What does it take to be considered a customer experience expert? Try living on three continents (14 cities), supporting dozens of companies (public and private), and leading teams covering some of the largest contact centers in the world. That's what Donald Crosslin has done.
From starting as an entry-level engineer to leading global teams, Mr. Crosslin built a career that made him a desirable asset at all levels.
"We built the contact center for Home Loan Center from the ground up. They were the largest VOIP call center that Cisco had ever done at the time. We were even the first group to use their unified messaging for CX teams."
In today's customer experience environment, one of the best experiences delivered comes from some of the largest airlines. In 2018, American Airlines rolled out an app that allows flight attendants to offer passengers a "gesture of goodwill" such as air miles when there are issues on the flight, like the entertainment system not working. Their goal is to improve experiences and make sure everything is a bit less painful for the customer.
Moreover, behind the scenes, if you call American Airlines, they know who you are, your flight details, behaviors and more, based on your phone number. They even know if you were browsing on their site and can predict your reason for calling. It feels very fluid. The graphic below shows just a tiny fraction of the sources airlines use to enhance customer experiences.
"When it comes to technology, I prefer to focus on solutions that the customer doesn't see. Those things on the back end that improves the customer experience without them even knowing it's there."
Airlines have optimized their backend system, leveraging the available data to know you and your needs.
When evaluating a company, it is vital to remove all bias from the discussion. In my early career, I went through a consulting training called Kepner-Tregoe. There are tons of these resources in the marketplace, but this one had you do root cause analysis with the following process:
The purpose of this process is to find the root cause, so you're not fixing symptoms. Doing this in a call center requires you to avoid opinions and focus on what is happening. First, sit next to an agent for the first few hours of the day for a week. Second, look at the available data to see what is going on from the customer's perspective. Finally, go to the CXO level and ask, "what do you think the problem is?" and work your way down through leadership.
"You would be surprised how much of a disconnect there is between customer perception of their experience and the company's perception of the experience they are providing."
In a Stackla survey, 92% of marketers said they believe most digital content they create resonates as authentic with consumers. However, only 51% of consumers believe that brands create content that resonates as authentic. A similar disconnect in perceived experience is prevalent in both online and offline environments.
The next step is to collect and aggregate data based on the CEO's goals. This phase requires a data scientist to create a series of questionnaires to get you sufficient information to understand what the customer truly thinks. These shouldn't just be multiple choice. They should require you to fill in your own words or free text to give your true feelings verbatim. Send this out to a random subset of your customers. Machine learning techniques such as sentiment analysis can then help determine how customers perceive the brand experience by processing the words and phrases.
Once you see potential issues, take the entire customer team (agent, supervisor, manager) and follow the problem engagement all of the way through. Not just their experience when they called but also their web activity. For example, how long did they spend on your help section before they Googled, "how do I get in touch with a live person at Company XYZ?"
Companies like Amazon will take one challenging customer experience and get every VP in a room once a month to evaluate the breakdown, what needs to be fixed, and design a solution. Resolving these issues is particularly important with emotional experiences like a mom buying diapers or baby food. There is a great story about how Jeff Bezos taught Amazon workers the "5 whys root cause analysis."
After an Amazon worker was injured, Bezos went to the whiteboard and started writing questions to drill down to the root cause of the problem. The likely root cause was that the associate needed a table that wasn't available at the workstation, and providing a table would eliminate the injury ever happening again. The takeaway here is that there may always be a straightforward solution to even the most challenging customer problems if you follow the experience from start to finish.
Mr. Crosslin recounted a fascinating experience while working in the wireless space. The company's NPS scores were dropping significantly compared to the competition. They looked at their reputation and CSAT issues. They did a deep dive into the data and saw that they were mismatching personality types. The result was low scores even though the agent was doing everything correctly during the call.
There is no secret when it comes to regional stereotypes in the United States.
It doesn't mean you should match northeastern customers with a northeaster agent. You start by evaluating what works with different personalities. They developed a backend routing system that took customer demographics and their last five survey results and compared that to the agents that took those calls. This data enabled them to match the best agent with the customer.
This strategy can work across state and country lines and minimizes bias in who you think might be the best rep for the customer. With the world outsourcing so many call centers, it also makes optimizing nearshore and offshore agents easier.
Other benefits of a personality or predictive call routing strategy include:
Now you know your problem and have a solution to propose that needs executive signoff. The big challenge with many of these leaders is they have been told what they want to hear for years. It is tough to convince leaders who are not challenged to change. They're focused on looking at the company from the fifty-thousand-foot level. Budgets, P&L, balance sheet, capex vs. opex, and the bottom line are their typical priority. Their job is to make sure the company is profitable. Your job is to help them see what they're missing.
Framing suggestions to match the goals of your boss is probably 80% of the job. Work out what the leaders are most interested in and how your idea will help them get there. For example, imagine if you wanted to ask your boss if you could start working from home. They might not care that it makes your commute less stressful, but if it means you can start working an hour earlier or you will get work done faster, it suddenly feeds into their business goals.
The same applies to customer experience. The leadership team probably don't care which agent a customer talks to. However, if they know that speaking to the right agent means calls are dealt with faster and customers are more likely to buy products from you, suddenly they become more interested.
"It's rare that I ever go into an organization where someone hasn't already had the same idea. I'm not reinventing the customer experience. The challenge is, getting the support for change."
Usually, a senior leader informs the CEO that a significant change is necessary, or the business will suffer. Just telling them this will never work. It would be best if you connected the impact to their business and compensation.
"I'm in a unique position because I often come in as a consultant. They are paying me for my insight. I can speak matter of fact. You need someone like me on your team that's not afraid to challenge the status quo."
Nobody wants to be that guy who constantly challenges leadership. One way to get around this is to assign people in meetings to take different sides of an argument. This strategy allows the "devil's advocate" to be another person in each situation. Switching up roles forces your team to look at each problem differently, creating empathy for the leader's decision.
When you've been in the industry as long as Mr. Crosslin, you will end up managing multi-national teams. Leading these teams can be challenging. Imagine working through nearshore issues in Panama and trying to replicate success in Columbia, or leading onshore teams in the United States and comparing success to your team in the Philippines. If you're not careful, you will spend your life on an airplane and never get it right.
One way to build a talented global team is to bring the team together a few times a year to discuss what they're seeing. To avoid creating an echo chamber, consider having your travel team look like this:
These meetings are intended to see what is and isn't working. Achieving your goal requires REAL information from an actual cross-section of employees.
"If you let everyone bring their favorite employees, you end up with an echo chamber. Everything is great… but then why is our customer experience last in the world?"
