There is something unique about outsourcing as a service. I am talking about the level of explicit trust that a client places in the provider by delegating fulfillment of a part of its value chain. Other services and goods procured by organizations are usually never as readily visible to the end customer as the firm’s activities outsourced to a third party, be it handling of payables, order processing or call centre operations.
In my earlier articles here, I wrote about the importance of innovation in outsourcing business and about some best practices for customer retention. Those recommendations are really from the “should do” category and today I wanted to talk about the “must do” stuff. What do we really owe our clients?
I think we can boil it down to four basic ingredients that are critical in any healthy client-vendor relationship.
Whenever we take on work as service provider, we should be adequately equipped with the organizational knowledge to fulfill it successfully. While the notion of caveat emptor certainly applies and should be taken seriously by the prospect, we owe it to our clients to be professionals in our chosen domain. As a consultant, I routinely forgo projects that lie outside of my area of expertise (usually, I am able to recommend someone excellent from my network). I ask myself what’s in the best interest of the client and the decision is never difficult.
It is, however, common to encounter organizations stuck with substandard services grown by extension of an existing relationship: a cleaning company becomes a facility manager, an accounting shop dabbles in financial management or a small delivery firm gets into global logistics management. Good for them if they can pull it off, but it does not always happen.
2. Customer Service
To be an expert in something does not require customer service skills by default. Yet your clients will tell you that this is one of the things they value most. One does not have to be very sophisticated at it and merely making sure that clients’ calls are returned and acted on promptly would be a good start.
As basic as it sounds, it’s not that common of a commodity. I hired a stonemason a few years ago who was incredibly talented and knowledgeable. His work was outstanding in quality and the fees were reasonable. However, I will never recommend him to anyone, nor will I ever hire him again, because his customer service skills were atrocious. Calls not returned, timelines blown, promises made and unfulfilled, and so on. I don’t need that and neither do your clients, no matter how good you are.
You don’t need to be friends with your client; they could get a dog if they needed that. What you owe them is a basic level of respect.
I don’t know about you but I find it intellectually insulting when I get a “courtesy call” from my cable provider where the operator immediately embarks on a quest to sell me something. There is no courtesy involved.
A couple of months ago, I participated in a well-respected healthcare conference. I used my brand new email account for that purpose, never used externally before or after. What do you know? In that mailbox, I am now receiving unsolicited offers from vendors of mailing lists, who have extensive lists of healthcare executives, physicians and professionals for sale.
This is disrespectful on the part of the conference organizers. No one deserves that.
There is a tendency in some outsourcing organizations to immediately fish out the contract and point out that whatever the client is asking for is not covered
If you got yourself a great contract where the client has the short end of the stick, beware. It is in your best interests to ensure that the arrangement is equitable, because if the client finds that the deal is not really that fair to them, as they inevitably will, well… you probably know how it feels to be had, so I wouldn’t count on much incremental business coming your way.
Fairness is also important in all dealings with the client. There is a tendency in some outsourcing organizations to immediately fish out the contract and point out that whatever the client is asking for is not covered. Don’t do that, unless the request is outrageous. We cannot predict the future and often at the contracting stage we simply cannot provide for every business situation, and every permutation of eventualities. Make a fair call and deal with the issue at hand.
Just to be fair, I advise my clients all the time to watch out for contracts where the service provider is inadvertently at a disadvantage, through an oversight or lack of experience. This can never end well for neither of the parties.
The business world of today creates interesting business models. Vendors and buyers are closer than ever before, in some cases working on the same production line side by side. But the principles of a sustainable, satisfying relationship remain the same: be good at what you do, respond in a timely manner, treat the other party with respect, and be fair.
Ilya Bogorad is the Principal of Bizvortex Consulting Group Inc. a management consulting company with clients worldwide. Ilya specializes in building exceptional IT organizations, decision making and business cases. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 (905) 278-4753.