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Your Feet On The Street: BPO and Call Center Industry Insights

The Blind RFP

There are dozens of reasons why companies issue an RFP for call center services. But, what is the methodology used to construct the RFP recipient list? Which vendors are on the list and why? Has the client narrowed the list by pre-screening vendors? Or, is the RFP issuer simply casting a wide net to a multitude of suppliers? I’d like to explore the subject of blind vs. pre-qualified RFP distribution and distill different points of view.

For clients or buyers of outsourced call center services, it’s a matter of finding the very best vendors who can deliver results. And the RFP is a good way to carve out which vendors can successfully execute on the client’s customer service, sales, retention, chat/email, back office or other outsourcing needs.

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However, the process of issuing an RFP is resource intensive for clients. On the client side, the RFP captain(s) or members of the decision team are usually diverted from other critical tasks at the company and assigned to the RFP process. This can turn out to be a very expensive endeavor for corporations; therefore, the process must be implemented with great precision and efficiency in order to achieve the desired result of finding the best call center outsourcing partners.

For call center vendors, they know that the RFP is often required to win new business but not all vendors welcome an RFP, especially if it’s a blind RFP. And by that I mean that the RFP was sent without any real pre-qualification of the vendor to vet their capabilities beforehand. Call center vendors have to invest a significant amount of time, money and manpower in delivering a quality RFP response. Most call center vendors will deliberate on whether or not an RFP is “worth” responding to. And their decision to meaningfully participate or respectfully decline is based on many factors including the client logo, scope of work, potential deal size and their chances of winning. But most importantly, the vendor’s decision to respond is based on whether or not they have a strong relationship or any relationship with the client.

Some highly experienced and savvy outsourcing buyers like Amas Tenumah, former VP of Operations at Teleflora and the founder of says www.bettercxperience.com the following – “Almost every RFP I have initiated was meant to answer the question “what else is out there?” In other words the stable of options I already have relationships with look good but you never know because some mystery vendor might emerge. And to accomplish my sourcing objectives in the past, I utilized what I call spray and pray – throw out an RFP and hope some gem shows up.”

Amas brings up a very interesting point of view. He goes on to say “My view is when you are looking for a new vendor; you’re really looking for a second opinion or a better way of delivering great results. And RFP’s become the necessary evil because most outsourcing buyers don’t have a trusted adviser to help them navigate the market. I am of the mindset that the blind RFP is a bad way to accomplish your goals but I’m not sure if outsource buyers have many other ways to build awareness of their outsourcing options.”

Eric Burton, GVP of Care Shared Services at Time Warner Cable is a long tenured customer service executive and an experienced buyer of outsourced call center services. According to Eric – “In my opinion, if you don’t take the time to get to know prospective call center outsourcers when you don’t necessarily need a new partner, you will literally be flying blind when a need arises. Often times, this will result in simply giving more volume to an existing marginal performer because you don’t have time to properly vet new options. Ideally, you want to have two or three companies that you’ve spent some time with, maybe visited a center, and spent some social time with…this will help ensure that every recipient of your RFP is at least a contender, and in the end will change your RFP process from a shot in the dark to an opportunity to go deeper with potential partners you already know have something intriguing to offer.”

On Eric’s point, by limiting the number of RFP respondents, does the client run the risk of missing out on a truly great vendor? Highly unlikely if the pre-screening process is sound. If the client’s vendor management team does their homework, they can mitigate the possibility of not finding the best vendor(s) for their outsourcing needs. The call center industry is cluttered with vendors trying to get your attention and it’s challenging to pinpoint the best options. That’s why it’s essential to keep a strong pulse on the vendor landscape and to always keep an open mind to potential outsourcers who can be game-changers for you.

There’s another potential risk associated with sending a blind RFP that must be addressed. If an outsourcing buyer issues an RFP to a multitude of vendors, does that send the wrong message about the issuing company? Savvier vendors are vetting the client as much as the client is vetting them. In my experience most clients want their organization and their outsourced business to be attractive to potential vendors, which helps the client negotiate better terms. What if you “turn off” some great vendors by including them in an RFP blast that they won’t bother responding to?

By implementing a thorough vetting process before the RFP is sent, you may just increase your chances of finding the right partners. And you’ll reduce due diligence costs and lost productivity. You won’t have to divert key personnel from the frontlines of your company to read stockpiles of 100 page RFP responses. And you’ll keep from having to do vendor site visits to companies that really shouldn’t be on your RFP list in the first place.

Therefore, as an outsourcing buyer, if you come across a hidden gem, nurture the relationship even if you’re not looking for a new vendor at that moment. This way, when its RFP time, or simply time to find a better outsourcer, you’ll be steps ahead having already cultivated a great option or several stand-out providers ready to be further vetted.

The bottom line is that the much maligned RFP is here to stay. For outsourcers, you’ll have to determine if the juice is worth the squeeze and you’ll have to decide if your crack RFP response team should be deployed or not. For outsourcing buyers, many will continue to send RFPs to vendors who are “in the database” thereby taking your chances on finding good suppliers. This methodology comes with more negatives than positives in my opinion. While other clients will pre-qualify recipients and only send the RFP to a short-list and in my view, this is a better way to find vendors who can elevate your results and deliver a great customer experience.

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