What I have seen over the years is when there are two people in the same room with the same opinion, there is no need for two people. Great leaders look for active discussion on current issues. There are several benefits to a diverse workplace and team.
Over the past two years, everything has changed, personal and professional. Customer experience teams changed the most. Customers went online while employees moved to virtual offices. Sending employees home impacted business operations around the world, and leadership and operations philosophy had to change overnight.
Jet Blue was one of the pioneers of the at-home agent model. They sent agents home in 1999 to more than 15,000 home-based employees in the first 15 years. During that time, they earned nine consecutive J.D. Power awards for customer service. JetBlue cites lower overhead costs as well as improved customer service for the reasons it engages at-home employees.
"People tend to provide the best customer service when they can work from home in a familiar office space with few distractions."
You would think that with Jet Blue's success, more organizations would have followed sooner. COVID-19 forced agents to work from home and accelerated solving new organizational challenges. These pains came quickly, especially with entry-level employees who were suddenly working on an island. Businesses had to rethink their approach to recruiting, training, and coaching.
Jorge Serrano found himself leading virtual teams in late 2020. He took over a 100 seat entry-level call center virtual and installed procedures and policies to optimize the operation. This challenge was real.
Businesses responded very differently at the beginning of COVID-19. Employees were made redundant, the Federal Government paid companies to keep employees on staff, and there was much uncertainty. I'm not sure what changed, but 2021 began a significant employment deficit. Unemployment was at an all-time low, and the fight for talent began. Companies couldn't hire enough talent. Staffing call centers was more challenging than ever.
"Getting sustainable talent in the door became challenging," said Jorge. "Between our staffing agency and me, we were only successful with one out of twenty hires."
The difficulty of acquiring the right talent is something that spans industry-wide.
Jorge and his team had the following issues with recruits:
Blame it on unemployment, recruiting websites, talent level, or competition; hiring and retaining talent in this market has become more challenging than ever.
"Before COVID, it wasn't difficult to staff a team. We had a 20 to 25% attrition rate, which was pretty good for entry-level contact center jobs. Fast forward to 2021, despite all the adjustments made, supporting staff was extremely challenging and impacted on higher than average attrition levels."
The remote workforce is not going away. At least a portion of your agents will be working remotely into the distant future. Amazon even just announced an indefinite remote work policy for a portion of its employees. The positive is that it opens up your recruiting pool to anywhere in the world. The challenge is that it increases management risk. The reality means you must hire right the first time. The statistics point towards a hybrid model becoming the norm in 2021 and beyond.
Here are some things to think about when deploying a recruiting strategy for remote workers:
One difficulty of managing remote agents is ensuring their basic needs are met. In an office environment, essentials like food, water, warmth, and safety are in the employer's hands but are now out of their control.
For an effective training plan that focuses on growth and development, businesses must first ensure that a home environment meets the basic needs of the staff. To get them fully engaged, you can move beyond those staples.
Deploying a consistent, standardized training program is key to consistency across your team. Jorge's new team did not require a high skill level. A two-week training cycle with one week in the classroom and one week of intermittent live coached training was sufficient.
The primary challenge was developing virtual training that worked. Keeping people engaged on a Teams or Zoom training is a skill. Your trainer is likely focused on their content, and they struggle to simultaneously monitor the trainee's engagement, faces, and body language.
It can be challenging to read the people who need help when a small video screen is all you see. They're used to being in person; now, nobody is in the same room. They can't see when trainees are struggling and show them where to click, how to navigate, etc.
"Transitioning to fully virtual training was a challenge. Imagine using trainers trained to do in-person sessions and without strong training processes." Said Jorge. "Our first virtually trained group was a disaster."
Things you could consider doing to optimize effectiveness include:
Each situation will require different tips and tricks. Don't be afraid to deploy something like Six Sigma's Continuous Improvement model. Continuous improvement focuses on eliminating variability and improving predictability in organizations. The goal is to achieve stable and predictable results through clearly defined, measurable processes and a commitment to sustained quality improvement. Don't be afraid to try new things. Just deploy what works and learn from what doesn't.
Leading entry-level job teams takes a different skill set. We need to take ownership of our teams. Don't expect to recruit "superstars." It is crucial to find people who are coachable and then mold them into whom they can become. Everyone has strengths; find those strengths, and help your team build on them.
"Becoming an expert in something has an origin. Every kid who plays t-ball starts by learning how to swing the bat. Some of those kids end up in the Major leagues. It's all about having the right coaches and teachers to achieve our potential."
Recent trends show hiring for soft skills is just as important as hard (technical) skills. Even if someone isn't a ready-made superstar, if they have the right attitude to succeed, they may well get there with effective training.
Ideally, you would hire people who want to become the next contact center director. The reality is, you are not going to get everyone promoted. Understand everyone's goals and help them achieve them. Some may want to be an agent; others aspire to have your job. Embrace that reality.
"I started my career in a contact center by accident and worked my way to the top. I always want new hires to see what is possible; they could be running their own operation," said Jorge. "It's our job as leaders to help them see the vision and coach them up. We rarely hire superstars, but superstars are made, not born."
As leaders, it is our job to coach our employees up and make them great. Show them that this job can turn into a career. When brought in to lead any team, consider some of these words of wisdom:
The world has gone virtual, and it is not going back. Companies now know that they can succeed with virtual teams; they need to recruit, coach, and lead them differently. Operational efficiencies are there; it will take consistent processes and vision. Your people are the key to success. Build the right team, and your organization will thrive. Do this right, and everything will fall into place.
The most exciting and scary times in a career are when leadership gives you the keys to the castle. That chance to build out your team from the ground up your way. Hire your team—install your processes—deploy your preferred technologies. This is the situation that Robert Daniels finds himself in at Vio Security as the Contact Center Support Services Leader. Vio is a growing security alarm business focused on bringing the latest smart security and automation innovations to families and businesses.
Following a 20+ year career as a Hip-Hop artist, Mr Daniels jumped into something he related with, customer experience. He worked his way from the entry-level to become an award-winning leader in companies such as ADT. That's where he honed his customer service skills and leadership philosophy. Believe it or not, a career as a musician is not all that different from providing optimal customer service.
"We are a product of our own experiences. As an artist, you spend your life trying to impress people. Sell them on why they should follow and like you." Robert said, "I take that concept from the music industry and channel it with my agents and customers. Treat your team well and make sure they're happy because happy employees equal happy customers."
In fact, researchers at Oxford University collaborated with British Telecom (BT), found that happy workers are 13% more productive than dissatisfied workers. Employee happiness has never been more vital since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic as moods fluctuated over time, pushing businesses to do more for their people.
