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Getting a Contact Center Implementation Right


In my last No Jitter post, "Digging In to the Contact Center Obsession," I discussed the impact, influence, and necessity of contact centers in today's business world. Now, with the help of my associate Cheryl Helm (fellow SCTC member), it's time to take a practical look at critical factors to consider when implementing a new contact center or migrating to a cloud or hybrid contact center.

As consultants, we adhere to a very strict code of ethics that, among other practicalities, ensures our vendor neutrality. So, for this article no specific vendor names will be mentioned, although some examples cited may be vendor specific.

And to answer what I presume is your first question, no, we do not have, nor have we found a rule of thumb budgetary number per agent for a contact center. There are so many possibilities and permutations that it would be impossible to do that.

Sales Is an Action Item, Not a Job Title

Remember, all vendors are here to make money, and they do this by selling product. No matter how helpful or accommodating vendor salespeople may be, they also need to eat. Don't get taken in by bells, whistles, razzle dazzle, or technobabble that you don't need.

Make a New Plan, Sam, and Keep Yourself Free

Because there are so many variables involved in configuring a contact center, and because each vendor's response will be different, (even if it is asked to respond to and conform to a specific format), it is difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison -- especially when trying to compare a premises-based system with a cloud and hybrid offering. It's easy, however, to get lost in the vendor's features and functions and lose sight of what your company's needs are.

The best way we know to avoid this, and what we advise our clients to do as a first step, is to conduct an internal needs assessment or create a business requirements document before engaging with a vendor. Knowing what you are looking for ahead of time puts you in stronger position to negotiate and shorten the project cycle. This allows you to determine what you need, and what would best meet your company goals, without outside influences. And don't worry about using correct terminology; the same terminology can mean different things to different vendors.

Every business is unique, and while similar type of businesses/industries may have similar goals and desired outcomes, no two contact centers are configured exactly alike. It's important that your company stay focused on your KPIs, call flows, agent skill sets, IVR routing, analytics, reports, productivity, customer satisfaction, surveys, and ultimately delivering that expected excellent customer journey experience -- free of vendor and other outside influences.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

If you try to rush this process, there's more than a good chance that the end result will be frustration. You will not get what you want, and you'll ultimately end up with a system that was overpriced and doesn't deliver what you need. We suggest that you break the project into smaller sub-sections:

Business: Do some homework; be cognizant of all the different piece parts that go into making a successful contact center. Set realistic time frames and goals. This is a very complex undertaking and doesn't come in pre-packaged small, medium or large pre-configured packages. By identifying and understanding your business needs prior to engaging in a contact center implementation, you will better position yourself to understand which vendors and systems best align with your goals, as opposed to fitting their system into your requirements.

Most contact centers are sold by, implemented by, and serviced by resellers or vendor partners. This means the same system may be proposed by more then one vendor. It's important to evaluate if that vendor's business practices are compatible with your company's. Think about it like buying a car: You can buy the same car from any one of a hundred dealers, yet you decided to buy it from that one specific dealer. Why?

Technology: Any first tier contact center, most second tier contact centers, and even several third tier contact centers will get the job done. Some better than others, some more simplistic then others.

Matching the right technology to your needs will save tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. You don't need a million dollars of feature/functions if all you need is a basic ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) function. On the other hand, if you are running a more sophisticated operation and need real-time analytics, data capture, CRM integration and hourly reports, you want to ensure that the system you sign up for can deliver what you need, and not be bogged down and disappointed by a system that cannot provide all those functions.

Vendor selection:All the vendors look great. They all promised that they will deliver the product you want, in the configuration you want, at the cost you want. Great, go for it. My job here is done. On the other hand, you may want to take a little closer look and see what each vendor is really capable of delivering product wise, time wise, and cost wise. As mentioned above there are multiple piece parts and matching them all up and evaluating them is a huge task.

In working with a particular client, we have developed a score card methodology. Among the advantages of using this process is that it permits us to pretty much level the playing field by enabling us to evaluate each vendor in several categories on their own merit, and then compare them against each other. We can then assign a weighting factor to the individual categories that are most important to our client. Allowing for multiple inputs, we can ensure that all stakeholders are represented and included.

You Put the Lime in the Coconut, Drink Them Both Up

Once you've made your vendor and system selection, it's time to get to work implementing.

Implementation: The second biggest cost next to the system itself is implementation. For the most part, implementation consists of vendor-provided professional services. In an SMB contact center (100-250 agents) professional services could run between $500,000 and $750,000, and up.

In most instances the selected vendor is best able to provide adequate professional services for its specific job. Having worked with many vendors over the years, we've found that vendors will low-ball the implementation and professional services portion of the work to help keep prices low (relatively speaking).

Here's where that needs assessment or business requirements document will again save you money and time:

It's important to know up-front if the vendor has allocated enough time and resources to ensure all current call flows/contact flows are documented. Review all features that will be utilized by agents and supervisors, desktop applications and interfaces, overall workflow processes, QA and speech analytics, voice, email, chat, calibration process, WFM, agent group/skill design.

Document current and new IVR and CTI integrations and training.

By knowing what you need up-front, you can help streamline the vendor professional services cost and time.

Project Management: Arguably this is where the best laid plans of mice and contact centers go astray.

Project management is one of those tasks that can make or break the implementation. While the vendor will provide project management, for the most part, it's looking out for its own interests. It's important that you as the end user also have a project management team to provide the necessary oversight during system or solution installation and cut-over, thus ensuring that the selected supplier satisfies all expectations and deliverables in the final contract.

The vendor should provide you with a Scope of Work document (SOW) that includes a detailed project plan, what is included in the SOW, its and your responsibilities, escalation procedures, problem resolution, and a final acceptance testing schedule.

Prior to starting the implementation and in conjunction with the vendor, you should have completed an internal project plan that identifies your company's responsibilities, resource allocations, time schedule, dependencies, and a product acceptance procedure with ongoing maintenance costs around 15-20% of the hardware costs on a

premises-based system. Maintenance costs are included in a cloud system, but initial professional services/configuration fees are about the same price.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Let's assume that all went well, and you are now ready to accept. It's not unusual to make changes after you have had time to use and evaluate the system. If you have the staff and the technical skills, many of these changes are simple and can be done in -house. Otherwise, you will need to reengage with vendor.

Some final tips for a happily ever after:

  • Be sure that your contract includes costs for moves, adds & changes (MACs) and that those SOWs and costs are clearly delineated.
  • Make sure you understand what the manufacturers and resellers' guarantee/warranty cover and what voids them if you do something on your own.
  • Know whether the contract is renewable after the initial period, and at what rate.
  • And last but not least, review your maintenance contract. Annual maintenance on a premises-based system will typically run between 15%-20% of the hardware/software cost. Maintenance should be included in the monthly cloud-based managed or hosted services fees.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

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