Few of us in the call center services industry – whether on the corporate side or on outsourced provider side – enjoy RFPs. They are difficult and time-consuming to write, respond to and review.
But they remain a call center services mainstay because they perform at least two critical functions: they help companies come to consensus on their call center priorities; and, of course, they enable the company to select qualified call center outsourcers for more in-depth examination and final selection. They also help call center vendors understand if they should, or should not, compete for the potential client’s business.
We receive call center RFPs frequently and have developed the ability to quickly categorize them into roughly three types: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Bad RFPs are fundamentally misguided and do not achieve the aim of distinguishing the right call center for a given company from an inappropriate one. They ask the wrong questions and fail to ask the right ones.
Ugly RFPs tend to demand information that can’t be provided (“How many agents will you have on staff next year?”; “What will your average talk time be when talking with our customers?”), they are unclear on their call center vision, they tend to be overlong and repetitive, and they frequently have a tight deadline that is difficult if not impossible to meet, preventing the outsourcer from giving the RFP full consideration.
Bad and ugly RFPs share a common fault: they require a price quote but do not provide call volume projections, without which it’s impossible to figure out costs, staffing resources, hours of coverage and other pertinent calculations, all of which are requested. We recently reviewed an RFP that did not include call volume data yet asked for our “staffing strategy” for their program.
Fortunately, there are plenty of good RFPs (download our call center services RFP Template here), and they too share common characteristics. Let’s examine them.
Good RFPs begin with a company profile and a call center program overview that gives the prospective service provider a clear flavor of who the client is, what its brand is all about and the vision driving its outsourced customer service or B2B lead generation strategy. This overview includes details on the program’s scope, including details on call volume and times of the day, week, month or year when call volume spikes.
It also includes details on the company’s quality assurance expectations and program KPIs. For example, if the RFP is for inbound call center solutions, it should include expectations regarding pick-up time, average talk time and first-time resolution. This enables the outsourced call center to draw up a program to meet these needs, with attendant costs.
Rather than starting the question portion of the RFP for call center services with specific inquiries, the good RFP tends to initially ask the responding call center open-ended questions, such as for a brief profile of itself and also its general strategy for meeting the client’s requirements. This allows the call center to discuss its proposal from a overall prospective, putting the detailed information that follows into a strategic framework.
Good RFPs let the call center talk about its personality and work environment. This allows the prospective client to discern whether the call center is a good cultural fit.
Good RFPs put the outsourcer on the spot: they ask for specific performance measurements for which the call center will be held accountable, filtering out call centers unable to deliver what the client needs.
Examples of specific, accountable questions:
- Can you commit to answering 80 percent of our incoming calls within 20 seconds?
- Can you provide us with both a dedicated team of agents, during periods of high call volume, and switch to shared agents teams when volume is low?
- Will you provide us recordings of all calls you handle for us?
- Will you commit to monthly (or twice monthly) calibration sessions?
- What uptime guarantee will you give us?
- Can you handle ad hoc reporting requests?
- How quickly can you respond to change requests?
- Can we participate in hiring of new agent team members and account managers?
Good RFPs ask many questions about quality assurance and how it is delivered.
Good RFPs are comprehensive and cover not only program performance but also the call center’s IT infrastructure, call center software, disaster recovery plan, reporting capabilities (including samples) and agent training and experience.
The good call center outsourcing RFP includes detailed information about the client’s call handling and routing processes, ensuring that the call center and client are fundamentally compatible.
And, finally, the good RFP asks for client references.
Done the right way, an RFP will set companies on the right course for selecting an outsourced call center services vendor that can do everything the company needs and also shares common values and outlook that will make for a long and successful partnership.
Mark Fichera, CEO