Contact Center Outsourcing: How to Draft the RFP

Outsourcing your contact center services is one of the most critical business decisions you’ll ever make. It’s a jungle out there, and with so many third parties offering such a wide range of services and capabilities, it’s a common mistake to sign a contract with an outsourcer that’s a poor fit for your business. And once you’ve done that, it’s hard to back out – not to mention the damage that it can cause to your customer service.

In part one of this series, we covered the practical reasons why companies decide to outsource and the factors that can contribute to imperfect outsourcing partnerships.

Now let’s suppose you’ve worked your way through that process: You’ve determined for certain that outsourcing is right for your organization; you’ve convinced upper management that this is the right way to go; you’ve accurately assessed your outsourcing requirements; and you’ve done a thorough job of evaluating vendors that will make a good fit with your business.

Now we move into the next stage: writing the request for proposal, or RFP.

An RFP has two basic sections – the overview and the requirements. The overview section is where you describe who you are, your customer contact history and your objectives for outsourcing. This section also describes the basics of your project, timeline, proposal format and submission requirements.

The second section of the RFP is where you list all of your customer contact outsourcing performance requirements. This section defines what must be addressed if your company’s needs are to be met, and specifies those elements that the outsourcer should elaborate on in its proposal.

A look at the RFP overview

Begin with a few paragraphs describing your company. Some of the questions to be answered include:

–In what industry is your company?
–What is the unique competitive positioning of your company?
–Who are your company’s major competitors?
–What is the profile of your company’s customers?
–What has been your company’s performance over time (growth rate, stock performance, etc.)?
–How big is your company (revenues and employees)?
–What is the geographic span of your company?
–What is your company’s growth strategy?
–Customer contact orientation

This section should describe your company’s current involvement with customer contact. If no customer contact operation exists, then you should describe your company’s level of familiarity with customer contact and/or the level of commitment from senior management. If a contact center is operating, then you company should focus on what’s missing from the existing operation.

Questions to ask yourself include: Does your company have an existing customer contact operation? If yes, how long has it been operating?

Describe the current management team and organizational structure. What is lacking in the existing operation? What currently works with the customer contact operation?

Objectives and rationale

Your company’s customer contact objectives should drive the design, functionality and technology for the outsourcer. It is critical that everyone understands what your company is trying to accomplish through the customer contact operation. In considering customer contact objectives, both your company and the outsourcer need to keep in mind the intended customers and benefits to those customers.

You should also describe the purpose of the RFP. Why are proposals being solicited? What initial criteria must an outsourcer meet in order to respond? What outcome or effect does your company intend or desire from outsourcing the selected activities and resources?

In addition, the overview section might contain the following:

–Introduction: Provide a succinct synopsis of the project, its schedules and intended results.
–Evaluation process: What criteria will be used to evaluate outsourcers and their response? The more specific, the better, since it will help potential outsourcers focus their proposals on the items of greatest importance to your company.
–Timetable: Provide a timetable for the overall project including receipt of proposals, outsourcer selection and implementation dates. –Definition of terms: It is very important that the RFP clearly define each and every term used. List the terms and provide definitions. For performance criteria or other measurements, show how the value is calculated.
–Proposal format: This section specifies how the outsourcer proposals are to be formatted for submission.
–Proposal submission requirements: When is the proposal due? To whom should it be submitted?

Next time we’ll cover the second part of the RFP: The requirements.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D, is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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