Customer obsession has become a significant trend and strong competitive advantage for many businesses. The lack of focus in this area could be fatal for many companies. Where practically all leaders agree that customer experience positively impacts their company, not everyone has adopted this new mindset. Customer obsession is why Robert was recruited to Vio.
What is customer obsession? A customer-obsessed company is hyperfocused on creating a better customer experience from the customer's perspective. Customers are at the center of everything they do, and every department, from sales to marketing, is structured around the customer needs.
If you have ever been to Disneyland, the park consistently goes above and beyond the create best-in-class customer experiences. Every guest is treated like a VIP, and Disney empowers employees to deliver exceptional service.
Vio`s call center continues to grow with representations of various ethnicities. The leadership team understands the importance of empowering those agents with the right tools. They currently leverage a CCaaS phone solution built on Microsoft Teams. Moreover, companies with diverse employees report higher creativity and innovation revenue.
Efficiently managing a call center requires a technology platform and ancillary tools that help drive a solid net promoter score (NPS). They need to be proactive and get beyond what a human can do. Getting into things like customer sentiment and analyzing words and tone combined with operational analytics is the only way to drive to your organization's root cause of issues. These types of tools are commonly known for:
Forrester reports that companies with superior customer experience grow revenues five times faster on average than their competitors. In a survey of nearly 2,000 business professionals, customer experience is the top priority over product and pricing in the next five years. Over 80% of customers say they are willing to pay more if they get an exceptional customer experience.
Leveraging analytics like sentiment is not a silver bullet, but improving your customer experience will follow if used appropriately. Your team will be more successful, customers happier, and a strong ROI will follow.
One solution that Vio is currently using to drive optimal customer experience is Podium. Podium provides a platform that assists businesses in optimizing user-generated content such as online reviews, messaging, and communication. Vio is using Podium for direct messaging and online customer feedback. High customer reviews are essential for Vio to drive a strong NPS because half of the adults under 50 read online reviews before purchasing products. Overall, nine out of ten consumers read reviews before making a purchase.
The first few months are the most important in a leader's journey. According to Michael D Watkins, author of "The First 90 Days," when leaders derail, the failures can almost always be traced to vicious cycles that developed in the first few months.
Upon hire, Robert needed to fix what was left behind by his predecessor. His first challenge, improve service levels from their current state of 20%. Most call centers aim to answer 80% of calls within 20 seconds, so this number was eye-opening. As Robert looked at the data, he identified his issue to be with virtual agent accountability.
"I had to start with the basics. We are a security company, so our job is to answer the phone and protect people and their property," said, Robert. "We needed to hold each other accountable for doing our primary job."
Managing a remote workforce can be challenging. Constant communication and a solution to track activity are imperative.
Robert noticed that he had too many auxiliary states and status codes. Overusing auxiliary states and status codes allows agents to hide and not receive calls. Robert's first step was to minimize these states and implement what he calls "behavioral coaching."
"Behavioral coaching is not coaching to an actual metric but the behavior causing the metric." Robert said, "if you solve the root cause, the improved statistics follow." A behavior coaching model believes that since most employee behaviors are learned, they can be changed to result in positive outcomes. Sometimes, it's as simple as employess picking up bad habits. How many times have you been in a workplace and heard the line, "that's just how it's always been done"?
Within the first month of making these changes, he took service levels to over 98% with no abandoned calls.
The next step in Robert's evolutionary journey is to create a "universal agent." 56% of customers state that the key to good customer service is getting their issue resolved in one conversation. Universal agents can minimize call transfers making it possible to resolve all level one and two issues across billing, service, and technology. Only when there is a complex issue should a customer need to speak with someone different. The primary benefits of universal agents are:
"I created universal agents at ADT. My team could handle customer service, tech support, billing, and pretty much any function under a customer care background. This improved first call resolution and customer satisfaction."
Research from Ring Central shows that 70% of customers find being transferred to another department or agent and explaining the situation all over again is the most annoying part of customer service.
This strategy requires recruiting agents with more technical skills. Technical skills are more difficult to teach, so the rest will fall into place if they come ready with a strong tech background. Some challenges with universal agents include:
Building up a skilled team with a dynamic culture can be your biggest asset. If you build trust and personal connections, your team will run through a wall for you. Accountability becomes natural. You don't have to be that leader that disciplines for minor mistakes. Your team works hard for you because they feel that trust and care. When they know that someone will hold them accountable, that's when you get the true essence of a person.
This behavioral coaching concept measures what's going on in a call center and leverages those statistics to coach the team—showing your agents the root cause so they can succeed. They make the right decision for the family/team, not themselves.
One way to make this work is by setting targets tied to team averages over time vs. short-term individual goals. This data gives you a complete story rather than a moment in time. You can provide additional coaching to those who dip below those averages based on their data. You sit down with love at that point, showing what the data says and what behavior may have caused the slip. This strategy points to the "why" and eliminates any argument, breaking barriers and allowing a leader to coach immediately. "Data and facts make it easy to coach." Set SMART goals, and your team will work together and respond.
I used to do something similar when my son was learning how to drive. I purchased a product called MOTO safety, a GPS monitor for teens that tracked location, rapid acceleration, and harsh braking. At the end of each day, it would give the driver a grade and point out where any incident may have occurred. My son may have felt that "Big Brother" was watching, but it made it possible to see where he made mistakes and become a better, safer driver. That is behavioral coaching.
Robert must be doing something right because his employees follow him. That has made it easy for him to build teams wherever he goes. He brings people who understand his style, and the rest is infectious. "I've come a long way. I mean, you don't get the nickname Dangerous Rob by flying kites".
Robert was born to be in the spotlight, whether on stage or leading a team. Vio Security is in good hands.
Next-Gen Analytics – evaluate and deploy a next-gen analytics solution that includes behavioral and sentiment analysis.
Contact Center Platform – Evaluate and deploy a contact center solution that you can grow into that includes omnichannel.
Self-service/Bots/AI – In many cases, leveraging AI and other Self-service solutions can eliminate more than 50% of a customer service team's inbound calls. Adding AI into the IVR and chat/chatbots or building out an FAQ page/knowledge base could be an excellent first step. Once Vio has eliminated those simple questions, your agents can focus on complex problem-solving.
Remote Agent Monitoring – Since so many of Vio Security's agents are remote, investing in a remote monitoring solution may be time. Using video, managers can detect and identify issues and respond to them immediately. These solutions give you a 360-degree view of the employee's desktop, screen, and the employee so they have the appearance of their manager being there 24/7. If they break protocol, the monitoring solution can alert that there is an issue to be resolved.
I spent some time with Jarvous Freeman discussing his customer experience philosophy leveraging the contact center. He has spent his entire career in this space and has seen it all. Name the largest enterprise contact centers, and he’s probably run them. Contact center optimization is his passion.
