Every contact center transformation begins with inspiration, an identified need, a promise of improved efficiency, or improved customer engagement in mind. Excitement builds across the organization as expected outcomes are communicated across the organization. With stakeholders, executives, and front-line workers alike fully engaged, what happens between the strategic plan and implementation that derails the initiative, waters down the outcome and often leaves disappointment in its wake. What should organizations do to identify and overcome obstacles, avoid common pitfalls and ensure success throughout the project lifecycle?
There are several areas in any transformation initiative where the different players have different understandings of what the goals are and how to get there, creating gaps in the contact center transformation process. If roles and responsibilities between the organization and those delivering the solution are not clearly identified and defined early, these gaps can stall a project or reduce the viability of the implementation solution.
These gaps fall into a few distinct categories and can appear at different points in the project life cycle.
Vision Versus Budget
When a contact center transformation project has been identified and road mapped as a key part of a strategic initiative, demand for new features and functions begins to build across the organization. Business units begin considering ways to incorporate big data, analytics, automation and improved efficiency features into their workflow.
One of the first places where misalignment emerges is between what the business needs and the budget allocated for the initiative.
Contact center budgets may be developed based on replacing existing technology without understanding the full cost of transforming technology. For example, if the budget is developed with the idea that the contact center transformation replaces “like for like,” instead of acknowledging the costs of incorporating the most desired new features and integrations.
It’s imperative for business directors, executives and budgeting to agree on the full scope of the initiative and its costs prior to moving into the procurement phase.
Internal Resource Constraints
There’s often a gap in what can be delivered by internal IT staffers with their existing skillsets and what the business needs to have delivered during the customer experience (CX) transformation. IT resources are usually strained to meet daily operating requirements—even before adding support for strategic project implementation. The procurement, business and management stakeholders may be under the assumption that the vendor is doing all of the professional services work to implement the project but may not have included enough professional services budget for the vendor to perform the tasks, leaving IT fill in the gap with already strained resources.
Since IT staff are generally busy providing full time operations support, any organization embarking on a CX transformation project must identify which in-house resources can be dedicated to support the initiative rather than expecting the IT staff to split their time between full time day-to-day support and implementing the new project full time. If internal resources cannot be dedicated to support the project, then some budget must be allocated to cover outsourcing the work to the vendor.
In addition, no contact center transformation project stands alone. Any time a new solution is implemented, other elements of IT infrastructure will be impacted. For example, changes to network architecture, integration with unified communications and collaboration (UCC), customer relationship management (CRM), service ticketing, workforce optimization, and mobile/nomadic integration may be required. Unless payments are tied to specific deliverable integrations, it may be left to the IT staff rather than the vendor to perform the integration tasks. IT resources already stretched thin may not have the bandwidth or skills to complete the integrations or advanced functions. Internal and external resources to support these elements must be recognized and budgeted for as well.
Technology Initiatives Versus Business Processes
Similarly, the business may be excited about implementing an omnichannel, digital transformation cx experience, but may not have taken the time to re-align business processes to match the innovative technology being implemented. For example, how will agents in the contact center chat with non-agent staff if required? Or if salespeople are accustomed to giving out their cell phone numbers, will a new process be required for salespeople after the new technology is deployed? Are workflows defined to move interactions easily and efficiently from one fulfillment group to the next? Have backend processes been re-aligned to match how emails, or social media interactions are received?
To avoid implementing technology without the necessary business processes in place to support it, business processes must be re-designed during the procurement and implementation process to ensure staff is ready when the new technology goes live.
Professional Services Required Versus Vendor Budget and IT Resources
While the project cost invariably includes licenses, software and hardware components, an often overlooked but significant cost is the professional services to plan, oversee and implement the solution to meet all of the business requirements specified by the business. Without a well-planned budget that includes the people with these skills, the organization could end up scrambling to get the work done.
It may be assumed by executives and procurement that vendor services are included with the cost of components, and or that internal resources are available to cover any deficiencies. The magnitude of resources required may be underestimated until the implementation begins and resource gaps become obvious. In many cases, the vendor has budgeted minimal professional services to keep their proposal competitively priced, expecting the IT department of the organization to fill in the gaps, doing the heavy lifting of user interviews, call flow development, etc. Without a clear definition of what services the vendor is providing and what is expected of the client’s team, the project may experience issues with budget, schedule and solution performance.
It’s imperative to define who will be performing all the intricate and complex professional services to ensure the final implemented solution meets all the features and functions called out.
To be competitively priced, proposers will often include limited budget for professional services such as project management, coordination with third-party/network providers, training, on-site support, and data gathering. If vendor work isn’t clearly scoped in measurable terms, vendors will often cut corners and expect the client to fill in the gaps or call out added work as a change order with attached fee.
Procurement Approach to Solution Acquisition
Gaps also arise between the Business, IT and procurement during purchasing phase of a project. Procurement departments have defined processes geared toward the purchase of “widgets.” To effectively obtain a transformation-centric contact center solution, IT the Business and Procurement must work collaboratively to adjust the procurement process to define desired outcomes rather than quantities of hardware and licenses. If traditional purchasing evaluation criteria based on price per quantity is used, without defining the end state as part of the deliverable, the organization could end up with a “bucket of parts” rather than an elegantly crafted solution.
Manufacturer Approach Versus Channel Partner Delivery
Finally, there can be gaps within the proposing vendors’ organization or between the original manufacturer and the channel partner delivering the solution. The proposing vendor’s sales organization’s role is to highlight all the features and benefits of the new solution during the sales process, while the team writing the proposal may limit the features and functionality included to ensure the proposal is competitively priced. As a result, the solution bought may be a radically reduced version of what the glossy says the solution is capable of.
Overcoming this gap requires careful and complete call out of not just the features and integration, but detailed deliverables and payment terms based on how the implemented solution is expected to function.
Alternately, the solution bought may include all the features, but the channel partner implementing the solution lacks the skills, experience and resources to deliver. To bridge this gap required careful vetting of the partner proposing the solution, including reference projects of similar size and scope, named key resource bios tied to contract performance, and speaking with previous reference projects to understand the proposer’s strengths and limitations.
While there are several points in the process at risk for misalignment, early identification and careful planning can mitigate the risks and ensure a successful transformation.
Elizabeth is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. SCTC consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.