The HotLine Magazine Archives
For The Profession of Cloud/SaaS Product Support
By Mikael Blaisdell

Depending upon who you talk to, and how you define it, the failure rate for selecting and installing customer contact center technology can range between sobering and terrifying. The ultimate outcome can include anything from expensive “shelfware” that was bought and implemented but never used to tools that cost more than expected while returning less than the hoped-for benefits. And everything in between. With all that has become known about the perils of the Vendor/Product Selection process over the past 20 years, why do most procurement projects go awry?

The Making of a Purchase Decision

I recently asked a support executive why a particular case management system had been chosen for his customer contact center. His reps did not feel the system was adequate, and resisted using it. The system captured a lot of data, but producing useful information from it was very difficult. “Our CEO used to work for the manufacturer,” he frankly replied. “I wanted a different system, but…” He shrugged. “You know how it goes.” The project team in Support carefully researches and designs an exact specification for what they think they need for their operation, but the final purchase decision is made for very different reasons. Or there was a disconnect between the perceived operational needs and the overall business need. A vendor’s sales team made an “offer too good to turn down.” On and on; the list of pitfalls and disasters seems endless.

Customer Support Technology vendors have learned from experience to ask key questions right from the start of a conversation with a prospect. They know their job. “Do you have a formally designated project? Do you have a budget set for the project? Are you the technical decision-maker? Are you the financial decision maker? What is your time frame for the purchase decision?” While these questions may help the sales team qualify their prospects, and open the door to consideration of the Request For Proposal (by whatever name), there is a point that is seldom addressed. What is your definition of success for this project? What is the basis for that definition?

A New Approach

Unfortunately, the sales expertise of the vendor’s reps is rarely matched with equal skill and knowledge on the other side of the table. Most Support/Service executives will only go through a Vendor/Product Selection project once or twice in their careers. That’s simply not enough to learn the questions that need to be asked and to develop the expertise to raise the odds in success’ favor. Nor is it appropriate to rely on the the vendor’s sales team to make sure you are properly prepared to make an informed decision. That’s your job, not theirs.

The first ingredient in the recipe for a technology selection disaster is failing to ask all of the right questions from the very beginning. It’s clearly time for a new approach. If you can’t clearly tie your technology wish list back to the profitability mission of your contact center and defend the connection in financial terms, something is wrong.

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October 18, 2007