Mr. Freeman currently oversees over 860 virtual agents. He is in the middle of a 14-month journey of revamping operations to create optimal customer experiences, making it easy for that client to keep coming back.
Creating lifelong customers requires knowing who they are, what they need and empathizing with their experience in the process. The best way to do this is by studying and mapping out the customer’s journey. Journey maps can get complicated and feel like the Marvel “what if” scenarios or crime show murder boards. No matter how complex, they are essential to truly understand who your customer is, why they reach out, and how that product can be improved, so future outreach is unnecessary.
“I drive a Dodge Challenger because I feel in control and important when I’m behind the wheel. You have to know your customer to the deepest levels to make them stay.”
Once you have a customer, keep them happy and coming back by optimizing their experience. The ROI around this type of analysis is enormous because they keep buying and reducing your customer acquisition cost.
Did you know that most consumers consider themselves loyal after purchasing five times from the same brand? Unless you listen to the customer and create an experience that resonates with them, you’ll ultimately find it hard to build a sustainable business.
Historically, call center analytics have been static, telling you what happened at a point in time. Metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Average Handle Time (AHT), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Percentage of Calls Answered (PCA), and productivity individually are the wrong way to look at the data. If you focus on these metrics independently, your teams will map their activities to them. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Let’s say service levels are excellent, but what does it do to improve the customer experience? You may have hit service levels every day, but did you reduce contacts? Why are people calling?
“Service levels statistics aren’t typically valuable. Let’s say you answer 80% of your calls in 20 seconds… what does that even mean?” said Mr Freeman. “We combine metrics into a single statistic that tells a complete story.”
Research from Vocalabs indicates that longer waiting times have a minimal impact on customer satisfaction scores (as long as it isn’t too long). For example, banking industry customers are willing to wait two or three minutes.
Routing customers to the right skills and ensuring they receive the best possible experience are more critical than picking up the phone quickly. Focus on solving the problem.
In a call center environment with suffering service levels, the typical response is to throw more resources (people) at the situation. If you double the number of staff, you hit the service level, right? In truth, that simply covers over the cracks without solving the REAL problem.
You have to flip the data on its head, get honest customer experience feedback, and map everything to tell a complete story. The process takes months of listening to calls, analyzing data and looking at what works for your business. It could look something like this:
Ask – Reach out to your customers through open-ended surveys asking for honest feedback. Include this with an NPS score and then run it through data models to find trends. No better place to get the information than at the source.
Listen – Listen to calls to understand what’s happening in your organization so you can build out the data sets for your specific circumstance.
Understand – Conduct keyword analysis to get customer sentiment and place AI/ML behind it to understand what it all means.
To Jarvous, “There really is no neutral in customer experience. They’re either happy or not.” If the customer is indifferent in the neutral example above, are they ever likely to be a loyal brand advocate? A typical NPS metric will ignore these neutral customers, but they could be telling you more than you realize. If they are not a promoter, will they come back?
If a customer is not happy, reengage and find out what’s wrong. Send them a nice message to rectify the situation. Show empathy and try and get it right. When you are genuine, your customer will respond positively, and you will gain a long-term advocate.
If you get it right, it’s not about the metrics you hit but the story that the combined data tells. It takes time to get right, so don’t rush it.
Once you have created your customer-centric process, focus on reducing churn and solving problems. It’s at this point where engaging product teams impact long term service statistics. You now have data from those customers that you can share with product leadership, telling them what your customer said were strengths and weaknesses. Once resolved, customers should no longer need to call regarding that issue, reducing the need for any outreach.
“If you get to the root cause, the phone doesn’t ring.”
The average call center has a first call resolution of 74%. Although that is considered an industry standard, it still means that the customer needs to put in further effort to get the correct answer on over a quarter of calls.
Statistics from Call Centre Helper show that 6% of call centers have an average cost per call of over £10 (around $14) in the UK.
Improving that first call resolution by 10% saves $1,400 per 1,000 calls. In large call centers, the saving potential is enormous. Now imagine if you eliminate the call altogether.
According to a study done by American Express, over 60% of US consumers prefer an automated self-service, such as a website or mobile app, for simple customer service tasks.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and its applications like machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) is the key to the future. If done right, self-service solutions will minimize disruption and friction. Gone are the days when customers are waiting in line and navigating IVRs.
You enter a website looking for a resolution to a question. You are assigned a “digital buddy” or Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) to help you throughout the process in the channel of your choice. The customer communicates their issue, and then the AI resolves it, leveraging a predefined knowledge base and machine learning. If too complicated, the system connects you with a skilled agent.
Research from Zendesk in 2021 shows customers don’t want to phone call centers for simple tasks, so why would your customer journey force them to do so?
A phone call can be the last resort and removes transactional conversations like password resets and order tracking. The calls may end up being longer, but you’re focused on the question that truly needs a person’s attention.
Taking it a step further, Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) is where things could end up. Companies like Facebook using their Oculus will enable customer service teams to engage with as if they were sitting right there beside them. Consider things like fixing your car or virtual tutoring. You could have an actual virtual AI or agent sitting in that environment helping the customer. Such innovation is not outside the realm of possibility and is already being used in some industries.
Follow the style of Jimmy Johnson and what made him successful at all levels. Winning is important but have fun and be passionate about what you are doing. Push the boundaries and find humble, star players across the organization and help them realize their potential.
Feel free to schedule a call for more information on this discussion.
I had the chance to sit down with Jesse Jackson, Coach-Net’s Contact Center Director. We dove into his vision of leadership, technology and customer service and how they might achieve an optimal future state for their customer experience. This is a fun company with a great culture and as proof, Jesse showed up wearing a Kiss shirt so I knew we would hit it off.
What is Coach-Net?
Coach-Net has built a reputation throughout the RV industry as a leading provider of 24/7 RV technical and emergency roadside assistance, dedicated to meeting the demands of RV travelers throughout the United States and Canada. When members need assistance, Coach-Net is ready with a network of more than 40,000 roadside assistance providers. They pioneered RV technical assistance to aid RV owners with common issues and has remained an industry leader by providing RV owners access to its team of certified technicians. They were founded “by RVers for RVers” and they sell “carefree RVing”.
Question –Let’s say I’m a Coach-Net customer and I call with an issue with my RV, how does your process work?
Answer – Your initial call goes into a front-end agent that captures who you are, your program, location and what you need. They explain coverage and authorizations and then verify that you are safe and pass you to the back-end team. The backend agent then begins looking to find the needed service for the client by utilizing our nationwide network of providers or by searching for independent providers if needed.
