Contact Center Outsourcing: Setting the RFP Requirements

Feb 11, 2009 11:39 PM  By

There are many practical reasons why merchants decide to outsource their contact center services.

Maybe you’re doing it to handle seasonal spikes in call volume — or to provide 24-hour access for customers. Perhaps you’re doing it to meet an aggressive project time frame. Or you might even be doing it simply to reduce and control operating costs.

Whatever your reasons, it’s important to go about selecting an outsourcer carefully. There are a lot of third parties out there to choose from — and they all take different approaches to customer service. So if you end up going with one that’s a poor fit for your business, you will most certainly regret it.

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. In part two we covered how to go about drafting the first section of the request for proposal, or RFP: The overview.

Now let’s take a look at how to draft the second section of the RFP: The requirements.

RFP section two: the requirements

This section defines which services and resources are requested; requirements for how they might be delivered; and specific performance objectives to be met.

You have to understand the outsourcer’s general approach to fulfilling a need. You don’t want the outsourcer to simply say, “We can do it” — whatever “it” is. More important is the outsourcer’s explanation of how they will do it.

The RFP should not give detailed process flows or suggest approaches since your company is relying on the expertise of the outsourcer to bring innovative, best practice suggestions to the partnership. An outsourcer’s approach may be different from any you had previously considered – that can be either good or bad. It is up to your assessment team to determine if the outsourcer’s approach is an improved and viable approach.

You may ask the outsourcer to describe its approach to staffing, voice and data requirements, facilities, training, quality assurance, agent/system performance, call monitoring, queue requirements, monitoring technology, measurement, reporting, standardization/partnering and security.

You might also request specific information about staffing levels, managers/supervisor/team leaders, quality assurance, trainers, support personnel and agents.

What’s more, you may also want information about staffing ratios, including manager to supervisor, supervisor to agent, quality assurance to agent, trainer to agent, and support to agent.

Don’t forget to ask about current contracts, as this will help you determine the outsourcer’s ability to handle the additional workload. This will help you determine the outsourcer’s experience in terms of scope, complexity and duration of projects. It will also help you determine the quantity and quality of references that the outsourcer can provide.

Also be sure to learn as much as you can about the outsourcer’s facility, including its location, condition, layout, size, available parking, security and disaster plans.

Demographics should also be addressed in the RFP. For example, is there a skilled workforce in the area where the center is located and what is the current unemployment rate? What is the anticipated population growth for that area? Are there competing contact centers located in that area? What are the current wage rates for agents in that area? Is there public transportation so the agents can make it into work? You may even want to know about government assistance availability.

The RFP should cover telecommunications as well. For example, is the facility serviced by more than one central office? Is there a diverse routing scheme? What is the ease and cost of hookup? Who are the center’s existing telecommunications service providers?

And the RFP should also spell out payment terms, including whether there is a prompt payment discount and/or late payment penalty.

It’s also important to cover technical support – not just hardware and software support services, but also database management, information systems security, business continuity services and quality assurance.

Last, but certainly not least, it’s important to determine what financial issues the proposal must address. Are there specific price targets, and if so, what are they? How will the amount of services used be measured and what will the charges be? What will the charges be if the services consumed are higher or lower than what is contracted for?

What options do both parties have for terminating the agreement? How will performance levels be measured? Which services will be billed on a usage basis and which will be passed through directly? How will the bill be structured?

Next week we’ll take a look at how to develop a bid assessment model.

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