System implementation at contact centers needs careful planning, due diligence, RFP, vendors, project team, manager, & plan, front line feedback.

by Colin Taylor & Peg Ayers 

Implementing a new system is one of the biggest risks in a Contact Center. The old system may not have been great, but at least we knew what it could do, and we knew how to do it. Now what? In our years of assisting clients in risk mitigation and creating successful system implementation, we have identified eight keys to successful system implementation.  

Be thoughtful about what you need. 

What are your true requirements and what are the nice-to-have features that you might be willing to live without if the price turns out to be too high? What do you need today and, just as importantly, what will you need tomorrow? Changing systems is disruptive—you don’t want to do it again a few years from now. Examine your processes. Break them down to a granular level to be sure you’ve identified every requirement. Then create a clear list of requirements, and make sure each potential vendor responds to your specific needs. Read the mouse-print in any vendor agreement to ensure that you understand where it aligns with or varies from what has been presented verbally. Request and verify any required certifications (PCI, HIPAA, etc.), as certifications expire. Finally, don’t be distracted by bells and whistles that don’t serve your purpose.  

Don’t be pressured. 

A vendor may offer you a “deal you can’t refuse,” and a tight deadline to make a decision. This is like the old late-night commercials offering a price that’s only good “if you order before midnight tonight!” and then making the exact same offer the next night and the next, for weeks or months. Urgency and scarcity are just sales tactics—and they’re effective! Don’t be taken in. 

Have the right people doing due diligence. 

Don’t leave due diligence to a few technical folks. While they have a stake in the new system’s success, they’re not the end users. Make sure the front-line people, who employ the systems every day, and their managers have a say in requirements and are given opportunities for input throughout the process. After all, they will be the ones who need to make the new system work for your customers. 

Be specific in your system implementation Request for Proposal (RFP). 

Make sure you understand how a feature or capability will be delivered. Be wary of terms like “configurable” and “customizable.” Ask what skills and knowledge will be needed to customize or configure. Consider if these are skills you have on your team or if resources will be needed from other departments, such as Information Technology (IT). Requiring support from another department can create challenges and delays, as it is unlikely center leadership can set the priorities for IT or other departments. Before choosing a system, you need to know if the configurations or customizations will truly give you the results you need, as stated in your requirements. 

Interview the vendor implementation team and confirm your comfort level with them. It’s this team, not the sales team, that will be in the trenches with you. You don’t want to discover a mismatch and have to request a change in team members during the system implementation.  

Record every demo and requirements review, transcribe them, and publish those transcripts. This reduces the chance of misunderstandings about promises made and fulfilled. 

Dedicate a system implementation project manager and create a project team. 

Everybody on your team has a full-time job and then some, and many won’t have the specific skills needed for project management. Consider an outside consultant to take on this role. They have no allegiances within the organization. They are focused on the success of the project and not the politics. They have experience with similar projects in other organizations and can use that to help yours avoid many pitfalls. Alternatively, you may have project managers within your organization who have the experience and knowledge to lead the system implementation and who have the time to devote themselves to it. Your project manager should lead a project team that represents all stakeholders.  

Create a solid project plan that’s shared with all and discussed at least weekly. 

This plan needs to be a living document that clearly lays out who’s responsible for what and by when. Everyone on the project team should be studying it daily, and it should be reviewed with the group at least weekly in a regularly scheduled meeting. The project manager must be willing and able to escalate problems or roadblocks to the right people, no matter how high up in the organization, to keep the project on track and on time.  

Hold the vendor accountable. 

You can’t afford to let anything slide. At some point, you’re going to sign off and accept the new system, and you don’t want a few annoying bugs interfering with the new system’s success for months and years to come. Chase down every issue, no matter how small, and keep a log that everyone can see which clearly shows issues and their urgency and consequences, dates of reporting and follow-up, the responsible parties at the vendor, and final solutions. Don’t sign off on the new system until the issues log is clear. 

Get feedback from the front-line. 

It’s the front-line people who use the current system every day. They know the issues, challenges, idiosyncrasies, and workarounds. They will be the ones using the new system, so their feedback should matter most of all. Give them the opportunity to provide input on the processes, potential improvements, and design of the future system. Ensure that they have a clear method of communicating every issue and keep them informed about the resolution of each one.  

Please Contact ApexCX for all your customer experience needs.

(April 4, 2023)