Tips for outsourcing customer care during COVID-19
It’s late February, 2020. Place: Your office. Situation: You’re tasked with choosing a new outsourced partner for your organization’s customer care program. You have nine months to run a procurement process and get the program launched, and you’re ready to get your hands dirty.
Three months later – May, 2020. Place: Your living room couch. Situation: With the initial frantic scramble to transition operations to work-at-home followed by months of adjustments, you’ve almost forgotten you even started the outsourcing process in the first place, and next steps are uncertain. You know as much as we do about how the pandemic – and the subsequent economic impact – is going to play out in coming months.
So, what do you do? Just as it seems you’ve settled into the new quarantine normal, the conversation has shifted to re-opening. You’re at the point where decisions need to be made. Does outsourcing still make sense? What happened to your timeline? Should you hit the brakes or go pedal to the metal?
Here’s the thing – and you’re not going to love this answer – it depends. As a provider of outsourced support solutions ourselves, we have a clear window into the current state of customer care.
- Depending on their industry, some of our clients have seen dramatic drops in contact volume (domestic travel by personal vehicles dropped off the cliff in the pandemic, for example, impacting everything from subscription radio services to emergency roadside assistance).
- On the other hand, many have seen astronomical spikes in call volume, scaling their contact center teams up to unprecedented levels – eComm grocery, anyone?
- And some businesses, like travel companies, saw a huge initial spike in contact volume while travelers scrambled to get home followed by a precipitous drop as most leisure travel came to a screeching halt.
- Clients in other sectors, with enterprise-level tech support for instance, have remained fairly steady in terms of volume.
- We’ve even launched a couple of new projects despite these bizarre circumstances – we launched these complex care programs on time, with brand new clients headquartered outside of our region, and even outside our country – launching in a 100% at-home model for two programs that were being implemented 100% in brick and mortar prior to mid-March.
It’s clear that the contact center industry has felt the entire spectrum of effects.
But what does that mean for you?
Pumping the Brakes:
We get it. If the pandemic and quarantine have driven your volumes down and created a sea of uncertainty, stepping back on your procurement plans is understandable. For many organizations, all pre-COVID projections – from contact volume to annual revenue – are out the window. If you have shelved your 2020 RFP plans for now, this is the time to reassess priorities for any potential new partnership and determine how to bake those new priorities into your RFP when you do go to market. Redundancy and business continuity are the big obvious ones. Did the pandemic expose cracks in your current customer care solution, whether that is in-house or outsourced? Most customer support solution RFPs have always posed questions about redundancy and business continuity plans to assess how a potential partner might respond to a theoretical disaster. Well, we all have real-world experience in that now. Take a look at what worked, what didn’t work, what kept you awake at night for the past three months – and then start discerning how that will impact your assessment of a new partner when you DO go to market.
Pedal to the Metal:
The pressure cooker of the pandemic may have exacerbated the need for your business to get a new outsourced solution in place. Maybe your current BCP cracked when put to the test and you need to go forward without delay to get a new solution in place in case there is a second wave requiring quarantine. Maybe the strange circumstances drove volumes to new heights that you’re struggling to support – volumes that aren’t going to diminish any time soon. There are many, many reasons why getting your RFP process kick-started makes sense.
To save precious time, you can start with a solid RFP template for customer care solutions. Start with this and then customize it to your specific requirements.
We often say go slow to make haste: there are certain areas where rushing is not going to serve you well. Blasting out your RFP to a huge list of potential vendors is one of those circumstances. Take the time to get a very tight list of prospects who already are likely to be a good fit for your needs. Work your network – ask for referrals from your LinkedIn network, conference networks, industry associations, any consultants who owe you a favor. Start with a strong list of participants in the RFP, and you’ll be avoiding wasted time and effort.
Once you have recommendations, scrub those options for your specific needs: by region, business model (nearshore, onshore, offshore), language requirements, specializations, security requirements like PCI, etc. to double-screen the list. A little extra detective work is needed right now – you’ll have to check out their websites and online presence for evidence of the right fit. If you require an onshore partner with a PCI solution and the ability to provide backshift Spanish tech support, for instance, it may be worth the time to have a 15-minute discovery call to confirm your initial prospect’s offering, rather than sending out your RFP to five prospects only to have one of them decline to bid because they can’t meet the mandatories in the RFP.
Establishing a Response Timeline
Hunkered down at home, most of us would have forgotten what day it was if it wasn’t for Taco Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean deadlines have gone out the window alongside our social lives. The RFP response timeline is best established by reverse engineering from your desired go-live date. If that date was temporarily tossed out, you have some freedom here. However, if all systems are still go, then consider these factors:
First, working backwards from your estimated go-live date, it is pretty typical to assume 12 weeks for the implementation phase that begins once the Statement of Work has been signed. These are not typical times. Ask your respondents to identify best case scenarios and offer any strategies for condensing the timeline if you need a faster than normal implementation. Just a heads-up that legal and executive teams need to negotiate the contract – this can be a very lengthy process, for solid reasons. Can you condense that timeline with buy-in and commitment to dates from your legal team before you release the RFP? Then add the number of days or weeks it will take for your team to evaluate each RFP submission and make the final decision.
Add it all together and you have your proposed deadline for RFP responses. That said, we do recommend that you provide at least four weeks for participants to review, ask questions, and craft their responses. You want a customized response to ensure a comprehensive understanding of your potential partner, so this amount of time is essential. And, let’s be honest, at a moment when everything is just a little bit upside down, let’s agree that the more time you are able to allow here, the better.
Evaluating Your Customer Care RFP Responses
Gather your team virtually to score and evaluate RFP responses. Identify deal-breakers, differentiators, strengths and weaknesses, hard numbers and metrics. Although nothing beats a good old roll-up-your-sleeves, face-to-face session to go through all this information, this is the time to adapt. Collaboration is key. Use a quantitative scoring system to get on the same page – sometimes the winner will be obvious, other times it’s a process of elimination.