Question – I can imagine the costs can vary. How do you make decisions on what is OK?
Answer – In our network of providers we have negotiated rates. If we need to reach out to an independent provider, we have guidelines that the agents use to determine pricing. Our goal is to get the best service for our member at a competitive price. The agents must balance time, safety and costs to select the optimal solution for both Coach-Net and our members.
Question – How challenging is it to get the agent to make the “right” decision?
Answer – Here’s an example. Let’s say our stated limit for a service is $60 and the first call comes in at $75. Now I have an agent potentially spending 30 minutes trying to solve a $15 problem. That obviously doesn’t make sense. Maybe make one extra call but cut it off there. It takes leveraging data and the agent gaining experience to coach them to make the right decisions. It really is value based.
Question – So it really is a lot of on-the-job training. Are there any courses you can put them through?
Answer – That’s our project for this off season. Create situational training focused on critical thinking and logic. Training can be challenging because some calls are straightforward and linear while others require complex problem solving and take experience.
Question – Is there any technology that could help them through these challenging scenarios?
Answer – Currently we have answers on our SharePoint., One of the projects I’m planning to work on this off season is I would like to create a Coach-Net call flow by program where 80% of the call is standard.
Question – Tell me about your agent training.
Answer –Currently we have a rotation of a week of classroom learning and then a week with the trainee on the phone answering calls on the program they covered the previous week. We then bring them back in class, go over other programs and then more phone time. It typically takes 8 to 12 weeks to train and six months to become proficient. This is effective but accelerating agent training is crucial.
Question – What is your leadership style?
Answer – I like to be personal and gain the trust of my team. I personally have one on one’s with each of the agents. When start a job I always sit down with each agent in the first two weeks to get to know them individually. I also want my team to know that I’m here for them and it’s safe to come in and be “unofficial” in my office. We can talk as friends, not boss to employee. These conversations stay confidential.
Question – What philosophy do you employ with your leadership team?
Answer – I really like the quote by Aaron Sorkin “If you’re dumb you surround yourself with smart people, if you’re smart you surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you”.
Question – With COVID, most companies were forced to send agents home. How is that going?
Answer – Honestly, it’s been tough on our culture. We would definitely prefer to have all agents start in the office and adapt to the culture after which they could “earn” the right to work from home.
Question – Did you have home based employees before COVID?
Answer – Yes, but it was situational. For instance, we always let our 3rd shift (graveyard) work from home to incentivize taking that shift. Also, our building started closing earlier so anyone whose shift ended after the building closed could just start from home.
Question – How do you help them feel included?
Answer – We do “lunch-n-learns” and bring food into the office. Obviously, everyone could come in but most don’t want to so we are considering giving them 15 minutes paid lunch to buy lunch and eat with us via Teams.
Question – Do you ever have events where you try and get everyone together?
Answer – Yes, but we try not to have mandatory in person meetings even if it’s for “fun”. We are considering a yearly in person kickoff. This would be an opportunity to bring everyone into the office for networking, soft skills training, team building exercises, etc.
Question – So how do you find and recruit talent that is successful and fits into your culture?
Answer – Some would just tell you to “pay more”. Unfortunately, It’s not that simple. We recently purchased an HR screening tool called Criteria for pre-employment testing. It does a typing, PC awareness, critical thinking, and personality tests. If they pass, then HR screens them followed by me doing a one-on-one interview. I look for people who are flexible, open to learn, and understand the concept of what we’re trying to do. We do everything in our power to hire the right people because missing on a hire is expensive.
We really focus on the RV culture and would prefer that our employees fit that mold. If we could have it our way our target would be outdoors people that can empathize with our customers. Even if they don’t fit that mold, we have an Airstream that we allow employees to take out rent free to experience what our customers love.
Question – How does you being a 24/7 contact center impact your recruiting?
Answer – we allow our team to do four tens and they typically fit into one of three shifts. One way we encourage people to take on more challenging shifts is we add a shift differential.
Question – What types of other incentives do you have for your agents?
Answer – We have attempted different financial incentives and they just haven’t been as successful as we thought they would be. During the summer there is tons of overtime. Sometimes we’ll give a $50 gift card at the end of your shift if you work on the weekend. We even have t-shirts made for those who work a lot of overtime.
Question – How do you find these types of programs work out for the company?
Answer – You would think more money would drive agents’ thinking but that’s not always the case. When you’re employing incentives and motivation, 1/3 are going to like it, 1/3 will hate it and 1/3 won’t care. I work to find enough different programs that the 1/3 rotates to keep everyone happy. You have to get creative to incentivize all types so doing a mixture of money and other benefits like working from home can play into it.
Question – Do you do a “wall of fame” or awards to create competition and job satisfaction?
Answer – We do what we call the “Our Values” awards monthly, or RV for short. This is obviously a play on words. If you get five RV awards, then you earn a gift card. We also have “employees of the quarter” and do something called “Thankyou Thursdays”. If someone mentions an agent by name, we promote it across all of our channels like Yammer, Teams and email.
Question – What statistics do you monitor?
Answer – Statistics are tricky because they need to be used for good. We focus on After Call Work, Cost Per Event, Net Promoter Scores, Email Percentage (capture an email after every call so we can send an NPS survey), and Cost Per Event (average of PO per category).
Question – Can you describe for me what you mean by statistics can be “tricky”?
Answer – I actually had a focus group this week talking about phone stats. Historically, our team leads meet with their teams to review metrics including Average Handle Time. They went over goals and talked to agents with a longer handle time giving them suggestions on how to improve. What we learned was that some agents started sacrificing quality to improve speed. Because if this, we have started promoting “I would rather you be long and correct, than short and wrong”. John Wooden said “Be quick but don’t hurry”. Essentially, if your AHT is 20 minutes we will evaluate why and help you be faster, but don’t take shortcuts to cut it to 10.
Question – You mentioned that you are using Amazon Connect for CCaaS. Why did you choose to go in that direction?
Answer – Amazon Connect was here when I arrived. I think they primarily selected it because it fit our budget and did a lot of what we needed. We’re a seasonal business so their usage-based model fit how we needed to adjust with peaks and valleys.
Question – What are some of the things you find challenging with the platform?
Answer – To start, I don’t think it was set up to match our business. We probably need to start there with optimizing its capabilities. Next, their standard reporting and dashboards are not optimal. We know the information is there but haven’t done much to build out custom reports.
One example is we created a queue called “back end”. This makes it so when an agent makes outbound calls, they’re marked unavailable. Unfortunately, I don’t know how many outbound calls they’ve made while in back end until we run reports. We need a better way to proactively manage this.
