Featured Image for the blog: Ask the Right Questions: 6 Essential Questions you Need Answered before Committing to a Cloud Contact Center Platform 

It’s rare in our lives that we make big purchases that tie us to long commitments. If you buy a pair of jeans and later decide you don’t like the fit, it’s not hard to resell them, return them, or donate them. But a new house, a new car — these are the primary purchases a person makes that have true long-term commitments. And, the process can be daunting. These investments are expensive, time-consuming, and a huge responsibility.

At a business, your big purchases get even more complex. You have to commit to a contract to rent or purchase a building. You have a whole lot of partners and vendors and you can’t risk them being untrustworthy. One massive purchase and change for your company occurs as you start transforming your digital tools.

New digital tools, no matter their function, impact departments company-wide.

As an employee of a software company myself, I understand the time and thought that goes into implementing a new system. I’ve walked with clients through the process, which can sometimes take up to a couple of years to complete. There’s anxiety, new procedures to be written, and a learning curve for everyone involved.

When it comes to buying new software for your contact center, not only your employees are affected. You want to trust that your partnering vendor can support you and help you support your own customers and clients. In this new journey of selecting the right platform that benefits your team and your customers, it’s important to be intentional.

Before you submit your Request for Proposal (RFP), you have to know exactly what your team needs to succeed. You don’t put an offer on a house without making sure the house is free of major structural issues. And, you wouldn’t walk into an interview with a prospective hire without a list of questions in hand to see if they’re a good fit, would you? The same goes for selecting the right cloud contact center partner. You need to ask the right questions and take the right steps to see if they meet your criteria before you can put your offer in.

Need a full list of questions to vet your vendors? Get our template with 101 questions to ask in your contact center RFP.

Let’s take a look at some of the essential questions you should ask when starting your search for the right contact center for you:

1. Is the platform truly omnichannel?

An overwhelming majority of people, nearly 96%, think customer service is important for brand loyalty. As a result, quality customer service and delivery of a great customer experience is the focus of most companies in 2019. As new digital communications channels enter the mix, customer expectations shift and brands struggle to keep up. Busy lifestyles, owning multiple devices and more set the standard with shoppers. Now, they feel they should be able to reach brands through several touchpoints.

An omnichannel experience, though, is more than having a bunch communication channels. Omnichannel service specifically means there’s a strategy behind each digital touchpoint. All of those channels are connected for a more holistic experience.

Customers want a seamless experience with your brand, regardless of how they contact you. They want to jump from channel to channel with consistency and personalization. In fact, companies who offer omnichannel options see a 91% increase in customer retention, according to research from Aberdeen.

Omnichannel contact centers are the future and will continue to affect how customers interact with brands. When looking for a new platform, make sure it handles communications across multiple channels. From voice to video to SMS to social, and even standards like email and chat. And ideally, your platform will share contextual details between communication channels. This way every agent can pick up where the last communication ended without the customer noticing the shift.

2. Can my company pilot your software? What are your pricing and subscription options?

A benefit of cloud contact center software is that it’s easier for vendors to offer flexible pricing and subscription options. Oh, and don’t miss the opportunities for free trials. Subscription services like Netflix and Spotify have made a 30-day free trial the norm. Many contact center platforms allow you to demo, to participate in webinars, and to try out the software in a pilot program.

Piloting the platform will help you see if there are any glaring gaps in what the software, or the vendor, have to offer. Try a few solutions and do some test runs before deploying a solution for real, and get several agents to test the solution, too. Your existing agents will be able to give the best feedback about how the software fits with their current workflow.

Often, software isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Whether you’re a small team with only 10 agents, or a large nationwide company with 300 agents, you want a platform fit for you. And, you want to pay the appropriate amount. Look for a partner who bases their pricing off of the number of seats you need or features you need. Consider partners with various contract options. Find one that allows payments on a month-to-month basis or annually, depending on your needs. If you’re a large enterprise, don’t be afraid to ask a vendor about their custom pricing and subscription options for flexibility.

