A Contact Center Manager Without A Contact Centre: Guest blog from Paul van Ladesteijn

Many organisations outsource their customer contact to an outsourced contact center. However, this does not mean that the customer service ceases to be the responsibility of the client. On the contrary, it is important to stay in control. After an organisation has chosen a suitable outsourcer, they need to remain involved to manage the outsourcer and build a partnership with them. This is the role of a Vendor Manager. The Vendor Manager is a contact center manager without a contact center.

Three success factors
When outsourcing a contact centre three conditions are necessary:
• First, all processes must be clearly described and mapped. This includes the processes that have been outsourced.
• Second, follow the application of a management model, such as ISO18295, COPC or a private model. An operating model provides the necessary management structure of the facility contact center.
• Third, have a strategic vision regarding the customer contact. What value has the customer contact? How does it contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s goals? How should this customer contact continue to develop? The ‘translation’ of this strategic vision into operational goals and principles when outsourcing, is one of the challenges of the Vendor Management.
These three things have to be in order, because:
“If you’re going to outsource chaos, you get outsourced chaos …”

The Vendor Manager has a daunting task. Not only does a new relationship with the chosen outsource contact center need to work, it has to evolve into a close mutual partnership and this must happen in such a way that the relationship can be unbundled. After all, the relationship will at a later stage end; developing a good exit plan is one of the tasks of a Vendor Manager. Another part of the Vendor Manager’s role is to shape the change management. During the contract, and the subsequent relationship, the business will change constantly as new channels, products or services will occur. Ultimately, these changes need to be well managed. This requires consultation, good communication and the results need to be attractive to both parties (win-win).

There are many similarities in managing an outsource contact center and a private in-house contact center. There are also important differences. Managing an outsource contact center is primarily about controlling output. How the outsource contact center achieves the results is less relevant. What matters is that results are achieved. The results need to be clearly explained in the management reporting to the Vendor Manager. The relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) are: customer satisfaction, quality (first contact resolution and critical errors), service level and any related matters, such as process-generated leads, processed transactions etc.

Whereas an in-house contact center manager measures all kinds of efficiency KPIs, such as cost per call, occupancy rate and average talk time (AHT), this is not of interest to a Vendor Manager. The cost per call is agreed and fixed in the contract. The only efficiency KPI that is relevant to a Vendor Manager is the budget, the total subcontracting costs. Often within the contract are various types of customer contact interactions with different price tags. An outsourcer will only consider call avoidance or shifting traffic to cheaper channels such as social media and the internet, if they are encouraged by the Vendor Manager.

Another relevant KPI is attrition. If attrition is low, it means that agents tend to stay longer with the outsource partner. The longer they work there, the more experienced they are. A low attrition rate says something about the quality of the facility contact center.

SLA management
Another task of the vendor management is managing the SLA, the Service Level Agreement. A
SLA is an agreed contract between the supplier and the client. If expected results are not achieved, contract penalties apply. However, penalties are at odds with the development of a genuine partnership. Create good cooperation by “old-fashioned relationship techniques” including give and take, mutual trust and open communication. The Vendor Manager should use good judgement and smooth the relationship by using both a “stick” and a “carrot” approach to achieving the desired results.

What can a Vendor Manager do to create the desired partnership?
• Organise regular consultations with the outsource partner not only on the progress but also about quality improvement.
• Every now and then have a buzz session to discuss developments, new situations and their solutions.
• Jointly work on an annual quality plan.
• Regularly listen (side-by-side) at the outsource contact center to the agents. Monitor the quality and customer friendliness of the customer contact. It is motivating for the agents and it shows your engagement with their tasks.

Wanted: Vendor Manager
The Vendor Manager is the linch pin between the organization and the facility contact center. The Vendor Manager is a contact center professional with strong communication and negotiation skills. Are you considering outsourcing your customer contact? First, go looking for a good Vendor Manager.

Contact: Paul van Ladesteijn Email: paul-cx@kpnmail.nl

With many thanks to Jo Davies of Davies Hickman who helped with the translation and gave, as always, wonderful input.