above first, it would be premature to search for vendors. There are thousands of vendors waiting to hear from you—just Google “call center vendors” and you’ll see. But do you want to canvass the industry hoping the right match will come along? Or would you rather be prescriptive and selective in your vendor search to ensure a perfect fit? You may want to tap external experts for their knowledge base of vendors and to get the right guidance and recommendations. Sending out a Request for Information (RFI) can help to narrow the list even further, but only send it to a pre-selected list of qualified candidates.
- Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP is not always necessary and far too many companies overkill the RFP process only to pick the lowest priced vendor or the wrong vendor. We all know that RFPs are not full-proof. But if you are going to issue an RFP, then pre-qualify the vendors so that you are not sending blind RFPs to a wide audience. The general rule is that every vendor that is involved in your RFP should have a legitimate chance to win and partner with you.
- Evaluation and due diligence. Whether or not you issue an RFP, your due diligence must be robust and thorough. Create an internal scorecard listing your most important criteria and score each vendor’s proposal against this. Validate each vendor’s process, people and past performance. Interview current and past clients. Conduct a site visit to get a better sense of the vendor’s culture, employee engagement, site-level operations, customer experience, performance management, staffing practices and other capabilities. And only visit the site(s) that you plan to use.
- Make your choice. Armed with detailed and objective information, along with a firsthand view of your top vendors’ operations, you can make your final selection with confidence that the outsourcer will provide value for your company.
Some Qualities to Consider When Selecting a Call Center Outsourcer
Undergoing the vendor selection process can be a revealing exercise and will give you a greater understanding of the qualities your outsourcing partner must have to succeed. The following are some criteria that can help you to separate best-in-class call center outsourcers from average performers.
- Range of services. Does the vendor have a broad enough range of expertise across verticals and outsourcing channels that you can rely on as your needs grow and expand? Carefully evaluate the vendor’s full suite of services and vertical expertise, and consider how they can solve problems for you near- and long-term.
- Reputation. Does the vendor have a positive track record—not only among clients, but within the call center industry? Verifying client references is a must. However, do a thorough reputation check by reviewing the vendor’s social media footprint. Check sites like Glassdoor.com to see if their call center agents and staff are leaving positive comments. Check the company’s Facebook page and YouTube channel to see how much the vendor cares about how they are viewed in the call center and broader business community.
- People. What does the vendor do for their people that other call center vendors don’t do? Given how low unemployment is today, attracting and retaining people is a growing challenge in our industry. So how does the vendor address this issue? How do they differentiate themselves in the marketplace? What training and mentoring programs are in place? How do they deal with career path and promotions? What perks and amenities do they offer their people?
- Company culture. We believe that the CEO drives culture. Therefore, meet with the CEO and interview her/him. Find out what the CEO’s vision is for the company and how they view culture. Is the vendor’s culture in line with your culture?
- Brand ambassadors. Does the vendor demonstrate that they will embrace your brand, culture and customer contact style? Will the vendor become an extension of your brand so that the experience is seamless for the end customer?
- Mutual fit. Remember, the vendor should be vetting you as much as you are vetting them. You don’t want the vendor to “yes” you then fail to deliver. You want a vendor who will be upfront and honest about their ability to solve your unique problems and outsourcing needs. Therefore, you need to be sure as a client that your business is a perfect fit for the vendor
- Nimble and flexible. All vendors claim to be flexible, but most of them are not. Ask the vendor’s references specific questions about how the vendor has proven to be a nimble and client-centric provider. And ask the vendor to give you detailed occurrences of how they proved to be reliable in situations where their client(s) required max flexibility.
- Data security and compliance. Is the call center compliant with industry- or country-specific standards, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, TCPA, SSAE, GDPR? Does the vendor offer staff training in security protocols? How often does the center conduct security audits of its systems and protocols?
- Communication. Clear and constant communication between the vendor and client management teams is vital to ensure that service standards are met and to prevent misunderstandings from escalating. Is it a flat organizational structure? Do you have access to site leadership if you want it? Make sure you do not get lost in a bureaucratic maze.
- Pricing. Reducing costs is the most common reason for outsourcing, but it’s best to avoid a narrow focus on obtaining the lowest price. Consider different pricing models and balance the costs against other factors such as quality, flexibility and experience to gauge the true value of the offering. Gain-sharing models and performance stipulations should be included in your contract.
- Vendor size. Some companies begin the selection process with the impression that bigger must be better. We recommend a “right-size” approach—picking vendors that view your business as an important enough opportunity that they will assign top resources to. It is a myth that only the biggest vendors in our industry are safe selections. Too many clients are still defaulting to big vendors, assuming that they are better. Totally false. In the call center industry, choosing the right-sized vendor who will PRIORITIZE you is key. If your account isn’t big enough for a really big BPO, you will get de-prioritized. Big BPOs have amazing sales pitches, but do you want to be just one of a thousand logos on their masthead? Watch the video below on why size matters in call center vendor selection.
- Location. Onshore, nearshore, offshore or a combination? Certain labor markets are highly saturated; therefore, it would be advisable to get employment and other data on the specific locations that the vendor is proposing.
- Financial stability. Make sure the vendor’s operation is financially stable and able to withstand temporary hurdles without disrupting your service operation.
- Agility. Will the vendor merely provide the services that are agreed-upon, or will they strive to continuously improve services and deliver value to the company?
- Adaptability. To stay abreast of fast-evolving technology, rising customer expectations and expanding communication channels, companies must be agile. Can the vendor flex and adapt to your changing business needs?
Outsource Smarter by Choosing the Right Vendors
Most companies and decision makers have limited time and resources for routine daily tasks, let alone scour the call center industry in search of vendors that fit like a glove. Vendor searches are time-consuming, expensive and don’t always deliver the desired results, no matter how foolproof your vetting process might be.
You should only invest time and resources on the most credentialed vendors for your business needs. But how do you find them in such a crowded vendor landscape in which there is an infinite number of vendors making similar promises?
Don’t risk your company’s reputation with a rushed or casual selection process. And don’t default to vendors “just because” of their size or other reasons.
Working with an experienced outsourcing expert who can guide your team through the selection process will ease the demand on internal resources and shorten the selection timeline. At CustomerServ, our call center industry expertise and extensive knowledge of the global vendor marketplace will ensure that you’re matched with an outsourcing provider who is the best fit for your short and long-term business requirements.