With various choices for a contact center platform, CX leaders should conduct a formal request for proposal, or RFP, before they select a technology partner.
Organizations should ask questions in their contact center RFPs and evaluate the answers, both quantitatively and qualitatively, to narrow down a list of vendors that offer the best fit for their requirements. Organizations have numerous options for contact center providers -- some are cloud only, others have cloud and on-premises architectures; some have unified communications offerings, others have partnerships; some have extensive AI capabilities, others are more rudimentary.
A contact center RFP gets the answers and information an organization needs to make the right decision for its operations. The RFP responses determine the organization's CX capabilities, potential integrations, ability to innovate and more.
Enact the following steps for a contact center RFP process.
Establish a contact center RFP project plan
An RFP is a complex project with many moving parts. To use everyone's time wisely, CX leaders should treat RFP development as a formal project, assign a project manager and assemble a project team. Project managers coordinate between team members, schedule meetings, set timetables, adjust when issues arise and keep the project on track. Project managers also typically communicate with vendors and partners who help develop the RFP.
Contact center RFP projects take longer than people expect, simply because of the decision's complexity and importance. Depending on the contact center's size, the RFP process from first meeting to final decision may range from 12 weeks to six months. However, companies with large, complex contact centers that need detailed technical evaluations, particularly when moving from on premises to a cloud environment, can take up to a year with an RFP.
The project plan should include the following six steps:
- Gather internal requirements.
- Conduct preliminary market research.
- Write, review and revise the RFP, and include relevant questions.
- Evaluate the responses and select a shortlist of vendors.
- Hold meetings with shortlisted vendors.
- Decide and plan for implementation.
1. Gather internal requirements
No one can write an effective contact center RFP without talking to the people affected by the decision. The project team should request business requirements from sales and marketing teams, contact center supervisors, and customer service and sales agents who will use the technology.
For example, does the sales team want to collaborate with contact center supervisors on the latest outbound campaigns? Do supervisors need analytics or video technology to manage remote teams? What do customer service agents want in a user interface? That type of input serves as a basis for the RFP questions that vendors must answer and determines which features are either mandatory or nice to have.
Internal requirements also should include input from the cybersecurity and IT teams. Security experts can provide a list of capabilities any provider must have. The IT staff will compile a technical checklist. This input can reduce the analysis time, as it can eliminate providers that don't meet technical, integration or security requirements.
2. Conduct preliminary market research
All too often, CX leaders don't cast a wide net for their RFP because they already have a few vendors in mind for contact center platforms. CX leaders must research broadly to start -- either online or through an analyst or consultant partner -- about the market. New players arise and existing providers update capabilities to address market requirements. In this phase, project teams should look at 20 to 30 contact center platform vendors.
In addition, this phase enables CX leaders to learn about new applications and innovations in contact center services, AI capabilities, analytics, pricing, partnerships and integrations. This information can shape plans for the organization's CX strategy, based on what is and what will be available from technology providers.
Some companies initially conduct a request for information (RFI), which is a lightweight version of an RFP and provides enough feedback to know whether to continue exploring options with specific providers. When an analyst firm does RFIs for organizations, it reaches out to a wide range of vendors and gathers information about their offerings. That information can help narrow the initial field of 20 to 30 vendors to five to 10 finalists.
3. Write the RFP and ask relevant questions
CX leaders should give project teams enough time to craft an RFP that contains all the teams' key questions and then some. This process requires collaborative writing and reviewing, as well as involvement from sales, marketing, customer service, implementation, security, procurement and other parts of the company. RFPs don't have set rules for how many questions to include, but 100 to 200 questions is relatively standard.
Both the technology provider and the team that analyzes the RFP response can benefit from an RFP broken into core sections: costs, service-level agreements (SLAs), integrations, applications, etc. Different teams on both sides work on the RFP in parallel.
Some key contact center RFP questions include the following:
- What is the maximum number of concurrent seats you support?
- What architectures -- on-premises, cloud or hybrid -- do you support currently? What architectures do you plan to support in the future?
- How does your service address requirements of small, remote or home offices?
- What options do you offer companies to connect to your platform?
- Can you provide an overview of your AI and analytics capabilities?
- Can you describe your SLAs? If you miss an SLA, can we get out of our contract without penalty?
- What specific features do you offer? Note: Project teams should list all features important to their organization.
- What interaction channels do you support currently? What are your plans?
- How do customers manage your platform -- i.e., with built-in tools or third-party specialty tools?
- Can you describe your security model for cloud services? Note: Project teams should include sub-questions around encryption algorithms, whether the algorithms support voice or video recognition to decrease fraud and other relevant queries.
- What is your mean time to repair in an outage?
- Can you describe your technology roadmap and highlight areas you believe differentiate you from competitors?
- Do you offer professional services, and how: internally, through partners or both?
- Do you provide agent and supervisor training? If so, what's the cost?
- What is your price range per agent, per month? What is included on the low end and the high end? Can you provide list pricing and typical retail pricing?
- What enterprise applications do you integrate with currently? What do you have planned for future integrations?
- How many customers do you have, and what's the average business size of your customers?
- Can you provide customer references, including current customers and companies who left or selected a different vendor?
4. Evaluate responses and select a vendor shortlist
Project teams can develop a weighted scorecard to evaluate the answers from contact center technology vendors. The weighted scorecard provides a quantitative score for each vendor based on their answers to multiple-choice, numeric or short-text questions that can be quantified. Then, qualitative answers to open-ended questions can help further identify the shortlist candidates. The shortlist should include three vendors.
5. Meet with shortlisted vendors
The organization should invite the vendors on the shortlist to meetings, so they can answer more detailed questions. The vendors typically present at these meetings on their key differentiators and, sometimes, provide information under non-disclosure. The project team can ask questions and use this additional information to arrive at a finalist.
Additionally, organizations can conduct a pilot or trial run with the shortlisted vendors. Nearly all vendors offer trial products, licenses and services free of charge. Trial runs can help IT and CX leaders determine which products align best with the organization's current technologies and operational processes. This interim step also enables organizations to test the reliability and quality of the products or services.
6. Decide and plan for implementation
When the project team chooses a finalist, they present their choice of contact center technology to management, along with justification for that choice. After all relevant parties agree on the provider, the organization can prepare for implementation.
Many additional steps can enable a contact center RFP process, but these tips should give organizations a solid start in selecting the right contact center platform.