New Reality – Choosing a Supplier Without a Site Visit?
Over the past few months we all have worked our way through times that none of us expected and tried to adapt to a challenging new normal. After several months we are sorting out how we conduct our lives and business with COVID hanging over our heads.
Any workplace that involves many people working indoors in close proximity to one another for extended periods is being rethought. All of us who make our living in customer service knew that the contact center would have to adapt, and we have.
But as time goes on and companies find themselves needing to launch relationships with new contact centers, do we all need to rethink the time-honored tradition of the site visit?
Arrive and get settled in the nicest conference room. After a few overview slides, a tasty baked treat, and introductions it’s off on the tour! Meet some supervisors, examine the break room, admire the room of metal boxes with blinking lights, chat with a few agents, and we’re back to the conference room for a deep dive into the proposal. Listen to a few calls with another program and then agree on the next steps before heading out to travel to the next site.
Why has the site visit been a universal part of choosing a new partner? What do we expect to achieve? Nearly every visit includes four key themes:
LEADERSHIP ALIGNMENT: Meeting the cross-functional leadership of a site or organization, and understanding their vision and approach is important. Oftentimes prior to visiting an operation, you have really only engaged a small part of the team that you might entrust with your customer relationships.
TECHNOLOGY: Technology has long been an essential enabler for contact centers. On-site has been the chance to review equipment and software and meet the technology team face to face.
PLANS AND PROCESSES: What process does a typical implementation follow? How is recruiting, training, and coaching handled? These are key enablers of any customer care operation.
PEOPLE AND CULTURE: Most important perhaps is meeting the people who make things run every day – agents, supervisors, and quality leads. Those are the folks who determine the kind of experience that your customers have. They will become real subject matter experts over time as they work to become an extension of your business.
Can that be done now?
You have probably spent several months avoiding groups of people. Your company has adopted travel restrictions. So can you really select a new contact center partner or should you wait until things ‘return to normal?’
We would argue that it is entirely possible to run a successful selection process without a site visit, with a few key elements to consider:
- The world may stay this way for a while. If your business situation indicates a need for a new supplier it may be some time (months? Maybe even years?) until your comfort level or company policy allow a traditional approach. Engage the process and decision in the current reality.
- Have a series of focused, specific meetings. Rather than having one in-person meeting, take advantage of the chance to have individual virtual sessions with the company you are evaluating. In a single, longer site visit meeting some elements of the potential relationship may not get the attention they deserve – set up separate meetings on specific topics on different days. Without the pressure of travel, you can take the time you need.
- Engage more of your team. Use the lack of travel expense to have more of your team join the meetings to offer their perspective. Rather than choosing a few people to represent all of your needs, take advantage of the chance to get broader engagement – you may get a much more detailed engagement having more specialized conversations.
- Do the reference checks. In many cases, we know that the clients who agree to serve as references are not contacted or only get perfunctory questions. There is no better indicator of how a team will perform in the future than how it has performed in the past. Meaningful discussions with those who have firsthand experience is irreplaceable. And feel free to add to the list your prospective partner offers!
- Some topics have changed forever. While technology is absolutely essential to a customer care operation, the shift to the cloud has left very little ‘on-premise.’ With CRM, enabling software and now telecom increasingly hosted there is simply not that much to see! And with working from home likely to be in place for some time it will not be quite so meaningful to ‘walk the floor’ to chat with team members or see the cafeteria!
- Ask for specifics. People and relationships are obviously essential to building trust and confidence. While you may have to give up some of the ‘feel’ of the firsthand relationship that you can get in a visit we encourage you to replace that with a deeper dive into the potential structure of your potential team. It is perfectly reasonable to ask that your potential team be identified – from team leads up through the CEO. Meet individually with them and have meaningful conversations. It may be via Zoom but engagement with the actual team you would work with may be a better basis for a decision and healthy relationship than one strictly with sales and senior leadership.
The first half of 2020 has forced so many of us and our families to adapt. At the same time the service experience and the contact center have never been a more important connection point for consumers and patients. We applaud the future Stafford clients who are moving ahead with a RFP or supplier selection process in a new way. Let us know if you would like to get to know Stafford virtually!
Contact us today for more information.