Top 9 Questions: ESG & the Contact Center RFP

by Patty Isnor in Contact Center RFP, Customer Service Outsourcing, Patty Isnor

The concept of ESG has had its place in the business world for a couple of decades, but it is only recently that it has become mainstream. One of the more complex aspects of upholding the standards a company values is ensuring its vendors are similarly committed. This holds especially true in the world of outsourced customer service, where your vendor is literally representing your brand and your values. 

Though there are many official guidelines and metrics that can help you assess your outsourcer’s ESG efforts, the first step is simply to start asking questions. And so it’s the RFP, pack horse that it is, that enables companies to first discern whether potential vendors measure up. 

Below are 9 top questions for asking about ESG in your outsourced contact center RFP process.  


Environmental Sustainability 

In today’s landscape, many consumers are increasingly focused on aligning their buying choices with businesses that are committed to sustainability. If your brand prioritizes environmental sustainability, that commitment should certainly extend to your vendors, and especially your contact center—they are, after all, interfacing with those very customers.  

It’s more than just the right thing to do. Practicing environmentally conscious efforts can help companies (and, yes, your vendors) improve operational efficiencies and costs. With this in mind, your RFP must address the topic of environmental stewardship. Here are just a few questions to get started.  

Does your organization have formal environmental policies and practices? If so, describe your current commitment to optimal environmental performance including any current certifications. 

It’s important to recognize that composing and implementing ESG standards within any organization is a complex process, requiring tremendous resources and investments. Depending on the size of the outsourcers involved in your RFP bid, you may find varying levels of formality in their policies and practices. This is especially true for smaller, privately-owned companies. Be aware of this when you attempt to compare answers between vendors—it may not be apples to apples. 

Describe any initiatives aimed at reducing energy consumption and minimizing carbon footprint. 

Carbon footprint reduction is often the cornerstone of an organization’s sustainability practices. Your potential outsourcer’s answer will likely be indicative of their overall values and commitments. How are they employing energy efficient technologies, optimizing HVAC systems, utilizing renewable energy sources, or leveraging remote and hybrid work models to reduce traffic and office space?  

How does your organization measure and track its environmental performance, and are there specific targets or goals in place for reducing environmental impact? 

Policies and initiatives are great, but without specific goals and measurements, these great intentions are all too likely to fall flat. If you and your outsourced partners are serious about environmental sustainability, tracking performance in this area is key.  

Social Responsibility 

Social responsibility has a weighty impact on the retention and well-being of all employees. Below are a few ESG-focused RFP questions that speak specifically to the social impact and ethical business practices of each potential vendor. 

Does your organization have a formal policy covering human rights and working conditions? Please describe what elements of social responsibility this policy covers. 

If you’re outsourcing to an offshore, or even nearshore, location, you can’t take for granted your bidders are adhering to the same legal and ethical standards you find in most, if not all, onshore workplaces. In the RFP, you can ask about the safeguards in place to ensure you and your potential partners are aligned. Historically, such policies have been in the purview of HR, though as ESG has gained importance and visibility, the responsibility of safeguarding employee welfare may have shifted elsewhere in the organization. Regardless, being able to assess a company’s policy and practices regarding human rights and working conditions is key for making your final outsourcing decision.  

What policies and practices are in place to promote a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion within your organization? What are the measures of success for your DE&I initiatives? 

It’s easy enough for any vendor to slap an “equal opportunity employer” statement on their website, but what does that look like in practice? And how have their efforts shifted as remote work has become more common?  

What policies do you have in place to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace? How are these policies enforced?  

These days, most employees are more than familiar with the stereotypically hours-long, rote harassment training sessions (complete with videos from the 90s.) Ideally, you’d want to work with a customer care partner who is doing more than just checking the boxes. Check for good practices like whistleblower protection policies. 

Governance Structure 

Any customer-facing entity should understand the critical importance of transparency and trust. Use the contact center RFP to determine what potential partners are doing to ensure integrity, compliance, ethical conduct, and operational efficiency. Here are a few governance-focused ESG RFP questions. 

Describe your governance structure, including board composition (if applicable) and mechanisms for ensuring ethical conduct? Do you have a corporate code of conduct? If yes, attach a copy.  

Ethical behavior and consistent compliance don’t happen without a robust governance structure in place to ensure accountability. Even if smaller, privately-held companies don’t have a formal board in place, they should have documented mechanisms for upholding ethical standards, codes of conduct, regulatory requirements, and operational oversight.  

How does your organization ensure independence and objectivity in decision-making processes, particularly concerning client interests and contractual obligations? 

Every business has its own interests and concerns that motivate their decisions and commitments, but you want to work with a partner that recognizes the importance of mutual respect and objective integrity. How do your bidders maintain impartiality, prioritize client welfare, prevent conflict of interest and ensure fair treatment between clients?  

Assessing ESG in Your Contact Center RFP 

Finally, consider this bonus question: 

Has your organization received third party ESG validation? If so, please provide a report of your most recent rating or score. 

It’s possible that smaller contact centers either do not have third party validation or, if they do, their scores may not easily compare to those of larger outsourcers.  

Consider this example: many validators require an annual sustainability report, but for small, privately-held companies, a public report is unlikely to exist. Another example: some ESG rating systems are designed for manufacturing environments, not office-based contact centers. In this instance, standards are weighted heavily, scrupulously assessing every inch of the workspace for safety and worker health—but these standards are largely irrelevant in work-at-home scenarios.  

Third party validation can be tremendously helpful—but they also may need to be taken with a grain of salt. Assessing your potential vendors on a case-by-case basis is critical when it comes time to shortlist your RFP bidders.  

You’ll notice that we haven’t included any suggested questions around data security and privacy standards. In most, if not all, cases, the contact center RFP should include a robust standalone data security and privacy assessment—a blog topic unto itself. So, we are saving that for another day. 

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Ultimately, if ESG is a long-term value and commitment for your organization, asking the same of your vendors is a strategic next step. Customizing your contact center RFP to include specific ESG questions will help you narrow down your list of preferred outsourced partners. 






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