While there’s been plenty of ink spilled on how to pick a suitable BPO vendor, one of the best ways to make a reliable determination is within the first few minutes of a site visit.
In those early moments, you should be prepared to assess three critical areas: on-the-ground site staff, workforce engagement, and infrastructure/location. These tips will guide you through the process.
Preparing for Touchdown
It all begins with your arrival at the airport.
“You should already have an understanding of the agenda before you land,” said Christopher J. Muñiz, Vice President of Service Delivery and Network Support at Beachbody in Santa Monica, CA – an experienced buyer of BPO services.
“You should know who’s meeting you, and the name of the driver. You want someone there with a sign with your name on it. That initial pick up can set the tone. It should be professional and efficient.”
If you’re flying in to check out a big operator, it’s unlikely that the COO will be meeting you on the ground, but it’s critical that the person greeting you is at least a responsible member of the management team. Ideally, that person is someone you’ve been dealing with in advance of the visit.
“Having a fairly senior person meet you, and someone you’ve already had contact with, is important,” said Muñiz. “It tells you that this is a relationship that they’re interested in, and that they value. If they send a junior rep to get you, then that might not be a good sign.”
Heading to the Site
During the drive to the site, you want the vehicle to be clean and in good condition right down to the air conditioning. Even the behavior of the driver matters, as it reflects on their work experience. A jittery, anxious trip from the airport is a bad sign.
“While heading to the site, you should be asking questions of the driver and company representative,” says Muñiz. “Remember, the rep is someone you should have already been dealing with before your arrival. During that drive, you can ask about the climate, the culture, security issues. They should be able to show a level of expertise with these kinds of questions.”
Then there’s the arrival at the site itself. The vendor representative who picked you up at the airport should be sticking with you and not handing you off to someone else. After all, that person is now the face of the vendor on the ground and should be present and accountable throughout the visit.
“As soon as you arrive on site there are many factors that come into play,” said Muñiz. “You can immediately assess the accessibility of the location, with public transportation being an important factor. And there should be someone there to greet you, such as a site director.”
Assessing the Workforce
Within moments of arrival, you should try to get a read on the workforce’s overall mood. You can do this by asking yourself the following questions as you conduct the walk-through:
- Does someone welcome you right away? Are they friendly?
- As you walk through the center, do agents on the floor seem engaged?
- How does management react to your interactions with agents?
- Is the center clean?
- Walk through the break room. Are employees relaxed and happy?
If the atmosphere is somber and oppressive, that’s definitely a bad sign, given that attrition rates for young workers are an ongoing concern in BPO.
“You want to see a team leader who’s walking around and people chit-chatting in hallways,” said Muñiz. “These are typically young employees at entry-level salaries, and they’ll leave if they’re not getting social engagement on site. They’ll go where their friends are. This doesn’t have to be super cool – just not drab like a hospital. There should be meeting areas, places where people can get together. In the common areas, if the people are quiet and stoic, with tight-lipped faces, then that’s a problem.”
Important, too, is to assess that everyone is consistently held to the highest security standards.
“As soon as you arrive, you should follow the security protocol and not be waved by,” said Muñiz. “That includes on the work floor, where there should be a guard who asks you to sign in. If you have a cell phone, you should be asked to keep it in the boardroom. If not, that’s a red flag.”
Observations of the Facility
As you begin to move through the site, be aware of whether there are other accounts in the building and how that might affect attrition.
The elevator ride can also be telling. You don’t want your guide to be kicking people out, and you want to be sure that the elevators can handle human traffic. The elevator is also an opportunity to see where people are getting off and what might be going on on other floors. Security checkpoints should be consistent.
“The important thing is to keep your eyes and ears wide open,” said Muñiz. “In those first few minutes, you want evidence that they’re well-prepared and professional. After all, this will reflect on the attitude and the approach that they’ll take when selecting and training agents, as well as handling customers.”
A single scan of the production floor can also tell you a lot. Wider workspaces that allow for a degree of collaboration, as well as huddle and feedback rooms, are a more positive indication than tiny, traditional cubicles that isolate workers. The training classrooms should also reflect this.
“Remember, if you’re conducting a visit there might be an active RFP working against a solution,” said Muñiz. “You might be only visiting your top three choices, which is to say that you’re not vetting the vendor as much as the ground floor and services team.”
That means that you should go to the bathroom – and not the one used by executives. Of course, you want that to be clean and able to handle demand. You also want to make sure there are good food and recreation options and bunk space in case of severe weather. Clearly, if the location is a depressing floor in a shopping mall, with limited facilities, it won’t make the cut. Beyond that, it’s all about the attitude of the management and the workforce.
“You do want them to put on a bit of a show,” said Muñiz. “Right from the start, the level of executive engagement is critical. You want to feel that level of commitment.”
Bringing it all Together
When you embark on that all-important site visit for the first time, be sure to look out for a contented workforce, a great building in a good location, and a professional and committed team on the ground – all of which can be determined right from the get-go.
Remember that you’ll be working with this group on a daily or weekly basis, so it’s vital to be sure that your companies are compatible. More importantly, ask yourself whether you can be comfortable with them representing your company and its products or services – it shouldn’t take long to figure that out.
And look on the bright side: if the vendor fails the test right from the start, you’re one step closer to finding a partner that can pass it.