Article of the week 16 – 2023

How to onboard a new vendor in customer care?

Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) has become an integral part of business life. Companies look for more effective ways of working. Therefore, they hand-over customer service and care partially or completely to specialists – the vendors. There have been notable success stories – companies use outsourcing to obtain significant cost savings, to achieve great service quality or to build the capacity to grow and scale in a way that would be difficult to achieve using in-house resources. At the same time, many companies experience difficulties during the vendor onboarding process, especially when it is their first time outsourcing. Before you start to engage with any vendor, for instance, through a request for proposal (RfP), ensure that you are ready to provide your responsibilities during the onboarding. This will save you a lot of time, effort and prevent failure.

So are you ready to successfully onboard a new vendor?

In customer care, the aim is to delight customers at every touchpoint with the company. The agents – in-house or at the vendor – will build the connection with your customers. It is therefore essential that this connection is made scalable by applying a structured approach to onboard a new vendor. The goal is to have the right agents at the right place at the right time ready to handle your customer requests. To make this happen, there are different key elements of a successful vendor onboarding:

These key areas are also highly interdependent, and both the company and the vendor have responsibilities in order to succeed. One significant task is finding the right skill set for the agents. This is where the company needs to think of the right balance between cost efficiency and high-quality specialization. The scope of service in customer care varies across industries and companies. It can range from pure transactional interactions (i.e., “Where is my order?”) to sales interactions (i.e., “Which is the best product for me?”). Furthermore, a multi-lingual setup across various channels, brands and product portfolio all influence the required agent skill sets. It is therefore essential that the company balances the specialization of the agents to secure great quality. On the other hand, the agents need enough volumes to work at the right occupancy. This is where the contact volume and average handling time (AHT) forecast come in (part of workforce management). If the company has an overview of the anticipated customer interactions by language, channel and intent, it can best group the agents and derive the required skill set. This is also the base for the vendor to create and publish the relevant job vacancies. Both the forecast and description of the required skill sets should be provided by you during the onboarding phase, so that the vendor can calculate the staff requirements and manage the recruiting process. 

The next important task is to make these agents knowledgeable. Knowledge can either come from the hired agents’ former experience, the initial training that every agent goes through or available knowledge content. Identifying the required skills and knowledge is the foundation that you need to build. This comprises knowledge on the products, processes and soft skills. You have to make this knowledge accessible to the vendor, so that the agents can be trained and have it available on the job. Therefore building the knowledge content needs to be at the start of any high-quality training and knowledge strategy. During the train the trainer session, you transfer this knowledge to the vendor’s overheads. These then take over the responsibility for the agent training. After the training, the vendor conducts all quality measures to ensure the right customer experience. The onboarding phase should be used to align on the attributes for the quality monitoring and plan calibration meetings.

Lastly, a reliably performing IT is essential. Which tools and technology come from either you or the vendor, should be defined in advance by you and be contractually recorded. The decision of who provides what is based on cost, performance and flexibility. Specific systems such as the workforce management tool are normally provided by the vendor, while others as the CRM system often come from the you. Other tools such as the telephony system can be maintained by one or the other. You should evaluate whether you have the capabilities to provide and maintain the tool. The cost and performance factors play a substantial role. Plus, flexibility increases if you own the tool and you want to switch to another vendor in the future. So before engaging with the vendor, be sure on your capabilities and how the best performing ecosystem looks like. The vendor can fill gaps. During the onboarding phase, integration efforts occur where needed and both parties ensure that all relevant roles have access to the respective tools. Furthermore, you define which KPIs you want to monitor, and these requirements can be implemented in the form of reports either by the vendor or you. 

To sum up, onboarding a new vendor can be a challenging process. It is therefore key to plan before even engaging with the vendor. Make sure that you are aware of your objectives with the outsourcing, what your responsibilities are to provide during the onboarding and what you can expect and purchase from the vendor. Getting the right internal sponsorship from all relevant stakeholders and preparing internally for your responsibilities with enough lead time will make the vendor onboarding much more efficient and seamless.

Laura Belde – Senior Consultant


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