What is a contact center statement of work (SOW) and how can it help to manage the relationship with the provider of your outsourced customer support?
You’ve heard it before – stress is the outcome of reality not aligning with expectations. And nothing takes a toll on relationships quite as quickly as stress. When outsourcing your company’s customer support – whether for the first time or the fifth time – the relationship is understandably complex. You simply can’t rely on an unwritten set of rules or assumptions or, sooner or later, that relationship will come under serious stress.
That’s where a formal Statement of Work (SOW) comes into play. The contact center SOW is the framework for your relationship. It’s a dynamic document that, like your partnership, requires time and attention.
TL;DR: When outsourcing your company’s customer service, you can’t solely rely on an unwritten set of rules or assumptions. That’s where a formal Statement of Work (SOW) comes into play.
Below we explore what it takes to build an effective contact center SOW.
The starting point of the SOW is a description of the project – i.e. a summary of the exact services that are being contracted. This should be followed by a clear breakdown of roles within the project:
- What do the management teams look like on either side of the table?
- Who serves as the primary point of contact?
- Who is authorized to make changes to the contract?
It’s straightforward information that will ensure that everybody is focused and on the same page. It also holds everyone accountable to the role they’re supposed to play.
The more mundane details of the SOW should be included here too: from billing and payment specifics, travel expenses, and term agreements to warranties, liabilities, insurance, compliance, and confidentiality.
Lay down the infrastructure/tech responsibilities as well – that includes desktop equipment, software applications, database access, telephony, redundancy solutions, and more. What integrations and licenses are needed? Who is responsible for the costs of licensing specific tools/programs? How often are updates to be rolled out? Once again, this should all be fairly standard information, but making sure you’re on the same page is critical so that nothing is overlooked and expectations are aligned.
Get all this set in stone and out of the way before diving into the more sensitive details.
Clearly Define Your Most Critical Success Measures
Building out KPIs that accurately represent what success looks like to your organization is probably the single most important thing you are going to do in the SOW. Your customer support partner is going to focus their time and resources on meeting these targets. You better be sure they are aiming at the right things.
Here’s a true story: we had a client in the luxury automotive space. We were supporting their customers in the North American theatre of their global operation. For 27 months straight, we were green on every KPI in the SOW … and then they fired us. How come? Because we didn’t know until the waning days of our relationship that our client was being measured by their head office in Europe on one KPI above all others: the scores on their post-contact surveys – a metric that didn’t even appear in our SOW. With that painful learning experience under our belts earlier in our evolution, you can bet that now we start with what success measures are most important at the most senior levels of the client organization and work from there to build the KPIs.
Set Strong Parameters Around Forecasting
Forecasting will be another critical piece of this puzzle: accurate forecasts inform the strategy around staffing and allocation of skills and human resources as well as the strategy around deploying channels and AI. The SOW should lay out the responsibilities associated with gathering historical data and determining future volume. As the project continues, this will become a collaborative process. In addition to establishing responsibilities, the SOW should establish contingency processes (and compensation adjustments/exclusions) for situations when contact volume exceeds forecasts and when situations where forecasted volume doesn’t materialize.
Leverage Reporting, Analytics to Elevate Partnership
Reporting and analytics are essential for creating a culture of continual improvement. The SOW will outline exactly what and how often metrics are to be reported and analyzed. But in a true strategic partnership, you will want to go beyond a responsibility to provide operational data to assigning accountability for bringing insights and recommendation on bigger picture strategic initiatives. Making time to discuss how your data relates to the customer experience and customer journey on a regular basis will be essential.
Build in Big Picture Targets with a Risk & Reward Model
While your vendor needs to walk the walk and be accountable to the contracted service level, there does need to be a framework of incentives and penalties in place in the scenarios of exceeding or falling short of projected KPIs and other measurement scores. Sometimes this will be reflected in the pricing model you agree upon, such as a transactional versus hourly model. As your business relationship evolves and grows, so too may this framework of risk and reward.
Keep It Evergreen: Adjust and Realign
Because the contact center SOW is a roadmap, which will need to be adjusted every time you and your partner go down a new road together, there needs to be regular communication to ensure alignment of expectations. That communication should be continuous- from day-to-day monitoring to weekly and monthly reports to more structured quarterly business reviews (QBR). During a QBR, you will directly address how the previous quarter impacts what the SOW should look like going forward. Do metrics need to be adjusted? Are service levels being executed? When big decisions need to be made, these changes can be reflected in addendums to the SOW.
Building the Contact Center SOW
Essentially, the SOW takes your relationship and turns it into a contract. The strategy you bring to the development of your SOW can make the difference between a long-term, mutually beneficial strategic partnership founded in trust or a short-term vendor/buyer relationship where stress is inevitable. That’s why we always say “slow down to go fast” in the development of the contract. Get that SOW right and you’re on the road to success.
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