Decisions to outsource critical functions are never easy and there is a lot of internal inertia to overcome, but it is often hard to ignore the numbers. Outsourced relationships will always require a substantial remote management component. Successful remote management is not possible if the relationship isn’t sound. It is the difference between a glossy presentation and the real world.
As difficult as it is to decide on an outsourcing partner, understanding how the relationship works needs to be an integral part of the process. A process that began with identifying potential partners, issuing an RFI, conducting site visits, choosing a partner and finally signing a contract ends with making the relationship work. Not to minimize the efforts that led you to this point but if you haven’t chosen a company that you want to have a true relationship with, the business is doomed. Even if the numbers work, the potential reputational, regulatory and customer fallout will have significant downside. Fixing a flawed relationship after the fact is not an acceptable option.
At its highest level the relationship will be monitored by the contract through an explicit set of understandings, requirements, and performance criteria/key indicators. But the moment you are tempted to use the contract to resolve a dispute with your supplier, the battle may have been won, but you have definitely lost the war.
Successful relationships are driven by trust and mutual respect, not by wielding the contract like a club. The contract is not a cure-all it is just a means of forcing resolution. Often relationships get off to strong starts but are diminished by missed opportunities, inflexibility and a failed management process.
The golden rule of remote management is that once you have a process in place it needs to be driven by consistency and mutual understanding.
1) Day to Day Management: There should be a dedicated team charged with vendor management on a daily basis. This team needs to understand that whatever their responsibilities were before outsourcing, they will now need to wear two hats and focus on the development of the relationship. The team should be comprised of subject matter experts from a variety of disciplines. They will own the key indicators, curriculum management and development, train the trainers and identify risk and customer issues. The team is the nerve center of the relationship.
Too often vendors and their employees are on the outside looking in as it relates to understanding the businesses they support.
Vendors should also provide dedicated day-to-day contacts. Any sizeable application warrants the attention. Dedicated support is not negotiable.
2) Valuing Expertise: Although outsourcing is driven primarily by cost, quality and service may have already been compromised by decisions made internally to improve margins. There is little room post-conversion for a learning curve.
Each side brings their expertise to the project. Assuming the right vendor has been chosen, it is critical they are staying current and committed to leading edge technology with cost and service remaining as close to their business model as possible. From a contact center perspective this will often crop up in issues surrounding the length of new agent training or number of calls monitored (one is too few and a thousand is not enough). There is a natural desire for the business being outsourced to want to keep control even as the operational components transition to the vendor. Forcing this can lead to ongoing tensions, impact the financial model and may eventually lead to calls for renegotiation or termination of the contract.
Trusting a vendor’s model and letting go is all about understanding what you can, or more importantly, should, dictate. It is critical that the dedicated team be able to translate those issues.
3) Multiple Vendors: In a contact center environment (usually driven by the size of the application) it helps to have multiple vendors. This is not done to manage operational risk or to create adversarial relationships but to improve service and quality through competitive benchmarking
Although there are benefits to site dedication especially when dealing with high touch/high value calls, all calls should be able to be handled regardless of location. The outsourcer drives consistency through a tight vendor management program. Each site had the same curriculum, training and key indictors. The process should also be portable.
A schedule of quarterly meetings with all vendors represented should be formalized. These meetings not only provide a great opportunity to review high level performance trends but also open the door for a review of best practices. As long as there aren’t any proprietary or intellectual property issues, ideas need to be shared across all vendors. Ultimately this process will reward those partners with the best performance.
4) Vendor Engagement: Too often vendors and their employees are on the outside looking in as it relates to understanding the businesses they support. In general, vendor engagement falls under the topic of brand management. Brand management in its self is a much larger and important topic. At the very least, business goals, strategies, results, and milestones should be shared broadly. The more people feel part of and understand the role they play, their commitment to quality and service will be stronger.
Engagement includes a strong presence at the remote site, incentive programs (besides those sponsored locally) and some straight talk as issues arise. The vendor is an integral extension of the business and the relationship has to be cultivated.
5) Transparency: Outsourcing is often accompanied by a wall of silence in which the outsourcer hopes nothing will happen that will cause the business to have to acknowledge their strategy. However, if the support team is in place and the model is working, the relationship should be highlighted. Clients should know that it is a strategy not based solely on expense and headcount reductions, but includes an ongoing commitment to outstanding service and quality.