One key challenge is there is minimal to no support on the AWS side. You must bring in a consultant to help you make things happen. We could do this on our own, but we don’t have a dev ops team that can care and feed it. Besides, our IT staff is only 3 people.
Question – Is there any specific technology that you would like to get in place in the next year?
Answer – We really would like to invest in technology that could do initial screenings to optimize pre call education for an agent. For instance, the call comes through, and the agent knows your name, what you are calling about and your history. Customers expect that type of experience today. I think we could do that with Amazon Connect but haven’t invested in it just yet.
Question – If you had a magic wand, what would the call center look like for you?
Answer – We would have an app that worked within the channel the customer wanted to communicate (voice, chat, sms, email, etc.). It would turn on location services to make finding them easier. We would also have more self-service options to drive efficiencies for simple questions.
Question – Who or what inspires you?
Answer – I’m a huge Springsteen fan and his song Better Days drives me. It’s about not sitting around waiting for my life to begin. We should all live in the now. Don’t waste your time waiting for what’s next and enjoy the journey.
Jesse was born for customer service. He has a great handle on his operation and knows where he needs to invest to create an optimal customer and employee experience. He truly cares about his people and his customers and treats them like “people”. Under Jesse’s leadership, Coach-Net will grow and optimize CX because he is not afraid to try new things and fail fast. With this mindset, profits always follow.
How can OmniLegion help?
After learning more about Coach-Net, there are a few categories where I would recommend making investments.
To learn more about OmniLegion Technologies, Coach-Net and our conversation with Jesse Jackson, schedule some time with our team.
Over the past two years, I have had many different experiences with companies: some good, some bad. As a consumer, I am most interested in frictionless experiences. Honestly, I don't really want to speak with the company that I purchase from. I just want my issue solved as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to my day. Here are a couple of recent examples:
A Frictionless Experience - Amazon
I go to Amazon.com, search for what I'm looking for, and order it. Two days later, the product was on my doorstep. Frictionless, right?
I even had an issue with a recent Amazon order where the box showed up empty. I got on chat, they identified the missing product and shipped out a replacement without question. It took less than 5 minutes of my day.
A Friction Filled Experience - Appliance Repair
Lately, I have been trying to get my stove fixed. I called to schedule an appointment and was given a repair window when the technician would show up. That day came, and he was late by several hours with no warning. He then ordered a part that took months to get with no update that there was an issue or when I might see them again. Then when they finally received the part, they scheduled an appointment that they missed by multiple days. Not ideal, to say the least.
Both examples make me wonder how much each company really understands me as a consumer. Amazon is a company that I will continue to do business with and likely knows me way more than I'd like to admit. As for my repair company, I'm looking for alternatives. There is no way they understand me or my customer journey at all.
Delivering positive, memorable customer experiences requires a comprehensive understanding of every interaction, intent, outcome and emotion. Customers are human. We react to the environment around us and then create individual memories based on experiences that create perceptions. The more friction in the experience, the more frustrated we become.
"Friction = Customer Frustration"
Here are some customer experience statistics to think about:
Today’s consumers want a highly personalized experience and this includes your marketing and customer service efforts no matter where they engage (online, in-store or mobile). With those stated statistics, is there a price you wouldn't pay to make sure your customer experience was positively unforgettable? After all, Positive Experience = Lifelong Customers!
The only way to be successful in today's environment is through leveraging journey analytics to understand where each customer is at any point in time, tracking them individually and then engaging them with relevant messages. This is more commonly known as "Customer Journey Mapping". Journey Maps help you visualize how customers feel at all brand touchpoints so you can avoid potential issues ahead of time, increase customer retention, and discover key information to make the best decisions for your business.
What is a journey map?
Journey maps are a visual representation of the customer journey. They help you tell the story of your customers’ experiences with your brand across all touchpoints (social media, email, live chat or etc.) ensuring no customer is forgotten. This exercise helps businesses step into their customer’s shoes and see their business from the customer’s perspective.
It enables you to assess:
Journey maps are built to make it easy to identify issues in the process and know how where to go to resolve them.
Why should executives care?
“Only by looking at the customer’s experience along the entire journey can you really begin to meaningfully improve performance.”
Customer journey mapping is important because it is a strategic approach to better understanding customer expectations and empathizing with their experience allowing for you to optimize their experience.
Some benefits may include:
Journey mapping creates a common understanding for the organization of how a customer interacts during different stages of the customer lifecycle and who within the organization owns that experience. It will also bring an organization together and foster customer empathy and collaboration between teams to deliver the experiences that customers expect. This will help you to develop a shared sense of ownership of the customer relationship driving a customer-centric culture.
McKinsey's, The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction states "Maximizing satisfaction with customer journeys has the potential not only to increase customer satisfaction by 20% but also lift revenue up by 15% while lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20%".
Essentially, leaders leveraging Journey Mapping correctly will drive customer retention and more money to the bottom line.
How do you get started?
There are two ways you can approach Journey Mapping. Read a book and attempt it yourself OR engage an expert. We always recommend getting an expert on your first go round so it's done correctly with optimal value. Enterprise companies even keep experts on staff.
No matter which direction you choose, here are some places you should start:
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself "do I really understand and have empathy for my customer's experience?" The reality to this question is, you can never understand your customer enough and this understanding is critical to them sticking around. The largest companies in the world invest millions in Journey Mapping and Analytics per year. If you're not doing it now, I highly suggest you start. If you are doing it, please continue. This could be the difference between success and failure.
If you want to dive deeper, please schedule some time to talk. We're here to help at whatever level make sense to you and your company.
In Part 2 of our one-on-one with a 20-year contact center vet, we delve into the personal side of managing agent resources and keeping your people motivated to provide superior customer service.
To read Part 1, click here
Question – It sounds like your people were your biggest strength. Is there anything that you wished you could have done better?
Answer – Yes, no organization is perfect. We were great at having strong training and recognition programs in the US. Unfortunately, that was only one of many global markets we served. I wish we had more standardization with training and reward programs outside of the US. This would have required pulling all markets under one global leader, with local empowered local leaders under one single budget that could be allocated as needed. There were times when we had local leaders using their own money to reward employees. That just shouldn’t have to be the way to show your employees that they’re valued. The problem really came down to our small teams in the middle of nowhere that didn’t feel part of the larger team. We really needed to figure out how to reward and help them feel connected.
Question – Did you have a favorite saying?
Answer – Oh that’s simple. If you take care of your people, they will take care of you. This needs to be genuine, not coming from a book. They really need to “feel” that you care, not just hear it.
Question – What would be one of the tricks to the trade?
Answer – Be genuine in trying to help people and everyone’s experience will be better.
Question – How did you incentivize your agents to fulfill the desired services?