Find a partner vendor who will adjust their cost and accessibility based on your needs.

Some companies even offer pilots of the product beforehand. Check out this Webinar recap about HotSchedules, a Sharpen client who piloted our cloud contact center.

3. How secure is the solution?

Traditionally, companies have cited security and compliance as a reason to prefer on-premises tech. The perception that cloud based software is less secure, however, isn’t typically true. While vulnerabilities do exist in the cloud (as they do anywhere else), nearly 70% of cloud contact center users cite security and compliance as a reason to invest in cloud technology. This stat reveals how companies have largely overcome their concerns in this area. Now, IT teams and software providers are more proficient in controlling data in a cloud infrastructure.

When you’re evaluating platforms, be sure to ask vendors how they secure their data. Involve your IT team members in meetings with your potential partners so they can evaluate the security setup. The security of your data is a top priority and equally important to your customers. Make sure your vendors share this value.

4. Will updates on the platform be a headache?

Keeping your software updated is critical, but so is minimizing disruption or system downtime. With cloud systems in particular, you’ll experience regular updates and maintenance.

Whether you add new features or your vendor upgrades the system, it’s vital that your partners roll out updates without compromising your operations. In your RFP, ask that there be good documentation any time your new platform has planned changes. You’ll want your prospective vendors to communicate properly anytime they perform maintenance.

Be as specific as possible when you discuss updates with your partner. Be sure to ask about expected downtimes. How frequently will these be? Are they on a regular schedule so you can anticipate consistency? How much change can be expected with feature updates? Will they provide training materials for new features?

The right cloud contact center lets you constantly iterate and improve as your business needs change.

5. Does the solution have good reporting tools?

There is a lot you can learn from your customer interactions. Data is incredibly important for you to hone in on better operations and delivering better service. As a manager, you need to know how you’re performing as a team to know where to improve. Reporting tools are essential to learn more about your customers and your agents. Perhaps you’ve tracked metrics in the past using various integrations or tools. Or maybe even manually.

Now, imagine having technology that gathers all the data you could possibly need from your interactions and houses it all in one place. With every click, phone call, and each completed task, strong reporting tools can gather the data you need to streamline operations. Find a platform that does the work for you, so you can easily access the data you need. Consider what surveys and metrics you most frequently use and see what vendors provide templates for those, too.

Many contact center platforms also provide training and coaching tools that you can pair with your reports. These help you identify the weaknesses and strengths of your agents and give you the ability to offer immediate feedback.

Curious what an integrated reporting dashboard looks like? Check out Sharpen’s reporting dashboard for a solid example.

6. Does the vendor provide strong technical support?

As an expert in customer service yourself, you probably have some high standards for support. In this situation, you’re the client. It’s important that you set a high standard of service for those you partner with.

Taking on new software means you’re in for a big learning curve. Even if you’re quick to adapt and good with technology, every software platform has its own way of doing things. So, when there are hiccups or when your team needs help learning the software, you want to know you can turn to your partner for the right kind of support.

Research what kind of reviews the vendors are getting from their clients. Make sure they provide references in their RFP bid and customer case studies so you can reach out to some of their customers and hear first hand. What kind of self-service tools and help guides do they provide? Do they have software training included as part of the implementation process? Do they respond promptly when you ask for help? Are you assigned to the entire customer service team, or do you have a singular point of contact with the company?

These are all important questions to ask your prospective partners before signing any contract. Make sure you know they have your back. It’s vital to have strong support as you begin your new endeavor.

Taking the Dive with Digital Transformation

New cloud contact center software is a big purchase for your team. Just like when you’re interviewing a new hire, or interviewing a realtor, you have to ask the right questions to know you’re committing to the right thing. Asking some of these questions will help you step confidently into a new partnership.

Still unsure about how to establish a strategy for digital transformation? Read up on some basic first steps to take the dive into digitally transforming your contact center.