8 tips for choosing the right contact center for your business

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Customer service and outsourcing experts explain what companies should look for and ask when contracting a third party to handle their customer support.

More and more businesses are outsourcing their customer service to third-party contact centers. But before you hire someone else to handle your customer service and support, check out these eight tips from customer service and outsourcing pros.

1. Have a good sense of what you need, or want, before you start interviewing contact centers. Before you contract with a contact center, determine what kind of support of you need, advises Katie DeCicco, the CEO of Celebration Saunas. For example, “will you need 24-hour service? Do you need emails answered, online chat representatives or appointment scheduling?”

[ Related: 11 Tips for Improving Your Company’s Customer Support ]

2. Get references and speak with other clients. “Speak with current clients and ask them how the partnership is working and whether they would recommend them as someone to do business with,” says Ken Epstein, Executive Vice President of C3/CustomerContactChannels, a global provider of contact center services.

“One of the first things to look for is a proven track record in your industry or with your type of clientele,” adds Brandon Knight, vice president, Contact Center Optimization, Corvisa, a provider of call center software and cloud communications. So “look for a [contact center] that might be handling a successful competitor of yours,” he suggests. If they are doing a good job, “it proves they have the ability to hire, train and support the type of calls and customer interactions you’re likely to receive,” he says. “However, if they do serve companies similar to yours, be sure to find out if you will have dedicated agents and if they are willing to send agents to your location for training specific to your business.”

[ Related: 12 ways to improve the customer experience for online shoppers ]

3. Verify that they have the right people and resources to handle your customer service and support. “This means that the outsourcing provider’s staff skill set should meet your requirements as well as those needed by your customers,” explains Michael Mills, senior vice president, Global Sales and Solutions, CGS, a provider of call center outsourcing and business solutions. “These requirements can be technology certifications, language proficiency or prerequisite experience in your particular field.”

Also “consider how they [the people interacting with your customers] would fit into your organization as a whole,” says Rich Weborg, CEO, OneReach, a provider of custom voice and SMS applications. “You're outsourcing an important part of your company, so you need to ask yourself, ‘Do they represent our brand well? Do they do a good job of managing their own people and customers alike?’”

To determine this, ask to meet with or observe some of the people who would be servicing your account – and “interview the team leaders you would have on your account,” advises John Stieger, CMO, Wilke Global, a provider of customer service software. “As the day-to-day supervisors and coaches of the people actually talking to your customers they are the leaders who will make the greatest difference for your customers.”

4. Make sure contact center data can integrate with your CRM solution. “One of the most important criteria you should consider when selecting a good contact center is its ability to manage your customer database,” says Prabhath Sirisena, cofounder, Vesess, a provider of online business strategy and Web design. “Support is a main pillar of a successful business, and if the contact center can seamlessly integrate customer support data into your CRM, you will gain a more complete understanding of your customers, their pain points and their specific requirements.”

5. And don’t forget about social media integration. “DMG Consulting predicts that within the next few years social interactions with companies will equal phone interactions and 70 to 80 percent of them will be service oriented,” says Meeten Bhavsar, group vice president, Oracle Service Cloud, Oracle. Therefore, “when selecting a contact center, businesses [should choose one that can handle] social media as effectively as phone-based interactions [as] customers whose comments are not addressed in a timely fashion are no longer hesitating to change their loyalty to competitors.”

[ Related: 7 ways social media can improve customer satisfaction ]

6. Be strategic about location. “When choosing the right outsourced contact center for your business, location is everything,” says Mills. “This means you should be looking for a contact center in a location that best fits your infrastructure and customer needs. For instance, if you are a telecommunications company expecting to expand to Latin America over the next decade, an area in or near [there] may be the most strategic to leverage a contact center because of infrastructure and language requirements.”

[ Related: Midsize U.S. cities offer attractive alternative to offshoring IT ]

7. Discuss policies and procedures as well as security and privacy measures. “Ensure you understand how communication will be managed, from daily updates to overall planning and design of the program,” says Bob Furniss, customer care practice director, Bluewolf, a global consulting agency.

“Ask to see samples of the reports they provide and if they can make customizations for you or provide data in formats you specifically need,” says Knight. “Also, ask what metrics they use to evaluate agents and make sure they align with your priorities. If call resolution is more important to you than a short average talk time, make sure the firm will instruct and monitor agents accordingly.”

Also, be sure to “dig into the security and redundancy of their technologies and processes,” advises Knight. “How is your data stored and separated from other clients’ data to protect from fraud or data corruption? Do they have a documented and verifiable disaster recovery plan? Make sure the technologies and processes fit both your business needs and any regulatory standards your company must meet.”

8. Know what and how you will be charged. Before you sign on the dotted line, understand how much you will be charged and when. “Make sure the company you choose does not charge you for your customer's time on hold, and ask if they charge by rounding up to the next minute or up to the next second,” says DeCicco.

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