Answer – I just wanted everyone to feel important and know that their efforts were appreciated. That could be as simple as saying thank you all the way to giving them some sort of award or prize. No matter what, the key was always to recognize our agent’s efforts. When we saw the right activity or outcomes, we would do things like give gift certificates or tickets to plays, music and sporting events. We would also do things like compliment recognition and give out awards. One thing I liked doing was when the company won some sort of global customer service award, I would make small trophies to hand out to the team who made that happen.
Question – One thing that has really become popular is “gamification”. Did you every incorporate this in your organization?
Answer – Yes, we really wanted to help make people’s jobs more fun so we would create things like contests driving specific behaviors. The agents really liked it and honestly, it made it more fun to come to work for everyone.
Question – Did you ever have to fire an agent?
Answer – Rarely. We knew if we built them up they would improve and like their job. If not, they would self-select and leave on their own.
Question – Being an agent can be a tough job. How did you keep moral up?
Answer – Honestly, if your team is trained correctly and really seeks to drive customer satisfaction, the job is easy. It’s really all about how you focus on the calls you take. There were two keys to staying happy in the job. First, don’t take angry customers personally. They’re not mad at you. Second, measure yourself against solving problems and ending calls on a high. If you like solving problems and working with people, this is definitely the job for you.
Question – How did compensation work within the team?
Answer – Compensation is always a tricky subject. We would get a 3% budget across the board for raises and then we would adjust as needed.
Question – You talked about having employees that have been around for 20+ years. Did they ever max out on their compensation?
Answer – Yes and this was tough. The reality is you can only compensate an agent so much to do their job. When they maxed out on that number, we would look for other ways to reward them. Giving them opportunities to be mentors, trainers, etc. would typically do the trick. We would also look for any excuse to reward them.
Question – Your contact center is in a really great location in the building. It has windows and is in the open. Was it always this way?
Answer – No. We used to be in the basement and it was not good for morale. When we made that change it really showed through to our customer experience because our agents were much happier.
Question – One big point in “The Effortless Experience” is that you should focus on less on speed and more on reducing effort. How did you look at this?
Answer – Yeah, everyone wants to speed up calls but that’s not necessarily the right way to work. You also shouldn’t just keep the door wide open and have really long calls to keep customers happy. Our vision was to handle customer issues efficiently. Speed was important but not as a deterrent to quality.
Question – Were there any best practices from a technology perspective that you would share?
Answer - We really needed to quantify the good and bad so we had a chance to improve. You know the saying, “what gets measured gets improved”. We also tried to get good monitoring systems in place so we had quick feedback. As always, resolving issues was tough even though we knew where they were.
Question – Was there ever something you tried to do that would have been unique for your industry?
Answer – One thing that re wanted to create was based on something that Southwest Airlines did. They created an award that wasn’t “paid for” called the Triple Crown. It was for on time performance, baggage handling, and Customer Service. We were trying to figure out what that might look like for us. We felt like that would help us stand out.
After this conversation, it was very clear that my friend was born for customer service. He truly cared about his people and his customers. When you are genuine like this it shows and profits follow. Feel free to reach out if you would like to dive deeper into any part of this conversation. We’re here to help.
How can we help?
Today, everyone has a website. The question is what types of next generation solutions do you have in place to help your customers solve their own problems. Here are some next-generation ideas that can help push your customer experience into the future:
To get started, schedule a free consultation
I recently had the chance to spend some time with a colleague who worked the last 19 years in various roles running and administering call centers. Foremost on my agenda was a deep dive into his perspectives on managing the people, building effective processes, and selecting the right technological solutions to grow the business. The results of our conversation are both insightful, and also a solid reminder of how to succeed at providing a superior customer experience to your users.
The following is the first of a two-part series delving into what works, and what will break your customer experience.
Question – First of all, what is your philosophy when it comes to customer experience?
Answer – When it comes to customer experience everything is individualized. That’s how you can create a life-long customer. Focus on helping the customer in that moment with their individual issue.
Question – You were in the customer experience space for two decades. Did you have a favorite book that you modeled your organization after?
Answer – I really liked “The Effortless Experience” by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick Delisi. We shared all of their best practices throughout our organization from new hires, to training and 20-year vets. This book really helped us model our customer experience to be on how we helped our customers, the types of words we used and how we measured success.
Question – I loved “The Effortless Experience”. I’ve listened to it several times. How did it change the way you worked with your agents?
Answer – Really, it helped us focus on helping our reps to love to help customers and want them to be happy. Not in the sense that we were trying to “please and delight” but more to drive our teams to do whatever it took to create an experience that made our customers happy and stay with us long term. Call centers are really all about figuring out the best way to drive positive, effortless experiences. This could be going above and beyond or just doing the simple things to help the customer feel heard.
Question – Tell me more about the wording you tried to use.
Answer – Really, it’s about not saying “no” and framing you answers in a positive light. Things like “I can get it done for you”, “I can definitely help”, “I can ship it as soon as possible” or “I can solve your problem today”. This just changes the tone of the conversation from being confrontational, to collaborative.
Question – How did you avoid just giving out free stuff to please the customer vs solve the real problem?
Answer – That’s a good question, it wasn’t really about the free things we might give out. If you spoke to accounting, they probably would have said we gave away too much, but our operations teams would say to keep going. We just had a core believe that giving just a little something to help the customer paid dividends long term. You can’t drive all of the value by just looking at a spreadsheet. It was important to create a sense of togetherness and help that customer feel like we were a team in making things right. If you keep your customers happy, they will refer people and it will help the bottom line. That’s just tough to demonstrate because it happens behind the scenes. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t focus so much on the money, focus on customer service as a priority, and it will give you a sustainable financial return. You just can’t always see it on paper, but I promise it pays dividends.
Question – Who had to make the decisions of what you could do in challenging situations?
Answer – Our goal was to empower our managers and agents to make the right decision. This really helped us, so we didn’t have to micromanage every call but give them the power to solve problems. We wanted to give agents the power to help customers as soon as possible in the training process. Trust is a big thing in this industry and a lack of trust is dangerous.
Question – What are your thoughts on managing remote agents?
Answer – This was one of the other reasons we fought to stay in the same location. Remote teams are generally tougher to manage and coach up. This may be an older way of thinking, but we feared that we couldn’t monitor the teams and their progress when they were at home. It wasn’t about a “Big Brother” scenario or anything. It was about a family culture and being able to easily get help on a moment’s notice.
Question – Have you heard anything from your old team and how they managed through COVID?
Answer – Well, obviously, the agents were sent home. The good thing was our technology was set up in a way to make that quickly happen. I think it was an adjustment, but it has worked. I’m pretty sure most still work from home but some really liked being in the office so they come in daily.
