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Working With Consultants

Working With Consultants

/ Current Issue, Operations, Strategy, People
Working With Consultants

How to maximize the benefits of their counsel and services.

Consultants are an essential part of the contact center industry. Their abilities, insights, knowledge, and services, covering a wide range of needs, enable contact centers to cost-effectively achieve their missions: ideally exceeding senior management expectations.

Laura Sikorski

To get a handle on how contact center consultants can help in these challenging, disruptive, but also opportunity-present times, and to obtain the maximum benefits of these engagements, we turned to consultant and Contact Center Pipeline Advisory Board member Laura Sikorski for insights.

Q. What are the needs that contact centers are using consultants to meet today?

First, let us go “Back to Basics.” Companies retain a consultant to assist with a special skill not available from existing staff.

I have found that retaining a consultant means different things to companies depending on their size. Do you want somebody for a special one-time project? Or a contractor on retainer for multiple projects as needs arise?

If you have an IT department and need innovative technology to manage the center, IT, and contact center personnel must work together to develop operations and technology requirements.

Here’s my advice.

  • Be sure the consultant you are looking for is not a person between jobs who decides to call themselves a consultant.
  • Also be sure they are available to provide continuity for the projects in the future, and you have checked their references.
  • Define exactly what you want done and be sure that the consultant understands your needs.
  • Always develop and issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) that includes a Statement of Work (SOW) that details your project and expectations.
  • Have a Bidders Conference that will allow questions from your prospects. Afterwards, issue any revisions to your RFP.
“I have found that retaining a consultant means different things to companies depending on their size.” —Laura Sikorski

Once you have reviewed all responses, select the consultant and/or consulting firm and execute your Consulting Services Agreement. The project should begin with a kick-off meeting, a project timeline, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all staff.

Consultants can help you with:

  • Technology optimization
    • Digital strategy for the next three-five years
    • Cloud versus premise-based solutions
    • UCaaS (unified communications-as-a-service) and CCaaS (contact center-as-a-service) features and implementation plans
    • Interaction routing
    • E-911
    • Security
    • Business continuity
    • Automation
    • Speech analytics
    • Artificial intelligence (AI)
    • …and the next “hot” technology
  • Operations optimization
    • Corporate philosophy and values (mission/vision statements)
    • Conduct workshops for special projects
    • Oversee task forces for special projects
    • Organizational structure
    • Customer relationships
      • Personalization
      • Loyalty
      • Ways to improve business performance and profitability
      • Touchpoints
      • Surveys/feedback
      • First call resolution (FCR) versus zero call resolution (ZCR)
    • Human Resources
      • Recruiting policies
      • Onboarding
      • Turnover
      • Staffing: forecasting, scheduling, budgets
      • Training
      • Performance evaluation and monitoring policies
      • Coaching
      • Work-from-home versus return-to-office versus hybrid
    • Processes
      • KPIs
      • Employee engagement
      • Value of lost calls
      • Reporting
      • Governance committee meeting attendance

Q. Have the reasons for tapping consultants changed from five years ago?

I do not think so. If you need help you need help.

The role of the contact center is pivotal to any enterprise. It is the most customer-driven area in your business due to centralized interactions, the Voice of the Customer is apparent, and where data capture is significant.

Keep in mind the contact center budget is generally 60% Personnel, 25% Network, 10% Overhead, and 5% Equipment.

Allow the consultant to get in the trenches during their discovery phase. Their ability to interview executives, management staff, floor supervisors, team leads, training instructors, QA analysts, agents, and staff in front/back-office departments that the center interacts with is paramount.

A key component to successful operations is happy and engaged employees. Encourage the consultant to listen to agent calls (side-by-side with headset) and watch screen navigations.

Having a consultant on your team who has “worked in a contact center” or can share success stories on how they improved their client technologies and operational efficiencies is a real plus! A consultant must show examples of how their recommendations and solutions benefited their clients.

Q. Do you anticipate the rationale for utilizing consultants to change over the next five years?

I do not. There will always be innovative technology that influences operations and outside expertise will help you make the right decisions.

Q. Have you seen any changes in how businesses/contact centers source, seek proposals for, decide on, work with, and compensate consultants?

I have found that companies are savvier in how they want the consultant to work and are realistic in developing time periods for results and their requirements.

Customers will issue a purchase order for a block of hours at an agreed upon hourly rate based on a SOW. This is quite common for larger companies. The key point to remember is that sufficient hours should be allocated for each project task.

Another option is an annual retainer. It gives you the advantage of knowing what the year’s consulting costs will be. The consultant guarantees a minimum number of work hours, and they too can then plan other activities appropriately.

Meeting minutes, interview notes, and weekly status reports are the norm regardless of how you choose to retain the consultant.

A consultant should be considered an employee. Payment should be prompt and be within 30 days of their invoice.

Q. What are your recommendations for contact centers seeking consultants, including how best to partner with them?

When interviewing a potential consultant, be wary of these questions: “So tell me about your business?” “Who is your target market?,” and “What is your budget for this project?”.

They should have already researched your business, including your website, and should have a clear understanding of your industry and company.

Asking about your budget is a horrible question as it assumes the consultant is looking at providing a commodity rather than a service.

Your interview discussions should center around your operational and technological challenges, who your ideal customers are, why they buy your products or services, the value of new customers, your competitors, and why your company is unique.

“A consultant must show examples of how their recommendations and solutions benefited their clients.”

Prior to becoming a consultant 38 years ago, the best advice I received was to ask colleagues in my industry for consultant referrals.

Their first-hand knowledge saved me time and I was able to discuss my project and “pick their brain” on how to approach my needs with the consultants they recommended.

A great consultant resource is the Society of Communications Technology Consultants International (SCTC). Click the “Find a Consultant” tab. Their members must sign a code of ethics and they do list their specialties on the SCTC website.

Always have the consultant sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Once done, do not keep secrets. I have found times during my discovery phase where I learned “things from employees” that should have been shared with me by executives and management beforehand.

A consultant is your partner, not an adversary. Good luck with your search!

If you would like to contact Laura, you can reach her at [email protected].

Brendan Read

Brendan Read

Brendan Read is Editor-in-Chief of Contact Center Pipeline. He has been covering and working in customer service and sales and for contact center companies for most of his career. Brendan has edited and written for leading industry publications and has been an industry analyst. He also has authored and co-authored books on contact center design, customer support, and working from home.

Brendan can be reached at [email protected].

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