This week we feature an article by Darcy Alexander who shares a checklist to guide us through the process of selecting the best CX vendors for our customer experience initiatives. When embarking on a customer experience (CX) change initiative, there are few decisions more critical to success than selecting the right vendor. Get it right, […]
This week we feature an article by Darcy Alexander who shares a checklist to guide us through the process of selecting the best CX vendors for our customer experience initiatives.
When embarking on a customer experience (CX) change initiative, there are few decisions more critical to success than selecting the right vendor. Get it right, and you give the initiative the very best chances for success. Get it wrong and, at best, you are in for a tortuous journey with an uncertain outcome – you may even be forced to restart the process at twice the cost.
Once seen as a competitive advantage, CX is now evolving into a survival imperative that is especially applicable in the demanding world of telecoms. A world in which service provision is expected without interruption at any point and the customer experience is expected to be delivered seamlessly and intuitively.
It is easy for CX professionals to be overwhelmed when they seek support from CX solutions as they often find themselves surrounded by countless vendors offering “better, smarter and faster” solutions. CX Network has comprised these checklists to help and advise telecoms firms on how to select the best CX vendors for their company and secure financial backing for their CX initiatives from stakeholders.
Know your limits
CX programs, especially widespread ones that cut across divisional boundaries, have the potential to engender all sorts of naysayers from across the business, so lobbying allies and garnering support is part of the successful roll-out.
The stance your business takes on CX will determine how you approach vendor selection. Your company and stakeholders can fall anywhere along the spectrum from CX champions who appreciate the process and allocate sufficient funding, to the other end, where because they fail to spot any direct results, they deem it pointless and a waste of funding. This awareness is highly valuable because it informs your choice of projects; do you need to implement a program designed to prove the case for CX, or should it be a magic fix to a pressing problem? You may need to figure out who are the main blockers and choose a project close to their hearts. Whoever you’re trying to convince, try to link your CX program to the business objectives.
Map out your journey
Establish a timeline and define your goal/s and philosophy, plan your strategy, create realistic targets and decide if you want to focus on quick-wins or long term ROI. Are you looking for a point-solution or an enterprise-wide platform, will you embark on your journey via an invitation to tender (ITT)? Know the difference between what you need and what you want, and know your bottom line.
Importance and performance score formulas
Use a scale to assign importance values. If a unanimous decision is not possible, accumulate everyone’s score into an average – then you know which aspects are mission-critical and which are simply nice to have. Then, assign a “performance value” for how each vendor performs on every requirement. To calculate the total score: combine the performance and importance value by multiplying the individual importance value by the vendor’s performance value. Leslie Cottenje, CEO of Hello Customer emphasizes the importance of stress testing AI as most vendors are likely to assert they have the strongest capabilities. “Find a way to quantify and qualify how well it really works.”
Potential risks and liabilities
What will happen if unforeseen costs are encountered? Who will be responsible if government regulations are violated? Whose insurance will cover contract workers? Get ahead of risk management before it strikes.
Reliability and stability
Good suppliers deliver on their promises, on time and within budget. Look for suppliers who have been in business for a while without changing firms every few years. Reputations always have a backstory, trust reputable indicators. If you notice that some elements of the project are arriving ahead of schedule and out of sequence, this could reveal that your vendor is short on orders and needs to accelerate cash receipts.
Distanced suppliers require careful planning if onsite support is a requirement. If you need face-to-face interaction in the planning stages and fast resolution in the implementation phase, distanced suppliers could cause a real problem. Remember to factor in differing time zones or a requirement for 24 hour support. It might be worth finding a comparable supplier with localized support systems that are closer to home.
How stable is the vendor’s technology? Is it robust enough for your scale and complexity of operations? Does the vendor have a proven track record with your legacy systems? Consider the number of critical APIs that are embedded. Double the APIs – quadruple your problems! Leslie Cottenje notes that it is important to question: how real is the demo? Demo environments are at risk of being engineered to appear perfect. Always ask to do a test with your own data, for instance, in real life you may not always have data that is of good integrity, how will the platform fare then? Also in regards to textual data, test in several languages, not just English.
Onboarding lead time
Lengthy onboarding times attached to some of the larger CX platforms have caused many in telecoms to lose their appetite to pilot and experiment in the name of customer experience. Leslie Cottenje explains that newer technologies can have a short as a five-day setup; this reduces the barrier to entry as there is more flexibility to adapt to the business’ needs and run small pilots across departments.
Has this vendor worked with organizations of your size? They may have previously handled a 100 seat contact center, but they may not have the capability to handle one of 1,000, or 10,000. Considerations must also be made if they are a large enterprise and you are much smaller. Vendors must have a realistic, positive attitude towards your brand – they should be eager to work with you and help grow your business. If you are not important to them, you could end up second best if they have demands from ‘more important’ customers.
Less is sometimes more
Relying on only one vendor can be risky – not everyone is great at everything. Relationships can sometimes be hard to maintain and because the customer/supplier balance of power shifts as the project progresses, rifts can appear – so consider your ‘backup’. But be careful of engaging too many vendors – it is more than just cutting administration costs: closer relationships with fewer vendors allows you to work together to control costs and deliver seamless projects.
Value for money
Price is often a factor, but “the lowest price is not always the best value for money” – ‘Buy Cheap, Buy Twice’ – strike a balance between cost, reliability, quality and service.
Communication style, service & philosophy
Every organization has a philosophical culture and style of communication. Do yours match? Do you share the same vision for what the end goal looks like? If you are a company that believes in transparency and your vendor prefers to keep most information private that could become a cause for contention.
Create your shortlist
Refer to recommendations, reviews and compare each supplier. Talk to friends or associates in similar industries who you trust for honest vendor reviews. Does the vendor have proven case studies in your sector? Remember, not all experience is fungible. Most vendors’ websites will have vanity pages highlighting the great work they have done with a variety of customers. Ask your contact about adherence to timescales, budgets and SLAs.
If you can, visit their offices and watch how they operate in person – seeing how things work internally can inform both businesses how they can best work together. You can also gain valuable insights behind the scenes, away from their salespeople. Check if they have the depth in their squad to support you around their other clients. Overtrading is not unusual, question their key staff turnover and look on Glassdoor to see what their employees are saying.
Ensure that your supplier is not at risk of suddenly going out of business, do they have a steady cash flow and the ability to deliver products when you request them? What is their funding model? Many tech players are funded by venture capital – what round are they currently on and when is the next round due? Are they hitting their funding KPIs? If they are self-funded, do they have the capacity to handle your project?
Negotiate terms and conditions
Your business’s reputation may be judged by your supplier’s labor practices. Choose wisely, find the right fit for you, and negotiate what your business needs are. Know beforehand what you are willing to negotiate on and what you are not.
Maintaining great partnerships
Try to empathize with your vendor. Consider what areas you think are most important to them, their risks and concerns – vendors can be a driving force behind your success and be potential partners. Ideally, the relationship is collaborative, not adversarial.
The ever-growing necessity for CX is undeniable. Whatever your chosen strategy, selecting the right vendor is irrefutable. Whether it be by implementing technology to enhance your customer’s experience or gaining insights, your vendors can be crucial to your company’s success.
Darcy Alexander is a content writer for the CX Network. CX Network is an online community focused on building an intelligent enterprise.
For more articles from Shep Hyken and his guest contributors go to customerserviceblog.com.
Read Shep’s latest Forbes article: 20 Ways To Create An Amazing Customer Experience In 2020
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