Question – What is your people management philosophy?
Answer – Simply put, I want to make sure the agents feel valued. That they are an integral part of our team and we can’t function well without them. I think we do a pretty good job too because our retention rate was over 4 years and we had agents that had been with us for over 20 years. We were pretty happy with that given the industry average was 18 months.
Question – Your organization was spread out over many countries. I’m sure each country had different needs and you worked with them based on their culture. Did any region stand out?
Answer – Yes, you’re right. We worked with each country a little differently. One culture that stood out was across Asia. Not one country in particular and it didn’t matter if they lived in their native land or in the US. These markets were well connected and anytime there was a promotion, the word spread fast. This wasn’t a bad thing at all, we just needed to have clear and concise rules and manage these situations appropriately. Either way, it drove tons of business.
Question – It seems like you really had a lot of great agents managing your customer experience. What was your training like to get your team to be so skilled?
Answer – We felt like we had a great training program in place. It was all completed onsite over a 3-week period with half in the classroom and the other half actually taking calls on the floor. We would assign “mentors” to help things go smoothly while the trainee was taking calls. It took between one and two months after the initial training to for an agent to be fully effective. We also conducted weekly training in the US markets to continue improving agent skills. We were really into rewarding our employees so we would reward the mentors for helping out and training the next generation agent.
Stay tuned for part 2.
You want your customers to have a great experience when they call you, but have you taken the appropriate steps to make that happen? The easiest way to ensure a happy experience, is by installing a contact center solution. These platforms facilitate quality customer engagements in the way they want to communicate with you (voice, chat, SMS, social media, etc.).
But how do you choose which one? There are hundreds of solutions on the market. Here are some of the most useful and common features available in contact center systems. The best method to determine the right solution for you is to identify features in three categories – Must have, Nice to have, Unnecessary.
Some basic features can make a big difference when it comes to running a contact center. Here are some of the most useful and common features available in contact center systems:
Once you have rated these in the three categories, contact us to determine which contact center solution is the best fit. Not ready to talk just yet, a good start would be to Download our free RFP template. This will give you questions that you should be asking each supplier in your evaluation process.
A request for proposal (RFP) is a document that solicits proposal, often made through a bidding process, by an agency or company interested in procurement of a commodity or service. The RFP process is a critical business methodology that separates competitive bidders and independent vendors using the process as an abstraction layer to maintain balance and fairness throughout the process.
For many businesses today, the RFP process is critical to purchasing new technology solutions in a repeatable process that elicits fairness amongst bidders and guarantees the right solution is purchased. Unfortunately, for many companies the RFP process can be a painful experience fraught with pitfalls and political battles that can oftentimes lead to mis-purchased tech. It’s hard to know exactly what you’re looking for and who can provide the best solution. Besides that, which vendors can you really trust? Afterall, their job is to sell their product. This is typically where companies turn to running some version of a Request for Proposal (RFP).
RFPs are no small task. Understanding the problem, defining requirements, assigning budget and then having to figure out which vendors make sense to include in the process can consume many resources. These processes are just like computers, if you ask for the wrong information there will be little to no value in the responses. If you don’t get it right, all of your work will be in vain.
No matter how complex of an RFP you create, there are some key details that you will want to include to ensure you have the best information in place to make an optimal, unbiased decision. Here are some things you should consider including in your RFPs.
1 - Clear Project Objectives
Just like with any good story, an RFP must start with the end in mind. This section needs to clearly answer the question “Why are you asking for responses from prospective partners?” Make sure and lay out clear challenges and what types of features you are looking for. Placing this at the top of your RFP helps vendors know up front if they’re a good fit. Just like writing the RFP takes significant time, so does responding. Be fair to your prospective partners.
2 - Comprehensive Company Overview
When responding to an RFP, bidders want to know who they are helping. Tell them about yourself. Include things like:
This will help bidders customize their response specifically to your world.
3 - Detailed project description
One of the most important sections in your RFP is the description of the project. This is where you can give a more detailed outline of what you are looking for. Don’t spare any details so bidders know exactly what you are looking for and if they’re the right partner. The more specific this section is, the better quality of bids you will receive.
Make sure to include:
4 - Evaluation criteria
Before you send any RFP out for bid, you need to know how you are going to score the responses. This allows you to be truly unbiased in your evaluation. This makes it so bidders can feel confident that they are not just a “courtesy bid” so you can check a box and purchase some solution that has already won. They need to know ahead of time that it is fair and how strong their proposal will be.
Some people like to use weighted scoring, so a real number has been associated with your criteria. Make sure and break down the most important items in order so you end up with the right solution for you. If you use a weighted average, the weights should obviously add up to 100%.
5 - Current state
It is important for bidders to understand what situation they will be transitioning you from. This could be critical for pricing and for them to understand your point of reference. For instance, if you are using a premise-based solution with multiple add on technologies and you want to go to the cloud, they can focus in on what makes sense in that situation. Or, if you have a Cloud solution and you just want to upgrade, tell them about what make your current solution unsatisfactory.
6 - Response guidelines
This section sets up the “how” of the RFP process. Lay it out clearly and you will have to answer fewer bidder questions. Things like:
These are your documented instructions to all bidders.
7 - Comprehensive vendor overview
This is the section where you can get information to become more comfortable with the bidder’s ability to deliver. Provide a list of materials and questions that you would like the bidder to provide. This could include:
This is essentially the “why we should consider your solution” section. Vendors should brag about their strengths and what sets them apart from the competition.
8 - Specific requirements
This should be the meat of the RFP. Create a list of questions and group them accordingly to validate the bidder’s solution meets your needs. Think about all of the features and functionality that you need and want included in the solution. It is also important to identify the “must have’ vs “nice to have” features. In some cases you will want to weight each feature based on its necessity to completing your project.
9 - Basic pricing
This goes without saying but you should always include a section that breaks out their pricing structure. You don’t necessarily need to tell them your budget but you do need know if they can afford to be your supplier. If your budget it too low, it may not be business they are interested in. Have this section break down pricing in a simple way so you can compare pricing from the different bidders fairly.
10 - Notice of references
In most cases, bidders will not supply references until they are selected as the vendor of choice. We would always recommend having this as a section to notify the bidder that you will require them later in the RFP process.
Designing, delivering, and evaluating RFPs can be challenging. The level of detail that goes into defining the problem, gathering requirements, and evaluating responses is significant. If this process is not a regular part of your business operations, it can be surprisingly easy to miss small details and run the risk of missing the mark at selection time. For this reason, it is a good idea to partner with a trusted advisor to help manage and facilitate this process.