Managed services (MS) are easy to want given the desire to lessen reliance on IT, add agility, secure specialty expertise and/or change cost structures. The capacity flexibility so attractive with cloud technology applies to the resources to support and manage it, as well. And the longing to remain up to date is bolstered by the feeling that when companies manage things in house, they get behind.
Unfortunately, managed services are hard to buy. Each situation presents different requirements, leading vendors to create customized offerings to meet them. Moreover, the market is complex, diverse and arguably still in its infancy for contact centers. The right option may be out there, but contact centers must frame what they really want, perform in-depth due diligence to find the right partner, and define how MS will be managed and funded.
For example, an MS RFP can’t just address functionality and technology. It must carefully define the services aspect—both in scope, and how the center wants or is willing to pay for it. Performance applications (QM, WFM, scorecards, analytics, etc.) create different demands than core applications like routing, IVR and CTI. MACs require little targeted knowledge or understanding of a specific environment; however, routing, reports, and performance tools require more specialization and first-hand knowledge. And fixed monthly fees look very different from usage-based pricing.
Due diligence is more important than ever. You are buying expertise – the right type and enough of it. If part of why you are pursuing MS is “one neck to choke,” you’re looking for a provider with economies of scale as well as the specialties—the proverbial breadth and depth. Without critical mass, you risk a scarcity of specialists and poor responsiveness. Keep in mind the level of coverage required (e.g., 24/7) and the demands you will place on their resources, and seek a provider that can meet those demands. You’ll also want to make sure that their level of control doesn’t prevent you from making basic changes you want to manage with your own resources (like a simple prompt, routing or skill change).
You want to understand how much the people you deal with will know YOUR environment, a risk we see with cloud solutions that can be compounded with MS. Many vendors offer involved and engaged staff with ownership and accountability to specific accounts, even going so far as to place MS staff at your site. Some offerings highlight this value, and buyers should explore the realities through due diligence.
Lots of choices and decisions and diverse offerings means a pretty low chance of an easy “apples to apples” comparison across vendors. And once you select a vendor, you are likely to have more complex negotiations.
With the relative newness of this market, buyers need to understand risks. If the price isn’t profitable for the seller, it raises the risk of corner-cutting that impacts outcomes, similar to what we see with outsourcing. (If the price looks too good to be true, it is!) SOWs, SLAs and strong vendor management are your best weapons for mitigating this risk and managing the outcomes of your unique environment once in production.
In sum: While it’s easy (and understandable!) to want MS, recognize the complexities of buying it and ensuring ongoing success. Bring an extra dose of caution and diligence to the processes of defining your requirements, identifying and evaluating options, negotiating the right structure, price and SLAs, and managing your provider going forward.